An Opportunity To Reclaim An Offensive Identity

An Opportunity To Reclaim An Offensive Identity

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An Opportunity To Reclaim An Offensive Identity

Michigan State’s Week 4 contest is Saturday night in Bloomington against Indiana. The Hoosiers are 3-0, thanks in large part to a defense that has been similar to its offense in the way it has just been plain good – and we’re saying that with nothing but respect for the Hoosiers.

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One of the more disappointing elements of Michigan State’s tough loss to Arizona State in Week 2 of this season was the inability on the part of the Spartan offense to do two things:

Effectively rush the ball…

and…

Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns rather than field goals.

One of the stats that jumps out at a surveyor of the Indiana Hoosiers’ 3-0 start is the Hoosier opponents’ red zone efficiency:

Over the three games against Florida International, Virginia, and Ball State, the Hoosiers’ opponents have scored 100% of the time inside of the red zone and five of the six scores have gone for touchdowns.

Perhaps Michigan State can see that this Indiana defense – while stout enough to get the team to the 3-0 record it has – can be penetrated and scored upon when the ball is in that red zone that’s caused problems for the Spartans so far in 2018.

In looking back at the loss to the Sun Devils, the mistakes and inability to pound the ball in goal-to-go situations really were, in the grand scheme of things, the difference between what wound up being a loss and what could have been a comfortable victory.

Indiana appears to be potentially soft on defense when trying to keep opponents from converting inside of the red zone – the numbers, so far, suggest this.

The rest of Indiana’s defensive numbers have been pretty good during this nice start.

The Hoosiers have allowed an average of 18 points per game.

It would be understandable for Spartan fans to think that Brian Lewerke, LJ Scott, Connor Heyward, the offensive line, Felton Davis, Cody White, and the rest of the offensive contributors could all get it together for this ball game and show the firepower and discipline that was missing in the desert.

The Hoosiers have allowed a total of 620 yards rushing over three games – with a 562 yard total when taking tackles-for-loss into account.

The IU defense has allowed an average of 187 rushing yards per game.

The Hoosier defensive interior isn’t necessarily a strength of the overall unit – the team’s linebacking corps is the heart and soul of this defense.

Of Indiana’s top five tacklers so far this season, three of them are the team’s linebackers –

Dameon Willis, Jr is a 6’1″, 225 pound redshirt senior linebacker with 11 solo tackles and 3 assists.

Reakwon Jones is a 6’2″, 230 pound redshirt junior linebacker with 11 solo tackles, 2 assists, and 3.5 tackles for loss all to go along with 1 sack.

And T.D. Roof is a 5’11”, 224 pound sophomore linebacker who has registered 10 solo tackles, 1 assist, and 1 sack.

These guys make the Hoosier defense go – and they’ve done a nice job of making the defense go through three games so far this season.

Indiana’s passing defense has allowed opponents to complete 43 of 81 passes for a total of 406 yards on the season.

IU’s defense allows an average of 9.4 yards per catch and 135 yards passing per game.

That 135 yards per game seems more than decent – and the Hoosiers gave given up just three touchdowns through the air in three games.

Jonathan Crawford is a senior defensive back who goes 6’2″, 195 pounds and has 12 solo tackles, 3 assists, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.

All four of these defensive leaders played in Indiana’s 24-21 overtime win over Michigan State the last time the Spartans traveled to Bloomington.

These guys know how to beat Michigan State.

In the three wins so far this season, IU has created five turnovers – three fumble recoveries and two interceptions which they’ve converted into 13 points.

Indiana has allowed a 38% 3rd down conversion rate (16 of 42).

Sacks?

Indiana has gotten to the quarterback five times so far this season for 25 yards.

Head coach Tom Allen works as a bit of a co-defensive coordinator with his background as a defensive specialist.

Prior to taking over for Kevin Wilson in Bloomington after the 2016 season, Allen served as the team’s defensive coordinator following a whole career as a defensive guy.

His co-defensive coordinator on the staff is Mark Hagen.

While we have not confirmed this, SpartansWire is fairly sure that Indiana’s Mark Hagen is not related to Tom Hagen –

Together, these guys have improved Indiana’s defense substantially – the departed Wilson was a guy who concentrated almost exclusively on offense and the program was predicated on an offensive tempo and scheme that Wilson drove.

It’s important to note that Indiana’s offense still has remnants of Wilson’s frenetic – and effective – up tempo approach but that the pace has not remained as fast as it was with Wilson running the show.

As we addressed following the Utah State game, the rapid pace that the Aggies deployed all night long at Spartan Stadium had as much to do with what was an underwhelming defensive showing by the Spartans as anything else and Michigan State demonstrated against Arizona State that the defense can and does perform more far aggressively and effectively when lining up against an offense that doesn’t snap the ball every seven seconds.

Indiana may go up tempo from time to time Saturday night – but the entire game won’t feel like the Spartans are trying to keep up with a Cream and Crimson pinball machine.

But back to Allen’s and Hagen’s focus on defense – the Hoosiers have improved over the last three seasons –

Since Allen’s arrival as the defensive coordinator in 2016, Indiana is the most improved team nationally in total defense (-169.4 ypg) and passing defense (-134.1 ypg), the sixth-most improved in third down defense (-12.2 percent) and the ninth-most improved in points per game allowed (-12.3 ypg).

Even with the improvements that Allen and Hagen have overseen, the sense here is that this game might finally give the Spartans the opportunity to get the Michigan State running game into a rhythm it hasn’t found yet.

We’ll take a look at Michigan State’s offensive line situation in greater detail later this week – but, after two less-than-impressive performances and the bye-week, we’re presuming that the first two weeks of football have called for tweaking and altering a lot of scheme and personnel issues on the line and it seems like this is the game when the Michigan State rushing attack either establishes its identity for 2018 or maybe becomes a permanent member of the Witness Protection Program.

It also seems as if Brian Lewerke should be able to leverage his weapons through the air against a defense that hasn’t faced this level of talent yet this season and will be hard pressed to keep the Spartans from piling up substantial numbers through the air.

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