If Michigan State makes a return trip to the Crossroads of America, it will point to this day.
But if the Spartans intend on being in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game Dec. 1, they'll need to play much better than they did at Indiana.
Mark Dantonio and his players are breathing a sigh of relief after surviving a major scare against the Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2). Michigan State rallied from deficits of 17-0 and 27-14 to outlast Indiana 31-27 at Memorial Stadium to even its Big Ten record at 1-1.
After a flurry of mistakes in the first half and change, Michigan State (4-2, 1-1) took control in the fourth quarter and overpowered an Indiana defense that surrendered 704 yards last week at Northwestern. Running back Le'Veon Bell stepped up in a big way and Michigan State's defense regained its form against Cameron Coffman and the Indiana offense, which had piled up 27 points and 279 yards in the first half. The Hoosiers outgained Michigan State 279-166 in the opening half as Coffman looked brilliant, completing 23 of 30 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
But Michigan State clamped down when it counted and surrendered just 37 yards in the second half. Bell had 37 carries for 121 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-deciding run in the closing minutes. Dantonio's decision to insert wide receiver Aaron Burbridge into the starting lineup paid off in a huge way, as the true freshman recorded eight catches for 134 yards. Burbridge's performance was even bigger after Michigan State lost tight end Dion Sims to a leg injury.
The Spartans couldn't have played much worse than they did in the first half, while Indiana surged before its home crowd. Coffman was exceptional, the defense stifled Michigan State aside from a brief stretch in the second quarter and Kevin Wilson pulled off a great onside kick call late in the half to set up a field goal. Indiana outgained the Spartans 183-22 in the first quarter.
Michigan State entered the game averaging just 5.6 penalties and 50.2 penalty yards, but they had no discipline in the first half, getting flagged seven times for 105 yards. Six penalties were personal fouls.
Those mistakes will cost Michigan State down the line, possibly next week against an Iowa team coming off of a nice win.
Indiana, meanwhile, can take some positives away from the game, namely Coffman's performance and that of a big-play receiving corps, but it still showed difficulty in finishing off Big Ten teams. The Hoosiers simply have to get tougher at the line of scrimmage if they want to capture some conference wins this fall.