Indiana left the Spartan Stadium field with an all too familiar feeling.
The Hoosiers (3-2) came to East Lansing looking to upset No. 25 Michigan State and win back the Old Brass Spittoon by beating the Spartans on their home turf for the first time since 2001.
And the Hoosiers, as has happened often in recent seasons, came close. Closer even than Saturday’s 41-30 final score indicates.
Tied at 31 with two minutes remaining, the Hoosiers couldn’t get one more stop. Moments later, the emotions in the locker room were still raw.
“Tough way to lose,” head coach Tom Allen said after the game. “Proud of our team. I thought our kids fought.”
“It’s hard to face them in the locker room knowing how hard they played. Look ’em in the eye, and there’s a lot of tears in there, and there should be. Because when you invest the way our guys invest, and you work the way our guys worked, it oughta hurt, and it does ”
Offensively, Indiana was led by freshman quarterback Michael Penix, making his return after sitting out the previous two games with an undisclosed injury.
Penix completed 20 consecutive passes in one long stretch and finished 33 of 42 for 286 yards as the Hoosiers brilliantly utilized a short-pass attack to circumvent one of the nation’s top run defenses.
“You start a freshman quarterback in his first road game in conference play and you saw the way Mike Penix played.” Allen said after the game.
“I thought Coach DeBoer did a great job with the game plan to be able to maximize some things we thought we could do against them, and we were effective in that regard.”
Junior wide receiver Whop Philyor had a monster game finishing with 14 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide out Donavan Hale also had perhaps his best performance of the season with seven catches for 99 yards, including a tremendous one-handed touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter.
If the game ended up looking like whichever team had the ball last would win, it didn’t really begin that way. MSU’s opening drive fizzled as junior kicker Matt Coghlin’s 43-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
After a quick three-and-out by Indiana, the Spartans got the first score of the game with freshman running back Elijah Collins finding the endzone at the 8:04 mark in the first quarter.
Each defense then came up with a fourth-down stop, but then Indiana got on the board. IU took over at its own 32 and covered the rest of the field, a drive capped as Penix found Philyor for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
The Spartans opened the second quarter with a scoring drive that snapped the 7-7 tie. MSU had three 3rd down conversions while going 75 yards, finishing with Lewerke hitting Stewart for a five-yard touchdown pass.
Later in the quarter the Hoosiers answered with their own long scoring drive. Indiana went 80 yards on ten plays, taking five and a half minutes. Michael Penix would account for his second score of the day, but this time using his legs, scoring on a keeper around left end from two yards out.
In the final minute of the half, Michigan State got the ball at their own 44-yard line after an Indiana punt. It didn’t take long for the Spartans to get downfield, going 56 yards in just 46 seconds, finishing the drive with another Lewerke-Stewart connection for a 28-yard touchdown that sent the home team into intermission up 21-14.
Indiana got the ball to start the second half and looked to answer immediately. The Hoosiers built another long drive, going 81 yards in six and a half minutes. Penix would go 8 for 8 passing on the drive, but the Hoosiers would be stopped in the red zone, forced to kick a field goal, and bringing the Hoosiers within 21-17.
IU’s defense came up with a subsequent stop. And then the offense gave the Hoosiers their first lead of the day.
Again starting deep in their own territory from the Indiana 20-yard line, the Hoosiers would do as they had done much of the day and built another long drive for a score.
Penix led the way through the air, hitting four receivers on the drive and capping it off with a 12-yard pass to Hale, who made a miraculous one-hand grab to bring down the catch while shielding off his defender. That and the PAT made it 24-21, Hoosiers, with 14:52 left in the game.
IU’s defense forced another punt. And then came one of the plays that swung the back-and-forth affair in Michigan State’s direction.
Philyor returned the punt almost 60 yards, but a holding call on the Hoosiers reversed all that real estate and left IU to start at its own 11-yard line.
Penalties proved a major factor down the stretch, but perhaps none loomed larger than that.
Being held to a three and out, the Hoosiers were forced to punt from their own end zone, and Michigan State would start its next drive at Indiana’s 26-yard line after the Hoosiers were called for an illegal motion penalty on the punt.
Two plays later Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke threw his third touchdown pass of the game, this time finding senior tight end Matt Seybert, giving the Spartans the 28-24 lead.
The Spartans kept riding the momentum and added a field goal to make it 31-24.
With just 3:33 remaining on the clock, Indiana had to move quickly. And did.
Starting from their own 22-yard line, the Hoosiers looked to the air, and a pass interference call helped jump-start the drive.
After two long completions to Hale and Philyor, the Hoosiers found themselves at the Michigan State 22-yard line before a roughing-the-passer penalty set them up at the 11.
From there, Penix led Philyor perfectly in the end zone for the second time on the day, tying the game at 31-31 with 2:00 remaining.
But Indiana’s defense, as was the case at the end of the first half, couldn’t come up with the key stop in the waning minutes.
Starting from their own 25-yard line, the Spartans would open the drive with a 44-yard play with Stewart making an acrobatic, contested catch at the Indiana 31.
MSU caught IU with a quarterback draw on the next snap, with Lewerke roaring 30 yards right up the gut to the IU 1. The Spartans – not wanting to give IU’s offense the ball back with much time on the clock, purposely avoided the end zone on the next couple of plays, running the clock down to 0:08.
Coghlin connected on a chip-shot 21-yard field goal, making it 34-31 at 0:05.
The final margin was then forged as Indiana, trying laterals to keep the final play alive, ended up losing the ball back into the end zone, where the Spartans recovered.
This loss puts Indiana at 3-2 on the season and 0-2 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers will have a bye-week next week, with their next game coming on October 12th when the Hoosiers will face Big Ten foe Rutgers in Bloomington for homecoming weekend.
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