Indiana's season has not gone the way it hoped.
The Hoosiers set a goal of reaching the Big Ten championship game, but after a 2-3 start, Indiana could end up fighting for bowl eligibility in the season's final weeks.
During their bye week after a 24-0 loss to then-No. 4 Penn State, the Hoosiers' coaching staff did a three-phase analysis of the team, looking for areas where Indiana can get better in the second half of the season.
“Definitely it's been frustrating and disappointing,” coach Tom Allen said of the season so far. “But at the same time you hit reset. You learn from those mistakes. We've got a football team that has a lot of character to it and toughness to it and a lot of fight.”
The Hoosiers will need to fight today because their first game after the bye is against undefeated, No. 10 Michigan State.
The Spartans come to Bloomington 6-0, 3-0 in conference play, one of the bigger surprises in college football this season after going 2-5 in 2020. The Hoosiers beat the Spartans 24-0 last season to collect the Old Brass Spittoon for just the second time since 2007.
Michigan State is led by running back Kenneth Walker III, a Wake Forest transfer and the nation's leading rusher with 913 yards (no other back has more than 800) and nine touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry.
“Tremendous vision and patience,” Indiana defensive coordinator Charlton Warren said in describing Walker's ability. “He doesn't just plug a gap, he lets the offensive line work for him. He is eight yards deep in the backfield sometimes in (their) pistol set (quarterback back from the line of scrimmage with the running back behind him). He gets to within 3 to 4 yards of the line of scrimmage, makes an explosive cut and then accelerates at full speed.”
Indiana's offensive line, meanwhile, has not worked as well as the Hoosiers would like. Running back Stephen Carr is picking up only 3.8 yards per carry and just 2.9 against the three ranked teams Indiana has faced. Finding a way to open holes for the running game was a significant part of Indiana's bye-week project.
“I would say just the unit as a whole has been inconsistent, and we haven't produced good enough,” offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “The person that is most responsible for that is me, not the players. I think there are a lot of quality players in that room that can play better, and that's my job to make sure that we're allowing for that.”
Getting some semblance of a run game going will be paramount for Indiana because there is a chance the Hoosiers will be playing with a backup quarterback. Starter Michael Penix Jr. suffered a separated shoulder against Penn State and is “week to week,” according to Allen.
Allen said Monday the Hoosiers will announce their starting quarterback at kickoff today. If Penix can't go, Jack Tuttle will get the start.
Tuttle started two games in place of Penix last season and beat Wisconsin on the road.
The Hoosiers say Tuttle has the trust of the locker room. If it's the backup that has to get the turnaround started, so be it, Indiana believes.
“This is what we came here to do, to play against the best,” IU safety Devon Matthews said. “I feel like we just need to go out there execute, do our jobs, and win games. We just have to win, that's it.”
Indiana vs. Michigan State
When: Noon today
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten), No. 10 Michigan State (6-0, 3-0)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 92.3 FM