In yet another “close, but no-breakthrough” contest, Indiana played a tough Michigan State defense that was ranked among the highest in the country. The Spartans allowed only a little more than 10 points per game the entire season leading up to the game and the Hoosiers blew that total out of the water with a total of four touchdowns.
In this week’s tale of the tape, we look into three area that helped the Hoosiers stay close against No. 25 Michigan State on the road: how the offensive line handled their business without Coy Cronk, freshman DB Tiawan Mullen’s impressive individual performance, and a look into Michigan State’s quarterback roll plays.
Hoosiers’ Offensive Line Handles Business without Coy Cronk
IU’s biggest offensive concern going into its matchup with the Spartans revolved around the offensive line creating lanes in the running game and protecting QB Michael Penix. Well, the Hoosiers answered the bell on Saturday afternoon.
On this 1st quarter run, take a look at the excellent blocking effort by RT Caleb Jones (#77) and RG Simon Stepaniak (#72). Jones drives MSU senior DT Mike Panasiuk (#72) out of the way, while Stepaniak stones late-blitzing linebacker Tyriq Thomspon. TEs TJ Ivy (#84) and Peyton Hendershot (#86) handle their responsibilities as well, and RB Stevie Scott does the rest for an 18-yard pickup.
In the passing game, the O-Line blocked cleanly as well. Teams have to sharpen their focus in the red zone, and that took place on this 2nd & 3. OC Kalen DeBoer calls a screen to WR Ty Fryfogle. On the play, LG Harry Crider (#57) and LT Matthew Bedford (#76) thwart a “stunt” maneuver by Mike and Jacub Panasiuk. Meanwhile, Stepaniak fakes his block, then releases out to the second level to get a piece of 2018 First Team All-Big Ten LB Joe Bachie (#35). He does his job, then talks a little smack to Bachie. IU would get a field goal on the drive to cut the deficit to four points.
Later in the quarter, the Hoosiers started off their drive with a run play to Scott that nearly broke for a huge gain. Bedford’s block here should go on his future NFL highlight tape. He torpedoes DT Jacob Slade, a fellow freshman, to the ground to open up the cutback lane for Scott. On a side note, First Team All-Big Ten DE Kenny Willekes dominated TE TJ Ivy on this play, but IU still got a good gain.
Finally, the biggest offensive play of the game for Indiana would never have occurred if it were not for the steadiness of Bedford and Crider. Notice how Bedford strides step-for-step with Jacub Panasiuk before striking him in the chest to keep him away from Penix. Similarly, Crider does a good job getting low against MSU DT Raequan Williams. One other nugget: nearly every snap from center Hunter Littlejohn hit Penix perfectly in the hands; you don’t see that out of many NFL centers. Ultimately, Penix had time to look deep, and he delivered the TD strike to Whop Philyor.
Tiawan Mullen Shines in Lackluster Indiana Secondary
The one bright spot of Indiana’s defensive performance on Saturday came in the form of cornerback Tiawan Mullen. The true freshman had a breakout performance against the Spartans where he recorded four pass breakups with two of those preventing touchdowns. The Fort Lauderdale native is showing growth as a defender in the Big Ten during the first five games and is stepping up as a young leader for the Hoosier defense. These clips below highlight Mullen’s pass coverage where he uses his skillset to be a thorn in the Spartan’s sides.
On this play, Mullen lines up in man coverage against Michigan State’s leading wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. at the bottom of the screen. Stewart runs a fade route to the back corner of the end zone where quarterback Brian Lewerke places the ball into the hands of his receiver. Mullen stays tight to his man, turning his head to find the ball just before it arrives and gets his right arm in to cause a disruption leading to an incomplete pass.
The very next play from scrimmage has Mullen’s fingers all over it. The former four star prospect is matched up against Stewart again for this second and goal play. Stewart runs a crossing route at the goal line where he continues to the left side of the end zone. Mullen stays close to his opponent’s hip and does not get caught up in the route running. After the ball is thrown, Stewart is able to bring the ball in and at the last second Mullen rips the ball out of the Spartan receiver’s hands for his second straight pass break up.
Mullen went down after the play with an injury and had to go out of the game. After he went out Lewerke went back to Stewart on the following play where he was matched up against Raheem Layne. Stewart scored without trouble during the play and the Spartans went up by seven early in the second quarter.
Mullen returned to the game after the short delay of being out and went right back to causing turmoil for Michigan State’s offense. On this 3rd-and-5, the Spartans run a five wide receiver set where Mullen is matched up on slot receiver C.J. Hayes. Mullen drops back into coverage at the snap, trailing Hayes who is running a 10 yard route near the sideline. Mullen trails his man and has help over the top by linebacker Cam Jones.
Lewerke throws the ball and Mullen is in the right place as the ball bounces off his left shoulder when he is turned towards the receive. The breakup was Mullen’s third of the game and it stopped the Spartans from moving their drive into Hoosier territory.
The final clip from Mullen’s big day came in the fourth quarter as the Hoosiers tried to keep the Spartans from regaining the lead. Once again, the freshman is lined up on the Stewart on this 3rd-and-10 play where Lewerke is looking to get the ball to the middle of the field to his receiver. Stewart runs his route to the middle of the field and Mullen uses his athleticism to break on the ball and rips it out of his opponents hands for his fourth break up of the afternoon.
The defense had its issues on Saturday but Mullen stepped up when needed to, providing big stops for the Hoosier defense. He is still young and can use this game as a reminder of the type of player he can grow to be in as his career at Indiana rolls on.
Michigan State’s Quarterback Rolls
Early in the first half of the game, Michigan State’s offensive employed a number of quarterback rolls to keep the Indiana defense on their toes. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they bit hard and gave up critical yardage on a number of plays that you will see below. Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack eventually made the adjustments necessary to make sure coverage spread properly when senior QB Lewerke wanted to go on the run.
This play in the first quarter starts off with the entire Michigan State offense shifting left. With two wideouts lined up on that side, Lewerke makes a hard sell that he is looking to throw down field. After a quick block on Indiana’s defensive end and then enough of a “tap” on Indiana’s defensive back, Michigan State’s TE Matt Seybert (No. 80) buys enough time for Lewerke to escape. In the process, he pulls off and becomes the only player on the right-hand side. Lewerke drops an easy pass to his speedy tight-end that picks up the first down.
In another display of Lewerke’s mobility, Michigan State’s tight end lines up in the backfield with the quarterback. Lewerke fakes the hand-off to his running back as the offense begins to migrate to the right. TE Seybert moves in the opposite direction and his speedy allows him to find an open pocket that Lewerke can make the easy pass into. The Hoosier secondary catches on and is able to stop Seybert right away, but not before he crosses the first down marker.
Michigan State once again lines up in what looks like to be a play on the ground. Michigan State’s strongside receiver runs a good route that accomplishes two things. First, it pulls Indiana CB Tiawan Mullen across the field from the right to the left. Second, the receiver sets a pick on a second Indiana defensive back Juwan Burgess (No. 5). In fact, if you watch closely, the pair of Indiana defensive backs actually get smashed into each other as Burgess feels the urgency to cover the unguarded area of the field.
Meanwhile Michigan State’s offensive line attempts to move the entire line towards the left, which gives RB Anthony Williams Jr. a completely open lane that the Hoosier secondary can’t reach. Luckily for Indiana, Williams isn’t able to collect the pass which was a huge break on third down.
In this last and final example of Michigan State quarterback rolls, the Hoosiers finally are able to combine coverage of the secondary as well as enough pressure on the quarterback to make the eventually tackle. DE Ziemba quickly identifies that the Lewerke wanted to keep the ball and had to make a pivot in the Michigan State backfield. LB Reakwon Jones keeps his eyes on the quarterback and joins the chase when he understands what Michigan State is trying to run. Indiana gets the stop.