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Running game, second-half resilience lead IU football to victory at Michigan State

Indiana’s path to a 39-31 double overtime victory over Michigan State Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, was an unorthodox one, to say the least.

The Hoosiers completed just two passes for 31 yards all game long – but managed to come out on top.

In an era in which spread offenses and high-flying shootouts dominate college football, Indiana looked to yesteryear in its game plan against Michigan State, dominating on the ground  – while setting a season-high for scoring and showing resilience in the second half in the team’s first win since September.

Indiana’s new approach on offense was spearheaded by first-time starting quarterback Dexter Williams II, who completed two of seven passes for 31 yards on the afternoon, not including a completion to A.J. Barner on a two-point conversion in the second overtime period.

Despite the lackluster passing statistics, Williams II made his presence known early in the game, taking a 34-yard run to the house on Indiana’s first drive of the game. The third-year quarterback ran for 86 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in the win.

Head coach Tom Allen said that having a mobile quarterback as the starter for the first time all season in addition to a well-blocked game by the offensive line made the difference for his team, but it was the first-time starting quarterback’s mentality and perseverance in a close game and tough environment that got the job done for IU.

“You only learn how to handle those situations by going through them,” Allen said of Williams II after the game. “What I just told him was, ‘Just relax. Just be you.’ I know he can throw the football, I know he can run the football, but obviously he lacks experience. The only way to get it is by doing it. We just stayed the course.”

After four quarters and an overtime period in which the Hoosiers completed just one pass, Indiana’s offense knew that it would have to change things up in the second overtime in order to win the game. 

On the first play of the drive to open double overtime, Williams II completed a 24-yard pass over the middle to Barner, setting the Hoosiers up on the goal line. The pair connected again on a two-point conversion following a one-yard touchdown run by Shaun Shivers.

Indiana’s two most important passes of the game came in its closing moments, and were a success thanks to a clean pocket, according to Williams II.

“We knew we would have to throw the ball at some point,” Williams II said. When that moment came, our offensive line did a perfect job of protecting me.”

A run-heavy offense was not the only surprise in Saturday’s win for the Hoosiers. Perhaps even more out of the ordinary for IU was the team’s fight and tenacity while trailing in the second half. 

Entering Saturday’s contest, Indiana had been outscored by 95 points by opponents in the second half of games this season. After trailing 24-7 at halftime, Indiana clawed back into the game thanks to key third and fourth down stops on defense, an interception by Jonathan Haynes and explosive touchdown plays from running backs Jaylin Lucas and Shivers on a kickoff return and 79-yard rush, respectively.

While Indiana’s hopes of bowl eligibility were dashed in last week’s 56-14 loss at Ohio State, IU is showing signs of life in crucial moments again for the first time since September. With just one game to go in the 2022 campaign, Indiana is riding high for the first time in two months – and the Hoosiers may just have enough momentum to win against Purdue, and potentially keep the Boilermakers from reaching the Big Ten Championship Game.

“I told these guys last week, ‘Just never lay down for anybody. Give it what you got, make them feel you and the rest will handle itself,’” Williams II said. “Now, it’s time to go get another one.”

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