Indiana begins one of the most important seasons in the history of its football program on Sept. 4. The Hoosiers are coming off a 6-2 campaign and an Outback Bowl berth in 2020 and are expected to be a preseason Top 25 team. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as they try to build on that momentum
Opponent: Michigan State
Date/Time/TV: Oct. 16, noon. Television TBA
Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington.
2020 record/bowl result: 2-5 overall, 2-5 in the Big Ten, no bowl game
Returning Starters, Offense (10): RB Connor Heyward, WR Jayden Reed, WR Jalen Nailor, WR Tre Mosely/Ricky White, TE Trent Gillison/Tyler Hunt, LT AJ Arcuri, LG J.D. Duplain, C Nick Samac, RG Matt Carrick, RT Kevin Jarvis.
Staters Lost, Offense (1): QB Rocky Lombardi.
Offensive Outlook: Michigan State returns almost all of its starters from last season, but the Spartans finished last in the conference in both scoring (18.0 points per game) and total offense (330.3 yards per game) so that only means so much and a number of 2020 starters will be in battles for starting jobs in 2021. The quarterback position is open and the favorite appears to be Temple transfer Anthony Russo, who threw for 6,292 yards and 44 touchdowns against 32 interceptions in three years with the Owls. Payton Thorne, who threw for 582 yards and three touchdowns in relief of Lombardi last year, also has a shot. The Spartans have more depth at running back with Elijah Collins back after being held back by COVID last year. Connor Heyward and Jordan Simmons are back after carrying much of the load last year, but Michigan State also added transfers Kenneth Walker III from Wake Forest and Harold Joiner from Auburn. Walker rushed for 13 touchdowns last season with the Demon Deacons and Michigan State’s running backs rushed for a combined one as the Spartans averaged just 91.4 yards per game on the ground. The Spartans return quality depth at receiver and offensive line and hope to build around that to become a much better unit than they were a year ago.
Returning Starters, Defense (7): DE Drew Beasley, DE Jacub Panasiuk, DT Jacob Slade, MLB Noah Harvey, CB Kalon Gervin, NB Angelo Grose S Xavier Henderson.
Starters Lost, Defense (4): DT Naquan Jones, WLB Antjuan Simmons, CB Shakur Brown, S Tre Person.
Defensive Outlook: When Michigan State was a Big Ten contender under Mark Dantonio, its defense was one of the strongest in the country. Last year’s Spartans’ team was as bad on defense as it was on offense, finishing last in scoring defense allowing 35.1 points per game. The best talent they had on that unit is gone with linebacker Antjuan Simmons and cornerback Shakur Brown both gone to the NFL after earning All-Big Ten recognition. As he did on the offensive side of the ball, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker tried to fix the problem through the transfer portal. The Spartans have Power 5 transfers coming in at every level of the defense. That includes Drew Jordan (Duke) and Itayvion Brown (Minnesota) on the defensive line, linebackers Ben VanSumeren (Michigan) and Quavaris Crouch (Tennessee) and cornerbacks Ronald Williams (Alabama), Chester Kimbrough (Florida), Marqui Lowery Jr. (Louisville) and Khary Clump (Arizona).
Special Teams Returners (2): K Matt Coghlin, P Bryce Barringer.
Special Teams Loss (1): LS Jude Pedrozo.
Special Teams Outlook: Coghlin is in his sixth year at Michigan State and he’s made 64 of 85 field goal attempts in his career and has never missed an extra point. Barringer split time with Mitchell Crawford last season and averaged 43.6 yards per punt, but he will be competing for his job with Texas Tech transfer Cody Waddell.
Overall outlook: Prior to last season, Michigan State was the program Indiana was measuring themselves against in the Big Ten East. The Hoosiers had to elevate themselves above the Spartans before they could think about competing with powerhouses Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. The Spartans took a hard fall while Indiana rose, and the Hoosiers took a 24-0 shutout victory in 2020. Indiana should expect a stronger Michigan State opponent this time around because of the players who are now healthy and the ones who have been added in the transfer portal, but Indiana should still have the edge in this stage of Mel Tucker’s rebuild.
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