Hoosiers look to halt Michigan State's surprising surge

Circumstances certainly are much different for Michigan State this week than they were the last time the Spartans prepared for a home game.

Three weeks ago, Michigan State was getting ready to host Iowa following a lopsided 38-18 home loss to Notre Dame, and some felt the wounded Spartans were staring at a 2-4 record, given their upcoming schedule.

The Spartans had to gear up for a stretch of games against a typically solid Iowa team that nearly upset No. 2 Penn State a week earlier, play at rival and top-10 foe Michigan and then travel to Minnesota for a night game.

Michigan State raised a lot of eyebrows by not only surviving that stretch, but thriving with three consecutive victories.

Now, No. 18 Michigan State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) returns hometo play Indiana (3-3, 0-3) as a contender for the conference title.

What a difference three weeks makes, especially on the heels of a 3-9 record last season and a roster full of freshman and sophomore starters.

"It speaks to tradition that we have here," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said."2015 was not, 'Oh, hey, they won a (Big Ten) championship in 2015. How did they do that?' We had won others. We have won a lot of football games here. The expectation and foundation was to win football games and go to bowl games. We have had double-digit wins here five times. Those are the expectations."

Indiana is coming off a 27-20 overtime home loss to Michigan on Saturday.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey made his first start, replacing Richard Lagow, after recently sharing time. Ramsey was 20 of 41 for 178 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown against the stout Wolverines defense.

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The Hoosiers scored 10 points in the final 3:27 of regulation but gave up a 25-yard touchdown run on the first play of overtime and never recovered, remaining winless in conference play. In fairness to Indiana, those three conference losses have come to Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.

"I look at where we are at in our schedule and we are the only Big Ten team that in our first seven games is playing four Top 20 teams," Indiana coach Tom Allen said. "That's been a great challenge for us and a great opportunity to compete against really good programs right out of the gate. It has really been good for our guys to be locked in and focused."

Unlike in past years where a pass-happy offense was Indiana's strength, the Hoosiers this year have relied more on their defense. Indiana is seventh in the Big Ten in total defense and fourth in pass defense, despite playing the heavyweights of the conference. Linebacker Tegray Scales, a preseason All-American, has a team-high 48 tackles, including 3 1/2 sacks. Rashard Fant is rated the ninth-best senior cornerback by NFLDraftScout.com.

"I have been very impressed with how they have played the games," Dantonio said. "They play hard, they come get you on defense and tackle effectively. On offense, they give you a variety of problems."

Michigan State is coming off a 30-27 win last Saturday night at Minnesota, a game in which the Spartans were in control until a late Minnesota rally made the game interesting. Michigan State led 30-13 early in the fourth quarter.

Running back LJ Scott finally broke out last week with career highs in carries (25) and rushing yards (194) while scoring two touchdowns. Michigan State had been getting decent rushing numbers overall this season, but much of that production was coming from sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke and receivers on jet sweeps.

Although the Spartans allowed the Gophers to score touchdowns on their last three possessions, defense has also been a strength for Michigan State.

The Spartans are second in the Big Ten in total defense. Only two opponents have scored more than 14 points.

"They are playing good football on that side of the ball, for sure," Allen said. "There are not a lot of superstar guys. Maybe they are a better team that plays well together and complements each other well."

This will also be a trophy game, with the winner claiming the Old Brass Spittoon.

Indiana broke a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry last year, reclaiming the trophy with a 24-21 win in overtime. The Hoosiers haven't beaten Michigan State in consecutive years since 1993-94.