This one had a big-game feel to it long before Michigan State and Indiana ever kicked off Saturday in East Lansing, but it had nothing to do with the Spartans. In another twist of irony that has become the calling card of 2020, these days all eyes are on Tom Allen's 10th ranked Hoosiers, who have cracked the top ten for the first time in 55 years. As football fans around the great state of Michigan learned all too well last week, the hype surrounding Michael Penix Jr. (25-38, 320 yds. 2 TD, 2 Int) and his teammates is well deserved, and Mel Tucker's team wore the legitimacy of that as 7.5 point home dogs against a team they've won four in a row against.
The takeaway; the giveaways. MSU had two of them, in the first quarter alone and that hurt as Indiana turned both of them into touchdowns. For Rocky Lombardi, it was a particularly difficult day as he threw his 11th interception of the season and fifth in the last two games. Indiana had a pair of turnovers of its own, but the difference is the Spartans offense couldn't capitalize. By the end of the first half, the Spartans trailed 24-0 as the Hoosiers piled up 325 yards to MSU's 82.
Honorable mention goes to MSU's Shakur Brown who had a pair of interceptions of his own, but when the offense has just three first downs in the first half and trailed time of possession 20:35 to 9:25, the Spartans takeaways ultimately were nowhere near enough. Lombardi was missing the confidence, capability, and execution he displayed so fluently against Michigan, completing just three of seven passes with two interceptions. Before the midway point of the second quarter, Tucker had seen enough and had to make a tough but fair call. "We need to figure out what we can do with the guys we have," Tucker said after the loss.
When Lombardi was pulled in favor of Peyton Thorne, it was Tucker's way of looking for a spark and an answer, it was effective out of the gate as the redshirt freshman's first play went for 38 yards on the keeper, but in the end, according to the coach, it fell woefully short. "We're inconsistent with both guys in there." All told the Hoosiers held the Spartans to just 60 yards on the ground en route to a 24-0 smackdown.
This one had to be all about MSU's defense, bouncing back and putting up an effort similar to the one on display two weeks ago in Ann Arbor. That didn't happen until the second half against the Hoosiers on Saturday as Indiana dominated MSU on both sides of the ball. As for the question of who will be the starting quarterback going forward, the Spartans would be better served to figure out who is going to carry the load running the ball. Three of the first four games have produced 60 or fewer yards on the ground and for Tucker, it's not the type of complementary football he wants these Spartans to be playing. "We have to figure out what we can do with the guys we have and when the holes are there we have to hit them."
"We need to be able to run the ball and we're going to continue to attempt to run the ball." Until that happens, it won't matter who's under center."