The Old Brass Spittoon is on the line 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 in the trophy’s centennial anniversary on the road against Michigan State.
With bowl eligibility in the rearview, the Hoosiers are hopeful of salvaging their season with back-to-back wins to end the season. The first of those two wins must come against the Spartans, who unlike Indiana are optimistic about clinching a bowl game this weekend with a win.
The Spartans come into Saturday’s matchup 5-5 on the season, winning three of their last four games against Rutgers, Wisconsin and Illinois. Despite falling below the preseason expectations, which predicted a Big Ten East division title, the Spartans' odds for a bowl game remain intact.
Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne leads Michigan State on offense. In his third season, Thorne has racked up 2,152 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Thorne has two primary weapons in the receiving core: redshirt senior Jayden Reed and sophomore Keon Coleman. The duo has a combined 87 receptions for 1,148 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
“He does a good job of making plays when they need them” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said about Thorne in a press conference Thursday. “They have several good ones (receivers) with two that really stick out but others that have made plays”
Reed, who was a high school teammate with Throne in Naperville, Illinois, at Naperville Central is the primary punt returner for the Spartans as well.
Statistically, these two teams are eerily similar to one another. With the sixth-best passing offense in the Big Ten, Michigan State sits right behind Indiana, which is in seventh. On the other side of the ball, the Spartans are placed 13th of 14 conference teams in passing defense with only the Hoosiers behind them.
Both teams have also struggled to run the ball effectively. One year removed from having current Seattle Seahawks rookie Kenneth Walker III at running back, the Spartans now rank 12th in the Big Ten in rushing offense with 108.9 rushing yards a game. Indiana sits last with 85.8 yards per game on the ground.
Redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger, the Spartans’ primary running back, has 550 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.
“As we prepare this week, we know that we’re going to be tested,” Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker said in a press conference Tuesday. “We have to play better in the run game.”
On the defensive side, redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay is the Spartans’ leading tackler with 99 total tackles. Haladay’s partner at 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 look to have huge days against a lackluster Indiana offensive line.
Through 10 games this season, the Spartans have just two takeaways via an interception, ranking last in the Big Ten. Senior cornerback Kendell Brooks is the Spartans’ second-leading tackler but has zero interceptions.
As for Indiana, its seven-game losing skid has put the program in a complete nose dive. With bowl eligibility now impossible, the Hoosiers are playing for the Spittoon against the Spartans and the Old Oaken Bucket against the Purdue Boilermakers in the last 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 of those to finish out the season.”
After his moderate appearance last week against No. 2 Ohio State, Allen could be tempted to start redshirt sophomore Dexter Williams II at quarterback on the road instead of redshirt junior Connor Bazelak.
“If you have a completely different quarterback, that can change what you do schematically,” Allen said. “There are some benefits without question that create challenges and you have to weigh those two against each other. At the end of the day we are just trying to find the best quarterbacks that we believe can help us win.”
Allen continues to praise Williams’ patience getting on the field and said he is encouraged by his growth and development.
Indiana comes into this matchup with consistent inconsistency throughout all four quarters. In its seven losses, the team has been outscored in the second half by a combined 132-47 mark.
Despite the letdowns on the offensive end, there have been some bright spots. Along with Williams, freshman running back Jaylin Lucas and junior tight end AJ Barner continue to develop and provide strength to the offense.
“They have some really good players,” Tucker said about the explosiveness of Indiana’s offense. “They like to spread you out. The quarterbacks have really strong arms, and they’ll take shots. They pretty much do it all.”
Saturday’s game will kickoff at noon and will air on the Big Ten Network.
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