Spartans plan a homecoming celebration:

It’s homecoming, and the Spartans expect to celebrate with a victory and take another step toward a 2019 Big Ten East title when they host Indiana on Saturday.

The Spartans have an overall record of 3-1 including 1-0 Big Ten and it would be fair to say the Spartans are trending up. On the other hand Indiana has compiled an overall record of 3-1, but their compass is pointing down after a major beatdown at the hands of Ohio State.

Let’s look at the Spartans:

The Spartans have beaten Tulsa, Western Michigan and Northwestern accompanied by a painful loss to Arizona State.

It’s been well documented of course that the Spartans Offense has been a bit inconsistent. The Offense was off script vs Tulsa scoring just one Offensive Touchdown; on script vs WMU scoring 6 Offensive Touchdowns; off script vs ASU posting just one Offensive Touchdown; and back on script vs Northwestern whereby the Spartans Offense rolled up 4 Touchdowns against a solid Wildcat Defense.

Overall, the Spartans are scoring 29 points per game, but when we deduct Field Goals and Defensive Scoring, the Offense is only scoring 21 points per game including PAT’s and that’s not enough to win a Big Ten title, nevertheless the Offense seems to be trending in the right direction.

The Spartans have conceived a viable passing attack averaging 261 Yards per game, which is solid if not dynamic. Meanwhile the Rushing Offense is still a work in progress averaging a fraction less than 150 Yards per game which is middling at best, nevertheless the Rushing Offense has discovered a measure of consistency with Elijah Collins averaging nearly 90 Yards Rushing per game at a robust 5.9 Yards per attempt and that trend line is pointing up.

Offensive Coordinator, Brad Salem deserves credit because he has refused to abandon the run even when yardage has come grudgingly. The Spartans are averaging nearly 40 Rushing attempts per game, and nearly 40 Passing attempts per game: actually 37 Rushing to 35 Passing, so opposing Defenses must defend both, they can’t over commit against the pass and disregard the Run as frequently occurred in 2018..

In addition, the Offense is a bit more efficient compared to the first 4 games last season. Interceptions have declined from 5 last year through the first 4 games, to just a single Interception in 2019, that’s a net decline of 4 Interceptions in 4 games. In addition, fumbles “lost” have declined from 4 to 3.

It would be fair to say, the Offense is more efficient and trending up, and a key factor is the fact they are not beating themselves with critical Turnovers.

Spartans Defense continues to lead the way:

When measured against 129 Division 1 Schools, the Spartans Defense is a major force, ranked in the Top 10 in five major statistical categories. The Spartans Defense ranks #3 Rushing (52 Yards per game)…#5 Total Defense (228 YPG)…#9 Sack’s (3.75 per game)…#10 Tackles for Loss (8.5 per game)…and #10 Scoring Defense (11 Points per game). Those are extraordinary stats by any measure.

When we compare the first 4 games of 2018 to the first 4 games of 2019, the Passing Defense has improved dramatically. The Passing Defense yielded nearly 300 Yards per game during the first 4 games of 2018, yet after the first 4 games in 2019, the Passing Defense is only yielding 176 Yards per game, that’s an improvement of more than 100 Yards per game, and that improvement will pay huge dividends as the Big Ten season unfolds.

The reason for the improvement? Last season, Paul Haynes was settling in as the Spartans new Defensive Backfield Coach after the departure of Harlon Barnett. Haynes unit struggled a bit in the first half of 2018 as the Secondary tried to settle into Haynes system, but his unit improved dramatically as the season progressed. In fact, in the last 5 games of 2018, the Spartans Passing Defense yielded just 144 Yards per game (compared to nearly 300 Yards per game in the first 4 games), and so the Passing Defense is picking up where they closed 2018 by shutting down opposing Receivers, so give credit to Paul Haynes unit.

Improvement in the Defensive secondary has translated onto the scoreboard as well. A “stingy” Defense is even more “Stingy”. Through the first 4 games last season, the Spartans yielded an average of 22 points per game. By comparison the Spartans are yielding just 11 points after 4 games this season, which ranks #10 amongst 129 D-1 Schools.

The Spartans Defense has essentially cut opponent scoring in half, and there is no reason to think that trend won’t continue.

Now comes Indiana:

Indiana comes to Spartan Stadium with a record of 3-1 overall but winless in the Big Ten with a record of 0-1.

Indiana has beaten Ball State, Eastern Illinois and UConn, but got beat up and beat down by Ohio State 51-10.

Indiana had hopes of competing for the Big Ten East title, and that meant starting the season by either beating Ohio State or competing with Ohio State to the bitter end, but Indiana fell behind 30-10 at the Half, and went scoreless in the 2nd Half as the Buckeyes took the wind out of Indiana’s sails and hammered Indiana 51-10.

It was more than a loss, it was a devastating loss for Indiana because it was a celebrated home game with extraordinarily high expectations at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, complemented by one of their largest crowds in recent memory. But when the stadium clock ticked zero, it was a painful reminder the Hoosiers have a lot more work to do: Indiana hasn’t arrived in the Top tier of Big Ten East…just yet.

But don’t take Indiana for granted. Head Coach, Tom Allen has fashioned a disciplined Football team, and they have athletes, but they simply don’t have the depth of talent you expect amongst the Big Ten Elite.

Moreover, Indiana is unsettled at Quarterback and that’s a problem at any level. Indiana started the season with Michael Penix Jr. at Quarterback and he posted impressive stats in victories vs Ball State and Eastern Illinois, but along the way Penix was injured and he gave way to Peyton Ramsey the incumbent from last season. Of course, Quarterback carousel is not a good formula for success. Two different Quarterbacks with two different skill sets, and that’s not easy for an Offense to switch back and forth.

The stats Indiana posted against Ohio State are meaningful for comparative reasons. Indiana only Rushed the football for 42 Yards at 1.4 Yards per attempt, and posted a modest 215 Yards Passing vs the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes clearly shut down Indiana’s Offense, and it would be more than fair to say, the Spartans Defense is equal to, if not better than the Buckeyes and so there is no compelling reason that Indiana will have a better day Offensively vs the Spartans than they did vs the Buckeyes.

The Spartans are favored by 14, but by the end of the day, the Spartans should enjoy an 18-21 point victory, and weather conditions are not expected to be at issue.

I hope to see you at the Varsity “S” Club Tailgate.