In yet another back-and-forth loss in the battle for the Old Brass Spittoon, Whop Philyor doesn’t think No. 24 Michigan State was necessarily the better team in IU’s 35-21 defeat Saturday night.
“We can match their talent any day,” Philyor said postgame. “We just shoot ourselves in the foot with all the mistakes and penalties. I don’t think they were a better team than us. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
There’s truth to Philyor’s words. For arguably the third consecutive meeting, Indiana showed flashes of outplaying the Spartans. Stevie Scott soared into the endzone to pull Indiana within 14-7 following a disastrous first quarter. The Hoosiers scored 14 unanswered points to spark an improbable comeback, cutting the deficit to 28-21 with 3:28 remaining.
Indiana, again, wasn’t run off Memorial Stadium’s field. Not after the Spartans made it 14-0 on a tipped pick-six. Not after Michigan State’s Matt Dotson got away with offensive pass interference to hand the Spartans a 21-7 halftime lead. And not after a 28-7 deficit sent its starved fans to the exits.
These are flashes, though, and certainly not a complete performance by any means. Against the nation’s top rush defense, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord conceded and abandoned the run early. Scott finished with 23 yards on 11 carries in his first Big Ten game. Once the Hoosiers married the passing game, Michigan State’s elite front seven began the abuse of Ramsey and his offensive line. IU’s quarterback was sacked three times, but the onslaught made it feel like thirty. To make matters worse, a steady pass rush spoiled any opportunity for the Hoosiers to consider downfield plays.
“When you struggle to run the ball, it’s harder to throw the ball,” Ramsey said. “I don’t know. They were dropping guys into coverage and made it a little bit tougher than we anticipated to throw the ball downfield.”
As expected, supposed strengths of this Indiana team came into question in its Big Ten opener. The offensive line left many plays to be desired against an opposing defensive line that will carry the Spartans for the rest of 2018. And IU’s redzone execution was alarmingly poor for the entire night. The Hoosiers left first-half points on the board with a turnover on downs from the Michigan State 18-yard line — as a quarterback draw and shotgun handoff couldn’t manage a yard on 3rd and 4th downs. Khalil Bryant intercepted Lewerke on the Michigan State 7-yard line, and IU only moved backwards after an offensive pass interference penalty. On four drives ending inside Michigan State’s 30-yard line, the Hoosiers only mustered ten points.
“They play bend don’t break,” Ramsey said. “We moved the ball and got down there, especially in the first half. We couldn’t punch it in, they got tough. They made it harder on us and we didn’t execute to the best of our ability. It’s tough, because I think there were so many opportunities for us to score points on offense. A lot of missed opportunities. I would say it’s difficult for us to not put up enough points to win the game.”
It was not the best game for this Indiana offense — an offense that built legitimate expectations through the first three weeks. In fact, this was an Indiana offense that looked as limited as it’s ever been since Ramsey took over at quarterback. Ramsey threw the ball 46 times, the most of his career. Indiana is 1-3 when Ramsey attempts over 40 passes, and 5-1 when IU’s quarterback throws less than 30 times.
Challenging games (i.e: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State) result in deficits and more passing plays. But under Ramsey, Indiana’s offense does not succeed when its quarterback is dropping back over 45 times. For this offense to function properly, it must be able to run the football. If Indiana has any hope of reaching a bowl game, it will be able to accomplish that next Saturday against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights gave up 405 rushing yards to Kansas two weeks ago.
“Very, very disappointed in our running game,” Tom Allen said. “You have to run the football. It really puts a ton of pressure on you when you can’t have time to function in both the pass game and moving the ball in the run game. That’s an area that really bothers me.”
It should bother Allen, because there’s few ways for this Indiana offense to move the football without a competent running game. One of those is Philyor, who matched his career-high in receptions with 13 and broke his career-high in yards with 148 yards on Saturday night. He was banged up early and played through injury. Postgame, Philyor believes he sprained his ankle and said it’s very sore. It hurt to stand. The Hoosiers might not require his presence in Piscataway, but they’ll need him soon after. Columbus awaits.
Indiana wasted a valiant effort from its defense. Despite missed tackles on Michigan State’s first scoring possession, the Hoosiers played through some serious adversity. Both Raheem Layne and Andre Brown were both cited for very questionable pass interference penalties. Marcelino Ball was ejected for targeting and will be suspended for the first half of next week’s game. It certainly bent, but didn’t generally break. It showed flashes, but again, it just was not enough. In front of 45,445 at Memorial Stadium, Indiana failed its first opportunistic test of 2018. At least three remain.
“Disappointing performance and outcome tonight,” Allen said. “Had a great opportunity as a program and didn’t take advantage of it. I thought we were inconsistent in a lot of different areas.”