The late former NFL head coach Dennis Green once famously said, repeatedly, “they are who we thought they were” after a tough loss.
While they had a choppy start to the season, Michigan State has the most returning starters in the country coming off a 10-3 season, have a great head coach in Mark Dantonio, and had two weeks to prepare for Indiana. The Spartans are who we thought they were — a tough, physical and talented football team that frankly was the better squad on Saturday night.
But after another disappointing loss against a Big Ten East power, the question remains, who is Indiana right now? Below we summarize what we learned about this 2018 Hoosier team after they dropped their first contest of the season.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE GETS EXPOSED
If Indiana was going to win games this year at the highest levels of the Big Ten, it was going to be because their deep and experienced offensive line led the way. There was no sign of that on Saturday night.
After coming into the game giving up just one sack on the season through three games, the Hoosiers allowed four sacks against MSU. But that doesn’t begin to tell the full story. IU quarterback Peyton Ramsey rarely had a clean pocket and was on the run all night long. This wasn’t about blitz pickup either. The Spartans only rushed more than five two times the entire game. IU just got beat consistently up front.
The real issue however was in the running game. After dominating their opponents in the first three weeks, the Hoosiers struggled to get anything going. MSU was able to stack the box with eight and nine guys because they knew they were getting home fast with their base pass rushes. The result — Indiana had 32 carries for 29 yards on the day. Stevie Scott, who came into the game 8th in the country in rushing yards, had just 18 yards on 11 carries.
It was a major reality check. This may be the best front seven that IU faces all year, but there is no doubt that this offensive line needs to be much, much better, and Tom Allen said as much last night.
PEYTON RAMSEY SHOWED US SOMETHING
This may not be a popular opinion, but considering the relentless pressure that Ramsey was under last night, we thought he played well. The redshirt sophomore made several accurate throws in collapsed pockets, with defenders in his face, and often while being hit. And he still hit 70% of his throws.
Yes he should have hit Reese Taylor on the first drive. Yes he should have used better judgment on that pick-six (that he threw while being hit). But when you package it all together, Ramsey accounted for himself quite well against one of the best defenses in the country.
And that defense knew IU wasn’t going to run the football. They had their ears pinned back looking for the pass.
Let’s be honest, Michigan State could have had 15 sacks last night with a less mobile quarterback, or one that lacked the judgement of when it was best to tuck it and run. Ramsey ended up running the ball an amazing 18 times. He gained just 42 yards on those carries, but most of them helped the team avoid big losses.
We saw social media cries for Michael Penix during the game last night, and questions about Penix in the post-game. Frankly, the idea that you were going to throw a true freshman into that fire was misguided. Penix’s only tangible advantage over Ramsey is his arm strength, and there was rarely, if ever, an opportunity to show off a big cannon last night. It was survival mode out there.
WHOP PHILYOR NEEDS TO BE A BIGGER PART OF THIS OFFENSE
Does this one really require any explanation? After just five catches coming into the night, Philyor exploded for 13 catches and 148 yards. And most of that production came on one good leg. The sophomore receiver played most of the game fighting through a sprained ankle.
Indiana needs Philyor on the field more, and that includes if or when Luke Timian comes back from injury. Timian was seen wearing a knee brace last night, and his status is unclear. But even with Timian (and/or J-Shun Harris) on the field, the Hoosiers should be running most of their sets with more of their talented receivers on the field.
IU isn’t going to line up and pound and ground their way to Big Ten East wins. That became clear last night. Spread out, four and five receiver sets should be the order of the day against most Big Ten opponents, save perhaps for next week’s contest at Rutgers.
INDIANA’S DEFENSE IS DOING THEIR PART
Okay, sure, IU gave up 35 points last night. That really doesn’t tell the full story.
Seven of those points came on an interception return for a touchdown. Four additional points were yielded on a fake field goal turned touchdown. That’s really just 24 points that you can put on the defense. Even the last MSU touchdown was more a result of gambling late than anything to do with bad schemes or poor play.
If you want to get super-technical, the Michigan State touchdown at the end of the first half should have been disallowed due to blatant push off by the Spartan tight end.
Even after the Hoosiers lost their top defensive lineman Jacob Robinson to injury and their top playmaker Marcelino Ball to a targeting call, the IU defense continued to make an impact. The Hoosiers forced four takeaways on the night, had another fumble in the air that they didn’t come up with, and had an interception disallowed due to a questionable pass interference call. They also added three sacks and held MSU to 2 of 13 on third downs.
The bottom line here is that this young and still inexperienced defense did enough to allow IU to win this football game and should no longer be thought of as a potential liability going forward.
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