NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State has already improved in one respect since last season — the Spartans finally won a conference game at home.
That’s more than they could say in 2012.
“We talk about that,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “We had a lot of close games last year that went down to the end and we lost them at home. . But prior to that for two years, we hadn’t lost. So the basic thought process is that we’re going to win in this stadium.”
Michigan State recovered from an early defensive breakdown Saturday, beating Indiana 42-28 in the 500th game at Spartan Stadium. Jeremy Langford scored four touchdowns in the homecoming victory, which left the Spartans as one of only three teams unbeaten in Big Ten play.
Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) is tied with Nebraska for first in the Legends Division. The Spartans host struggling Purdue next weekend.
“We’re 5-1 and we can set the tone for the next phase,” Dantonio said. “We’re halfway through the season. Now we start playing for things.”
Michigan State went undefeated at home in 2010 and 2011, but last season, the Spartans lost five times in East Lansing. The four Big Ten losses — to Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern — were by a combined 11 points, and the Spartans barely qualified for a bowl.
Michigan State ended that skid in conference home games Saturday. Tevin Coleman scored on a 64-yard run for the Hoosiers (3-3, 1-1) just 61 seconds into the game, but the Spartans took control shortly after halftime.
Langford tied it early in the second quarter, catching an 11-yard touchdown pass from Connor Cook on third down. He later added three more TDs on the ground, becoming the first Michigan State player to score four in a game since Edwin Baker in 2010 against Minnesota.
“We just stayed positive,” Langford said. “We knew we could move the ball and that’s what we did during the game. We worked harder and kept pounding.”
Cook, who emerged from a four-way competition to become the starting quarterback earlier this season, went 22 of 31 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I think he’s growing,” Dantonio said. “There’s a big learning curve. There always is for a young player, but he can make plays. He’s got a good arm, I think he’s finding his receivers. He throws a very catchable ball. He’s growing in confidence.”
The Spartans took the lead for good at 21-14 on Langford’s 5-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left in the first half. Cook threw a 39-yard pass to Josiah Price on third-and-11 early in the third quarter, putting the ball at the Indiana 5. Langford’s 2-yard touchdown run made it 28-14.
The Spartans retained the Old Brass Spittoon — they’ve won five straight against Indiana and haven’t lost to the Hoosiers at home since 2001.
Now they can start playing for higher stakes. After Purdue, Michigan State plays at Illinois. Win those two, and the Spartans will still be unbeaten in conference play heading into their annual showdown with Michigan, which is Nov. 7 in East Lansing.
Between now and then, Michigan State has two main objectives — keep winning and keep improving. One problem Dantonio noticed was his team’s 10 penalties for 100 yards against Indiana.
“Are we a finished product? I don’t think we’re a finished product yet,” Dantonio said. “Too many penalties or unforced penalties, we have to clean those up. Our guys are going to play aggressive, but we can’t tolerate that. It will hurt us in the end.”
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