The aged brass spittoon is on the program this Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. This season, Indiana Football will attempt to take home the trophy for the first time since the 2020 season for the trophy’s centennial on the road against Michigan State.
With Bowl eligibility on the back burner, the Hoosiers are hoping to salvage their season with back-to-back wins to finish the season. The first of those two wins must come against the Spartans, who, unlike Indiana, are optimistic of winning a bowl game this weekend.
The Spartans started the season 5-5 on Saturday, winning three of their last four games against Rutgers, Wisconsin and Illinois. Despite beating last season’s expectations that predicted a Big Ten East division title, the Spartans’ chances of a bowl game remain intact.
Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne leads Michigan State on offense. In his third season, Thorne amassed 2,152 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Thorne has two main guns in the receiving core: redshirt senior Jayden Reed and sophomore Keon Coleman. The duo has 87 total receptions for 1,148 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“He does a good job of making games when they need them,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said of Thorne in a news conference Thursday. “They have several good (receivers) with two that really stand out but others that have played.”
Reed, who was a high school teammate at Throne in Naperville, Illinois at Naperville Central, is also the primary punt returner for the Spartans.
Statistically, these two teams are incredibly similar. With the sixth-best offense in the Big Ten, Michigan State is right behind Indiana, which is in seventh place. On the other side of the ball, the Spartans are 13th out of 14 conference teams in pass defense, behind only the Hoosiers.
Both teams also struggled to run the ball effectively. A year after current Seattle Seahawks rookie Kenneth Walker III was running back, the Spartans now rank 12th in the Big Ten for rushing offense with 108.9 rushing yards per game. Indiana is in last place at 85.8 yards per game on the ground.
Redshirt student Jalen Berger, the Spartans’ main running back, has 550 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.
“As we prepare this week, we know we’re going to be tested,” Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker said in a Tuesday news conference. “We need to play better in the running game.”
On the defensive end, redshirt linebacker Cal Haladay is the Spartans’ lead tackler with 99 total tackles. Haladay’s partner on the line of scrimmage is Senior Jacoby Windmon, who leads the Spartans with 5.5 sacks. Windmon has also forced six fumbles this season.
Both players could have great days against a lackluster Indiana offense.
In 10 games this season, the Spartans have just two takeaways by interception and rank last in the Big Ten. Senior cornerback Kendell Brooks is the Spartans’ second-best tackler but has no interceptions.
As for Indiana, its seven-game loser sent the program into a complete nosedive. With bowl eligibility now impossible, the Hoosiers play for the Spittoon against the Spartans and the Old Oaken Bucket against the Purdue Boilermakers for the final two weeks of the season.
“Excited about this week,” Allen said. “We have two trophy games that we have on our regular season schedule and we have both to finish the season.”
After his mediocre performance last week against Ohio State’s No. 2, Allen may be tempted to start redshirt runner-up Dexter Williams II at quarterback on the road in place of redshirt junior Connor Bazelak.
“If you have a completely different quarterback, it can change your work schematically,” Allen said. “There are, without question, some benefits that come with challenges, and you have to balance those two against each other. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to find the best quarterbacks that we think can help us win.”
Allen continues to commend Williams’ patience coming onto the field and said he is encouraged by his growth and development.
Indiana comes into this matchup with consistent inconsistency in all four quarters. In its seven losses, the team was surpassed in the second half with a combined 132-47 mark.
Despite the disappointments on the offensive, there were some bright spots. Along with Williams, freshman running back Jaylin Lucas and junior tight end AJ Barner continue to develop and bolster offense.
“They have some really good players,” Tucker said of the explosive nature of Indiana’s attack. “They like to spread you out. The quarterbacks have really strong arms and they’re going to take shots. They do pretty much everything.”
Saturday’s game begins at 12 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
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