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Michigan State roundtable: Hoosiers host No. 10 Spartans on homecoming

Indiana had a chance to reset with a bye week following a 24-0 loss at Penn State, but are right back at with another top-10 matchup against Michigan State. Jack Tuttle will likely start at quarterback after Michael Penix Jr. suffered an AC separation in his shoulder against Penn State.

The Hoosier Network’s football crew Griffin Gonzalez, Jack Ankony and Tyler Tachman break down the most important questions ahead of Indiana’s sixth game of the season.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III leads the nation in rushing yards. Will Indiana be able to slow him down?

Griffin: Indiana will need to slow him down should they have any prayer in winning this game. Walker is truly a great runner but I wouldn’t describe him as unstoppable quite just yet. He hasn’t faced off against a defense quite like Indiana’s. I think they will do a good job of limiting him. 

Jack: Last year the secondary was Indiana’s strength, but I’d argue the front seven has been more impressive in 2021. Transfers Weston Kramer, Ryder Anderson and Jaren Handy have all made a noticeable impact while Micah McFadden and Cam Jones have anchored the defense. Indiana knows it has to slow down the run in order to win and I think there will be a concerted effort to do so.  

After feasting on interceptions in 2020, Indiana’s defense has just two this season. Will that change against Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne?

Jack: Payton Thorne has four interceptions through six games and always seems to make the smart read. The Spartans use play action well because of the run threat of Walker III, which helps Thorne. But at some point it feels like Indiana has to get back to its ballhawking style from 2020. I’ll say Indiana gets a second-half interception on a tipped ball. 

Griffin: This Indiana secondary has left a lot to be desired so far this season. As much as fans would love to see more interceptions, I would like to challenge everyone to find peace with Indiana’s ability to continue breaking up passes. That is a skill that won't show up in a stat sheet but has a significant impact on games being won or lost. Interceptions are nice but consistent defensive pass breakups are better. 

Indiana’s offensive struggles have been well documented this year. How can Jack Tuttle get the Hoosiers moving on offense?

Griffin: Honestly Jack Tuttle just brings a new face to the offense. Clearly the Penix gameplan just isn’t going to work anymore. Tuttle brings this unpredictability factor. We don't know how good or how bad he is going to be and in a weird way, that can be pretty exciting for this offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Indiana has a new life and energy in the weeks to come. 

Jack: While Penix tends to go for the home run ball, Tuttle has no problem going with an easy completion even if its for shorter yardage. We’ve talked all year about how Indiana hasn’t found an offensive rhythm, but Tuttle showed the ability to string together passes against Penn State, although both drives ended a blocked field goal and an interception. Indiana’s offense may be less explosive with Tuttle than Penix, but it will move more consistently. 

Tim Baldwin Jr. transferred after the Penn State game and David Ellis is now out for the season, leaving Stephen Carr as Indiana’s only scholarship running back. How concerned are you about Indiana’s run game?

Griffin: I mean the running game has been pretty non-existent so far this season so I really don't understand how this makes that big of a difference.

Jack: The pressure is on Stephen Carr even more to perform now that Indiana doesn’t have any established backups. Carr combines speed and power well, but what might be more concerning is the play of the offensive line. Without significant improvements from the line to create running lanes, the backfield injuries feel less important. 

Which Indiana player will be the X-factor in Saturday’s game against Michigan State?

Jack: Peyton Hendershot. He’s shown significant improvements this year running with the ball after the catch, which is a big help to whoever is under center. I think Hendershot will find the gaps in the middle of the Spartan defense, and Tuttle has no issue dumping it off for easy gains. Look for eight catches, 80 yards and a touchdown from Hendershot on Saturday. 

Griffin: Jack Tuttle. He has an opportunity to show the entire IU fanbase that he is capable of being the guy who can turn this season around for IUFB. Should he have a breakout performance, don't be surprised if IU wins this game. 

A win over the Spartans would mean __ ? 

Griffin: When I look at the remainder of the season, I think this is Indiana’s best and final chance to beat a ranked opponent. A win would bring this team the momentum it needs to keep this season going and turn things around. 

Jack: Indiana is a solid team that has floundered because of a difficult schedule. To me, this is a season-defining game for the Hoosiers. With a win, hopes of reaching a bowl game are very much in play – even with Michigan and Ohio State still on the schedule. The confidence that comes with a win could go a long way for Indiana. 

A loss on Saturday means __?

Griffin: It’s another loss that you were predicted to lose. So what? Should Indiana lose this game, the Hoosiers are going to be facing an uphill battle of confidence and momentum for the rest of the year. A win sends them forward in a positive way. A loss may change the way fans, players and critics view IUFB.

Jack: It doesn’t matter who is under center. Indiana’s problems are deeper than who takes the snap, and it’s time to seriously worry about this team appearing in a bowl game. Yes, Michigan State is another top-10 opponent, but last season’s success would feel like a distant dream if Indiana loses on Saturday. 

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