By Noah Trister, AP Sports Writer
This might be the best test yet for Michigan State’s stellar defense.
The Spartans have been shutting down opponents all season, but Saturday they’ll host an Indiana team that just put up 44 points in its Big Ten opener and looks like one of the Big Ten’s up-and-coming offenses.
In fact, that might be selling the Hoosiers short, considering they lead the league in total offense and passing offense. But Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s unit ranks first in the nation in total defense and rushing defense.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio made it clear he’d be involved in the defensive preparation as well.
“I’m going to be in the defensive room. I’m not just sitting in my office watching CNN,” Dantonio said. “There’s going to be a role that I play every week, whether it’s in the offensive meeting rooms or whether it’s the defensive meeting rooms, and I want to be knowledgeable what’s going on in both, as well as special teams, so I’m in the defensive meeting rooms a lot.”
Indiana (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) opened its conference schedule with a 44-24 win over Penn State. The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) beat Iowa 26-14.
Here are five things to watch when the Spartans and Hoosiers play for the Old Brass Spittoon.
SUPER SUDFELD: Only a sophomore, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld has thrown for a Big Ten-best 293 yards per game, while completing 64 percent of his passes. Of course, he hasn’t faced a defense remotely like Michigan State’s.
Sudfeld threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns against Penn State, but also sacked three times. Expect Michigan State to come after him.
“They structurally know where to line up. They know where they’re supposed to be. They know where their eyes are,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “They know their schemes. They’re really strong in their blitz package of when they blitz and how they blitz.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: Always a point of emphasis for Dantonio, the Spartans were impressive on special teams against Iowa. Michigan State ran a successful fake punt and kicked four field goals.
RUNNING WILD: Indiana has one of the worst run defenses in the nation. After watching tape of Navy and Missouri exposing Indiana, Big Ten schools like Michigan State are almost certain to test this defense.
COOK’S CHANCE: Connor Cook emerged from a four-way competition to become Michigan State’s starting quarterback, but it’s been a struggle for him at times. He threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa, and the Spartans controlled the ball for over 37 minutes.
There may be more pressure for Michigan State to put points on the board this week, but Cook will be facing an Indiana team that ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense.
ROAD TEST: Indiana didn’t even have to get on a bus to leave town in August and September. This week, the Hoosiers play at Michigan State, where they are just 2-15 since 1970. This game will say a lot about how competitive the Hoosiers might be the rest of the season.
It’s also Homecoming for Michigan State, but that’s not what makes this game unique. It’s the 500th game in the history of Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State went unbeaten at home in 2010 and 2011 before dropping five games at Spartan Stadium last season. If the Spartans need extra incentive this weekend, there should be plenty of nostalgia for them to point to.
“It sort of links this current football program with the past, and it’s very unique in the aspect of when you look at long-term tradition,” Dantonio said. “We’re excited about that opportunity.”
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