BLOOMINGTON – Did it have to be Michigan State? Couldn't the Indiana powers that be have figured out a way to schedule a season road opener against somebody soft, cuddly and meek like, say, Florida A&M?
“We're going to have a great test this week,” quarterback Nate Sudfeld said.
Forget about basking in the glow of the unprecedented Penn State victory. That's yesterday's news. We live in an instant-information age and the future waits on no one.
IU's future has a green-and-white hue. It's the downside of having a five-game season-opening home stand.
The Spartans ( 4-1 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten) are not a juggernaut in the manner of, say, crush-all-comers Oregon, but they have owned the Hoosiers (3-2, 1-0) over the years. They have won four straight meetings and eight of the last nine, with a victory margin of basically 25 points.
“We have a phenomenal challenge,” coach Kevin Wilson added.
Specifically, the offense faces a great challenge. That's saying something because if there's one thing the Hoosiers can do under Wilson, it's score. They score with diversity, with big-play strikes and blink-and-you-miss-it drives.
But that's against ordinary defenses. The Spartans aren't close to ordinary.
IU faces unwanted one-dimensional prospects with multi-dimensional hopes. The Hoosiers want to run and pass against Michigan State, but that's as likely to happen as the government agreeing on anything.
Teams don't run on Michigan State. Check that. They try, and they fail. The Spartans allow just 51.2 rushing yards a game, the best in the Big Ten. Nobody has reached 100 rushing yards against them.
Iowa faced the Spartans in the Hawkeye cozy confines of Kinnick Stadium last Saturday with a rushing attack that averaged 244.4 yards a game and got stuffed. The Hawkeyes gained 23 yards on 16 attempts. Mark Weisman, the conference's second-leading rusher entering the game with a 123-yard-a-game average, had just nine yards on seven carries.
Michigan State doesn't sell out on the run and leave everything else vulnerable. It also leads the Big Ten in pass defense (152.6 yards allowed), total defense (203.8 yards) and scoring defense (13.4 points).
It almost seems unfair, just as Mariano Rivera's cutter once did.
Still, IU has the conference's best passing attack (346 yards a game) and second-best scoring offense (44.4 points). Sudfeld has a big arm, and he has big-play receivers such as Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn to throw to when he's not targeting Ted Bolser, one of the nation's top pass-catching tight ends.
And don't be surprised if the Hoosiers tap into the two-quarterback success Northwestern has found to more fully utilize Tre Roberson, who ran for two TDs against Penn State.
But Wilson sees beyond that, past the Xs and Os to a program mindset that continues to evolve.
“It's still going to be a bunch of work,” he says. “We've been very inconsistent -- Once we do it, you don't see it. Once we do it, you don't see it.”
In other words, the Hoosiers have gone win, lose, win, lose, win. The pattern suggests a disappointing Saturday, but Wilson wants no part of that. He gave up a successful job as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator to win big in a place that rarely wins much, and he's not about to back off the throttle.
“Good teams become really good because they repeat what they're capable of doing. What we saw (against Penn State) was how we're capable of playing. If we're going to be good, we'll back it up with being the right kind of kids we need to be, having a good week of practice, getting better, go up to East Lansing and play well.”
At minimum, good teams win the games they should win, and sometimes win those they shouldn't.
Michigan State's offensive inconsistency (it's 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense) leaves vulnerability even the defense-challenged Hoosiers (11th in scoring defense) can exploit. This is, by any definition, a most winnable game.
Indiana just made history.
It might as well do it again