Cam Coffman (pictured above) said Indiana's lack of rhythm or execution on offense in the second half started with him, and cost the Hoosiers a win.
The math was basic and the analysis simple for Kevin Wilson, who had to spend a third-consecutive game Saturday explaining why his team narrowly whiffed on victory.
Entering Saturday, Wilson said he thought Indiana would need to score 30 points to win. The Hoosiers lost 31-27. He said Michigan State didn’t adjust anything drastically after IU’s excellent first half. The Spartans simply kept hitting until the Hoosiers fell over. And though his team again inched closer toward a first Big Ten victory under Wilson — this game Indiana’s lowest margin of defeat in its last 10 conference games — the second-year coach once more needed to explain how nearly simply wasn’t enough.
“Give credit to their guys and their coaches, they got it done at halftime and played a good second half,” Wilson said afterward, referring to visitors Michigan State. “You’re not going to beat a good team — you’re not going to win (in) the Big Ten like that and you’re not going to beat good teams if you don’t play 60 (minutes).”
For more than 53 minutes, Indiana (2-3) pushed its bid for an upset excellently.
Facing a power-running Michigan State (4-2) team, the Hoosiers often rolled a safety into the box, in a look reminiscent of the 1980s Chicago Bears’ defenses. Standout Spartan running back Le’Veon Bell racked up 132 yards on the ground, but at an average of just 3.3 yards per carry. He scored twice.
And in part because Michigan State couldn’t establish any sort of run game early, the Spartans’ offense struggled to get vertical in the first half.
Conversely, Indiana’s offense flourished in the first two quarters. Wilson said Michigan State’s base defense stays tight inside the tackle box, so Indiana attacked the edges with a mix of bubble screens and swing passes.
In the first half, Indiana piled up 280 total yards, 256 of them through the air. Michigan State came into Saturday’s action averaging less than 265 total yards allowed per game.
But after scoring 27 points in that opening half, Indiana went completely stale after the break, failing to score again and tallying just 37 total yards. Only two of Indiana’s six drives after halftime lasted more than three plays.
“We just couldn’t get it going,” said sophomore quarterback Cam Coffman, who ended the day 33-of-48 for 282 yards and three touchdowns but completed just 10-of-18 passes in the second half.
“Our offense, we like to go fast,” Coffman said, “go up-tempo, and it’s really about that first set of plays. If we get going, get in a rhythm, then we’re really rolling, really moving fast.”
Michigan State’s approach didn’t change drastically after the half, according to Wilson.
The Hoosiers continued to attack the edges, and the Spartans might have cheated their linebackers out slightly. But Indiana, which rushed the ball just five times after the break, simply fell to better execution and effort.
“I think they played a little bit harder,” Wilson said of Michigan State’s second-half improvement. “They got off blocks. We didn’t get our running game going well. That’s the nature of their defense. … I was just disappointed with our rhythm.”
That lack of rhythm, Coffman said, was Indiana’s undoing in the second half. When the Hoosiers’ moved the ball, it was by mixing those short routes and screens up, softening up Michigan State to get vertical in the passing game.
In the second half, when Indiana managed just two first downs, Michigan State wouldn’t allow the first part in that approach to gain traction, rendering the back half virtually obsolete.
By day’s end, the best defense in the Big Ten kept Michigan State in the game long enough to clock nearly 38 minutes on the offensive side of the football, wearing Indiana down.
Controversy made a brief appearance in the fourth quarter, when Michigan State appeared to muff a punt. The referrees determined the Spartans covered the ball, and in the ensuing scrum, redshirt junior tight end Ted Bolser was ejected for throwing a punch, according to the game’s lead official.
The Spartans put their fourth victory of the season to bed with a touchdown inside of seven minutes left in the game, and a late drive that bled the clock dry.
Coffman saw a different result, if he could have kept Indiana’s offense on schedule.
“If we don’t get going those first couple of plays, then we’re not as good as we should be,” he said, “and we just couldn’t get it going a couple of times, and that’s my fault.”