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Hoosiers Ready For Next Big Test Against No. 24 Spartans

Michigan State looks exactly the same to Indiana coach Tom Allen.

Indiana v Florida International
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Head coach Tom Allen of the Indiana Hoosiers during the second half against theFIU Golden Panthers at Ricardo Silva Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

The offense is big, strong and fast. The defense is tough and stout. And yes, the 24th-ranked Spartans again appear to be a legitimate Big Ten contender.

To Allen, that makes Saturday's Big Ten opener a perfect test as the Hoosiers try to show they are back on track.

Indiana v Michigan State
EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 21: Running back Morgan Ellison #27 of the Indiana Hoosiers is pursued by linebacker Chris Frey #23 of the Michigan State Spartans during the first half at Spartan Stadium on October 21, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

"The expectation is we've got to score touchdowns when we get down there (the red zone). You don't beat a team like this kicking field goals," Allen said. "We've got to play great defense. They have big old backs, big receivers, a really good quarterback, a big old offensive line."

Allen learned some of those lessons during his first two seasons in Bloomington.

Last year, when the Hoosiers failed to score touchdowns they blew a fourth-quarter lead and wound up losing 17-9 to the Spartans.

Indiana v Michigan State
EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 19: William Gholston #2 of the Michigan State Spartans holds the Old Brass Spittoon, given annually to the team who wins the MSU-Indiana game, after the victory against the Indiana Hoosiers at Spartan Stadium on November 19, 2011 in East Lansing, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Hoosiers 55-3. (Photo by Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images)

In 2016, when Allen was Indiana's defensive coordinator, the Hoosiers walked away with a 24-21 victory and the Old Brass Spittoon — the only time Mark Dantonio has lost the trophy since becoming Michigan State's coach.

This year could be different for the Hoosiers (3-0). They're coming off their most complete game of the season and are one win away from their second 4-0 start since 1991. Michigan State (1-1), meanwhile, barely got past Utah State in the opener and has had two weeks to fix the flaws from a loss at Arizona State.

"I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit," Dantonio said. "They have also had time to step away from football for a day or so. You know, I'm looking forward to watching our players play on Saturday night."

The Spartans understand what's at stake.

Indiana v Florida International
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Peyton Ramsey #12 of the Indiana Hoosiers attempts a pass during the first half against the FIU Golden Panthers at Ricardo Silva Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Indiana has caused major problems for a long time now, with quarterback Peyton Ramsey and freshman running back Stevie Scott leading the way, they now have a more balanced attack. The Hoosiers young defense has improved steadily.

Now comes a big prime-time test for both teams.

"We sort of put that on the radar that it would probably be at night and knew this was going to be a big game for us," Dantonio said. "So we needed to be ready for this game. We put a lot into this, into how we have orchestrated our calendar and what we've tried do and it's important that we play well."


Dantonio knows all about Indiana punt returner J-Shun Harris. And he didn't need last week's game tape to remind him how quickly the speedster can swing a game.

Indiana v Michigan State
EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 21: Linebacker Byron Bullough #38 of the Michigan State Spartans makes a shirt-tail tackle on wide receiver J-Shun Harris II #5 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the first half at Spartan Stadium on October 21, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Indiana 17-9. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

"He's a guy you have to defend and you have to work special things throughout practice to really get ready for him," Dantonio said, noting he scored once and nearly a second time in last week's win. "He should be commended just for coming back from I think his third ACL injury. He's a testament to hard work and dedication, there's no question about that."


The last time Indiana opened the Big Ten season against Michigan State was 2016 in Bloomington, which also happened to be the last time Indiana started 4-0. They haven't beaten the Spartans in consecutive home games since 1991 and 1993, giving the Hoosiers a chance to take their next big step.

"Win Big Ten games, period, that's what's next," Allen said. "We've got to win Big Ten games."


The Old Brass Spittoon might not be the Stanley Cup, the Borg-Warner Trophy or the Lombardi Trophy. But it's been a coveted prize in this series since it was first awarded in 1950. And, while the Hoosiers haven't talked much about how they celebrate with the trophy, Dantonio drew laughs when he explained the Spartans routine.

"We spit in it," Dantonio said.

He's not kidding.

Utah State v Michigan State
EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31: Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans throws a first half pass while playing the Utah State Aggies at Spartan Stadium on August 31, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

"I've spit in it a couple times — had the opportunity after a game to do that. So that's fun," quarterback Brian Lewerke said. "It's a very interesting trophy. It's a little beat up now, but it's something we take pride in."


Indiana receiver Whop Philyor was a freshman sensation in 2017. But this season he's been more of a decoy. Through the first two games, Philyor has five receptions for 46 yards — something that could change this weekend or any weekend this season.

"We have more playmakers on offense than we had I feel a year ago, so there will be I think different games where different guys," Allen said. "There will be games where he'll get a whole bunch of catches."

© 2018 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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