East Lansing – Take a look at the box score and Michigan State was dominant on Saturday afternoon.
With bowl eligibility on the line in the last home game of the season, the Spartans had their way in nearly every category.
Total yards? Michigan State 540, Indiana 288.
First downs? The Spartans had 29 while the Hoosiers had just 11.
How about time of possession? Michigan State held the ball for 36:25 to 23:27 for Indiana.
Indiana quarterback Dexter Williams II completed one pass for 7 yards in regulation – yes, one completion – while Michigan State’s Payton Thorne threw for 298 yards and two scores while Jalen Berger and Elijah Collins both ran for more than 100 yards.
It’s hard to process what took place in the final 30 minutes.
But to truly understand how Michigan State blew a 17-point lead it held with 6:17 left in the third quarter, there’s one phase of the game in which the Spartans were dominated – special teams.
Indiana got an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown while Michigan State’s Ben Patton missed two short field goals – a 22-yarder that went well left at the end of regulation and a 27-yarder in the first overtime after a bad snap – as the Hoosiers rallied for a 39-31 victory in double overtime.
BOX SCORE: Indiana 39, Michigan State 31 (2OT)
The win ended the Hoosiers’ seven-game skid and means Michigan State (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) must win next week at Penn State to become bowl eligible.
“Obviously, it’s not a very exciting time,” Thorne said. “The locker room, it’s silent. Guys are a little bit in disbelief the way the game ended. It stings. It’s not exactly, ‘Hey on to the next one,’ right away in the locker room. Sometimes you just got to soak it in for a little bit even when it’s not the good ones. So we’ll be back at it tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go, but you can’t always say, ‘On to the next one, on to the next one, on to the next one,’ even though it is. Sometimes you’ve just got to reflect on what just happened.”
What happened will likely haunt the Spartans, especially if they’re unable to pull the upset next week.
Coach Mel Tucker said he’d want “to vomit” when he watched the film, something he said he was going to do as soon as he finished his press conference.
What he’ll see over the final 30 minutes will, no doubt, be nauseating.
Michigan State allowed a 79-yard Shaun Sivers touchdown run on the first play after going three-and-out to begin the second half. And when Elijah Collins looked like he restored order on the next drive with a 31-yard touchdown run, the ensuing kickoff was taken back 88 yards by Jaylin Lucas to cut Michigan State’s lead to 10.
On the next play from scrimmage, Jonathan Haynes intercepted a deflected pass, setting up a Hoosiers field goal from Charles Campbell. Michigan State was forced to punt on its next possession and Indiana put together a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to tie the score at 31.
The Spartans responded by driving into Indiana territory, but a fourth-down pass near the goal line fell incomplete. Michigan State then forced a punt and the offense marched inside the 5, setting up Patton’s first miss to force overtime.
“We had an opportunity to end it with a field goal,” Tucker said. “We were trying to get it as close to the middle as we could and call timeout with four seconds left and he misses to the left.”
The Spartans got the ball first in overtime and had a chance for a touchdown but Thorne’s pass to Tre Mosley under pressure was just out of Mosley’s reach. That’s when a high snap led to Patton’s 28-yard kick being blocked.
Michigan State got new life when Michael Fletcher blocked Campbell’s 27-yard attempt to force a second overtime. But Indiana scored in two plays in on a Shivers 1-yard run and Michigan State failed to convert a fourth-and-7 from the IU 10 to end the game.
“It’s a trophy game, baby,” Indiana coach Tom Allen told Hoosiers radio after his team secured the Old Brass Spittoon. “What a win.
“No matter how the season went, we stayed in the fight. We know how good this team is. We had to put it all together today.”
Michigan State did plenty to win as Berger ran for 119 yards and Collins gained 107 with two touchdowns. Keon Coleman caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, as well, but the Spartans allowed Indiana to run for 257 yards after entering the game as the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten, averaging just more than 85 yards a game.
“Explosive plays,” safety Xavier Henderson said, explaining how things unraveled. “I think there were three touchdowns where dudes went untouched. So, you take those out, we make them drive more. … I don’t know. But they had the one on the kickoff where a dude goes untouched and two on defense. We just got to tackle better. I’ve got to tackle the dude on the first touchdown he scored, or at least get him out of bounds. But credit to them. They played hard. They played the whole 60 (minutes) and we did not.”
Things didn’t start well for Michigan State as Indiana needed just four plays to get on the scoreboard. Williams, in his first career start, scored on a 34-yard run to give the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. Michigan State answered by marching down to the Indiana 2 on its opening possession but couldn’t get in the end zone, settling for a Patton 19-yard field goal to cut the Indiana lead to 7-3.
Michigan State then took the lead in the second quarter when Thorne’s pass to Collins deflected into the hands of Maliq Carr for a 5-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead. Michigan State got another three-and-out before Collins scored on a 1-yard run to extend the Spartans’ lead to 17-7. Another three-and-out for Indiana and a good punt return by Reed set the Spartans up at the Hoosiers’ 34 late in the second quarter and 10 plays later, Thorne hit Coleman for a 2-yard touchdown pass and a 24-7 lead that would hold into halftime.
It was all a preamble for easily the biggest collapse under Tucker, rivaling the 2019 loss at home to Illinois.
Now the Spartans will be forced to pull themselves out of the misery once again.
“Knowing that a bowl game is on the line is OK, but at the same time we sit here and we build week by week,” Collins said. “For me personally, it’s day by day, but you only focus on the team right in front of you. So, yeah, we would love to win and get a bowl game but at the same time we’ve got to take everything in just like we did previously, because, truthfully, we could have won today. Today was a very winnable game, but at the same time, it didn’t happen.”