Spartans look for bounce-back victory in Indiana
Coach Mark Dantonio finds himself in an unusual place this weekend. He's trying to get No. 17 Michigan State off the mat and ready to fight back.
It's not the first time Dantonio has asked the Spartans to demonstrate their resiliency after a humbling home loss, but it is the first time in quite a while.
The one thing he does know is that his team wants to get rid of the sour taste that has lingered all week.
"The culture here has been a culture of winning, so when you do lose, you know, it hurts you. You take it a little bit personal or a lot personal," Dantonio said. "People usually get themselves ready for the next challenge. I think that's human nature. I think that's basically human nature, and I think in football especially."
Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean everything will be fixed magically when Michigan State (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) steps onto the field Saturday at Indiana.
In the past three-plus seasons, Michigan State is 38-6. The last time it lost back-to-back games was November 2012. To keep that streak intact, they have to beat the Hoosiers (2-1) for the eighth straight time.
The Hoosiers have one of the league's highest-scoring and fastest-paced offenses. Richard Lagow is the highest-rated new starting quarterback in the league, and Indiana's improving defense has been able to make big plays. And like Michigan State, Indiana is trying to regain its footing losing to Wake Forest on its home turf, and coach Kevin Wilson may add some new wrinkles to throw off the Spartans' strong defense.
"(Lagow) is a big kid, he does move well, he does have a good arm, we're going to try more find ways to move the pocket so he's not a stationary target," Wilson said.
But deception may not be enough to take down the defending Big Ten champs for a second straight week and both coaches know it.
"Same thing happened in 2014," Dantonio said. "We lost an early game and we needed to deal with that early loss throughout and we needed fight back from it, and we were able to do that. We've had a history of doing those things. We need to rely on that history and keep pushing."
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
Dantonio and Wilson both spent this week trying to get their starting quarterbacks back on track. Now they'll be watching closely to see who rebounds quicker. Michigan State's Tyler O'Connor threw three critical interceptions in the loss to Wisconsin, prompting speculation about a possible change. Dantonio quickly quashed the discussion. Meanwhile, Lagow is coming off a strange week in which he threw for a school record 496 yards to go with five interceptions. Wilson, who can be brutally honest at times, said most of the miscues were not Lagow's fault.
Without starting right guard Dan Feeney and starting right tackle Dimitric Camiel, the Hoosiers struggled to run the ball against a stingy Wake Forest defense. It won't be any easier this week, if Feeney (concussion) or Camiel (back) don't return. But that touted Spartans defense could be missing some key components, too. Linebacker Jon Reschke (sprained ankle) already has been ruled out and Dantonio still hasn't said whether linebacker Riley Bullough will return from an undisclosed injury. Bullough missed the Wisconsin game.
The most glaring advantage for Michigan State may come on special teams. In the first three games, Indiana has missed a short field goal, had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and last week had a makeable field goal blocked. Wilson has made it clear after each of the first three games, that kicking teams must perform better than they have. And if they don't this week, it could prove costly.
Indiana has had a knack for playing well against the Big Ten's best, including Michigan State. A year ago, the Hoosiers trailed by two after three quarters in East Lansing, were in position to upset Michigan and challenged Ohio State with a backup quarterback. But they wound up losing all three. And they couldn't close out undefeated Wake Forest last week, either. To pull a surprise this week, the Hoosiers must finish strong.