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Defensive Dominance: IU shuts out Michigan State, takes back Old Brass Spittoon

Style points may count for the College Football Playoff committee. But not for Indiana head coach Tom Allen.

“Just really proud of our guys to come here. It's been a tough place to win over the years,” Allen said. “To get a shutout is pretty special.”

Michael Penix waits for the snap against Michigan State. Penix threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the win. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Indiana defeated Michigan State 24-0 Saturday on a cold afternoon in East Lansing to take back the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time since 2016. IU had not won in East Lansing since 2001. 

For the third time in four games it was all about the defense for the Hoosiers. The IU defense forced four turnovers for a total of 12 forced turnovers this season. 

In addition, Saturday was IU’s first non-Rutgers Big Ten shutout since 1993. But the IU effort was more of a suffocation than a mere shutout. In 12 possessions, Michigan State only twice had a drive of more than 25 yards.

“We talked about it all week, dominating this team,” IU linebacker Micah McFadden said. “I think

defense did a great job getting takeaways and giving opportunities to the offense to score.”

IU’s offense had 17 points off three turnovers. The only Hoosier score not off a turnover was a 65-yard touchdown pass from Michael Penix Jr. to Ty Fryfogle. That touchdown with five minutes left in the first half would end the game’s scoring. But Indiana had more than enough points thanks to their defense.

IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack had a simple gameplan to slow down an inconsistent Spartans attack: Remove Michigan State's struggling rushing attack and force them to throw the ball downfield. The plan worked to perfection.

Spartans starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi had two interceptions and was benched for backup Payton Thorne in the second quarter. Besides a 38-yard scramble on Thorne’s first play the redshirt-freshman was also not effective. IU’s defensive line was dominant and the linebacking corps led by McFadden was a constant in the backfield as the Spartans became one-dimensional trying to throw the ball downfield.

“We are getting better on the back end and front end,” McFadden said. “It’s just about everybody knowing each job and executing.”

Tiawan Mullen attempts to make a tackle during last season's loss at Michigan State. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

It was full circle from last year’s game at Michigan State. The Hoosiers outplayed the Spartans in 2019 in the second half but could not finish. The defense gave up some key plays. IU fell 40-31.

Since then, IU is 9-2 in Big Ten games. The meaning was not lost on Hoosier players.

“Last year we left a lot on the field,” IU cornerback Tiawan Mullen said. “This year as a unit we talk, we play together as 11 strong and once everyone is together and heading in the right direction nothing can break.”

Last year, Allen made a fiery locker room speech after the tight loss to Michigan State about belief in his team.

“It was this loss in East Lansing a year ago that was the catalyst to really help this team realize if we can just stay the course we are going to figure this out,” Allen said.

Saturday the Hoosier defense believed in every ounce of its superiority over Michigan State. It completed the rise of an Indiana defense from the worst in the Big Ten five years ago to now one of the best in the conference. 

However, next week is a major step up in competition. The Ohio State Buckeyes with Heisman candidate quarterback Justin Fields are an undisputed top offense in the country. IU has the playmakers and confidence but they will face a barrage of talent.

The Hoosiers have already defined the odds. Taking back the Old Brass Spittoon for just the second time in 12 years was another rewriting of the history books. Next Saturday in Columbus, an Indiana football win would throw the entire history book in the fire.

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