Game Day Prediction: Rising Spartans battle battling Hoosiers for the aged brass spittoon

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Indiana ended the 2021 season with eight straight losses, and this season is trending in a similar direction.

After a 3-0 start, the Hoosiers have lost seven straight games and will be underdogs for the past two weeks. Indiana has run the gauntlet of its schedule with No. 3 Michigan, No. 11 Penn State and No. 2 Ohio State, but that doesn’t mean wins down the stretch are getting any easier. Indiana travels to Michigan state this weekend before a season-closing guest, Purdue, the possible Big Ten West champion.

Michigan State was ranked 15th in the AP preseason poll after an 11-2 campaign in 2021 that included a win over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl. However, expectations for a similar season were shattered fairly quickly as Michael Penix Jr. and Washington took a 22-0 lead over Michigan State and amassed over 500 yards combined in Week 3.

Michigan State suffered another ugly defeat the following week, losing 34-7 at home to Minnesota. A 14-point loss to Maryland and a crushing loss to Ohio State brought Michigan State’s record 2-4 and raised serious concerns about the 10-year, $95 million contract that coach Mel Tucker im signed last November.

But Tucker and the Spartans have played some of their best football games of the season in recent weeks, winning three of their last four games against Wisconsin, Illinois and Rutgers. Michigan State has improved for a number of reasons, most notably quarterback Payton Thorne being more careful with the ball and the Spartans’ defense making steady progress.

Thorne threw four interceptions during Michigan State’s four-game losing streak, but he has had turnovers during the Spartans’ last three wins. The 6-foot-2 junior had perhaps his best game of the season in a double overtime win against Wisconsin in Week 7, when he completed 21 of 28 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State’s defense has improved recently after being one of the weakest units in the Big Ten earlier in the season. The Spartans allowed 37.3 points per game during their four-game losing streak, but that number has fallen to 23.5 in the last four games.

Michigan State still allows high yards — at least 440 yards in three of its last four games — but defenses are halted at critical moments. The Spartans kept Wisconsin scoreless for over 37 minutes and forced a fumble to set up a game-winning touchdown in double overtime. Against Illinois, Michigan State’s defense didn’t concede a point for over 38 minutes and stood two stops strong with fourth loss to seal the win.

With this latest surge, Michigan State can secure bowl eligibility at home by beating Indiana in what looks like its best opportunity next week with a trip to No. 11 Penn State.