EAST LANSING — It took Indiana less than two minutes Saturday to put a major scare into Michigan State football’s quest for bowl hopes. It appeared to be a minor blip.
It turned out to be more than just fleeting fear in the frigid air. It was a harbinger of an epic disaster to come.
The Spartans blew a 17-point lead in the second half in catastrophic fashion, with breakdowns in every phase of the game. A 79-yard touchdown run by the Hoosiers’ Shaun Shivers, then an 88-yard kickoff return by teammate Jaylin Lucas. A Payton Thorne interception on the next MSU play led to a field goal. Then a ground march pulled Indiana into a tie with Josh Henderson’s 1-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
MSU kicker Ben Patton missed a 22-yard field goal attempt wide left as time expired in regulation, then had a second blocked in overtime. The Hoosiers in the second overtime scored a touchdown and two-point play and kept MSU from scoring for a 39-31 victory in front of a near-empty Spartan Stadium crowd.
“It’s not a very exciting time in the locker room. It’s silent. Guys are a little bit in disbelief the way the game ended,” said MSU quarterback Payton Thorne, who finished 27 of 42 for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. “And it stings.”
3 QUESTIONS:Michigan State football starts hot, suffers one of Mel Tucker’s worst losses vs. Indiana
The crushing loss means the Spartans (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) now must win next Saturday’s regular season finale at No. 12 Penn State to qualify for a bowl game. Game time and TV network have yet to be announced.
“Yeah, we would love to win to get a bowl game,” said senior running back Elijah Collins, who had 107 yards rushing with two touchdowns on 19 carries, all season highs and his best performances since 2019. “But at the same time, we gotta sit there and watch the film and see how (Penn State) played this week. We got to take everything in just like we did previously.
“I mean truthfully, we could have won today. Today was a very winnable game. But at the same time, it didn’t happen. But as far as preparation, we just gotta keep going and keep chopping.”
Shivers became the eighth straight running back to eclipse 100 yards, finishing with 115 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns, including a 1-yarder in the second overtime. Quarterback Dexter Williams II, 1-for-6 for 7 yards in regulation and the first overtime, hit tight end AJ Barner for 24 yards on the first play of the second OT, and connected with Barner for the two-point conversion. Williams ran 16 times for 86 yards and a score.
MSU had one final chance and got to the 10-yard line, but Thorne’s pass to Jayden Reed was out of the end zone and incomplete.
The Spartans outgained Indiana 540-288, had 30 first downs to the Hoosiers’ 11 and dominated time of possession (36:25-23:27). Jalen Berger ran 21 times for 119 yards, and Keon Coleman caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. But none of those superlatives mattered beyond the final score.
“You guys have been asking me all season, ‘Is it execution? Is it execution?’ Well, when we turn on the film, you’ve heard me say it before, it’s going to be death by inches. That’s what it’s gonna be,” said coach Mel Tucker, whose MSU team lost for the first time in 15 games the past three seasons when leading after three quarters. “Right after this, I’ll turn on the film when I go back to the office right after this, and I’ll want to vomit.”
Indiana (4-7, 2-6), which had lost seven straight, opened the game with a 43-yard kickoff return from Jaylin Lucas to start its first drive at midfield. It took just four plays for Dexter Williams II to race around left end, slip through Xavier Henderson’s diving tackle try and dance down the sideline for a 34-yard touchdown. The replay of whether the quarterback stepped out of bounds proved inconclusive to the refs, and the call stood to give the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead 1:48 into the game.
MSU’s defense held the Hoosiers to 31 yards in the first half after that drive.
The Spartans answered with a 19-yard Patton field goal on their next possession, stalling at the 2-yard line with two straight run plays and an incompletion.
Thorne directed a touchdown drive early in the second quarter, set up by a 29-yard run by Berger. The junior quarterback tried to hit Collins in the flat, but the throw was too fast and went through the running back’s hands. However, the ball deflected to tight end Maliq Carr, who slid and caught it for a 5-yard score, his first career touchdown catch to give MSU a 10-7 lead.
Berger blasted off a 36-yard run on the Spartans’ next possession, Thorne hit Tre Mosley for 13 yards on third-and-7 and Collins finished it with a 1-yard TD run for a 17-7 lead.
MSU forced a three-and-out, and Coleman scored on a two-yard reception for a 24-7 advantage at halftime.
Thorne went 13 of 15 for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the half, and Berger ran for 97 yards on 14 carries. The Spartans outgained the Hoosiers, 274-81.
The Spartans opened the second half by nearly fumbling away the kickoff, then went three-and-out after a failed flea-flicker and a dropped third-down pass from Thorne to Daniel Barker.
It took Indiana one play to get back in the game. Shaun Shivers took a handoff from Williams off the right side and found nothing but open field ahead of him. He outraced Henderson for a 79-yard touchdown just 1:20 into the third quarter to cut the Spartans’ lead to 24-14.
MSU answered with a six-play, 69-yard drive, capped by a 31-yard run by Collins after he caught a 22-yard swing pass. Thorne also hit Reed for 22 yards on third-and-4 to extend the drive. The Spartans appeared headed to an easy win, up 31-14 with 6:17 to play in the third.
Everything collapsed from that moment.
Lucas weaved through MSU’s kickoff coverage unit and outraced Chester Kimbrough to the end zone to make it a 10-point game 13 seconds later. Then after the Spartans took the ensuing kickoff, Thorne’s pass to receiver Germie Bernard got batted into the air after the freshman got hit just before the ball arrived. Indiana’s Jonathan Haynes snatched it out of the air at the MSU 29.
The Spartans’ defense held IU to a 40-yard field goal, but the Hoosiers tied the game with a nine-play, 70-yard drive that carried into the fourth quarter.
Williams and Lucas set Indiana up for the tying touchdown with big runs, then Josh Henderson converted a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard run to the MSU 1. He scored on the next play.
MSU marched 70 yards in 14 plays, giving Patton a chance to win it with a 22-yard field-goal attempt. But the left-footed Auburn transfer missed wide left, and had his 28-yard attempt blocked in overtime after a high snap.
However, the Spartans’ Michael Fletcher blocked Indiana kicker Charles Campbell’s 27-yard field-goal attempt to send the game to a second overtime. But after the Hoosiers took the lead, Thorne’s last-ditch pass sailed high and pulled Reed beyond the end zone, and the ball got jarred out after he landed.
And left MSU’s bowl future in serious jeopardy.
“It’s not exactly, ‘Hey, on to the next one’ right away in the locker room. Sometimes, you just gotta soak it in for a little bit. Even when it’s not the good one,” Thorne said. “We’ll be back at it tomorrow, and we’ll be ready to go. But you can’t always say, ‘Hey, on to the next one, on to the next one, on to the next one.’ It is – but sometimes you just gotta reflect on what just happened.”
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