Kenny Willekes expects his Michigan State defense to be ready, no matter who is playing quarterback for Indiana.
“We have our game plan, we’re going to set up our game plan the way we’re going to do it,” the star defensive end said. “Obviously, they bring a little bit different things to the table, so you do got to prepare for both of them. We’re going to have our game plan, and we’re going to execute it.”
The 25th-ranked Spartans host Indiana on Saturday, and it sounds as though the Hoosiers plan to wait until kickoff before indicating if quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will play. He has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury, giving Peyton Ramsey — last year’s starter — a chance to reclaim the job, at least temporarily.
“We’ll see,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said Thursday on the topic of Penix’s availability. “We’re going to make that decision. It will be announced at kickoff, but just continue to progress and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Despite using two different starting quarterbacks, Indiana is No. 2 in the Big Ten with 308.5 yards passing per game. The Hoosiers (3-1, 0-1) face quite a test this weekend, though. Michigan State (3-1, 1-0) is tremendous against the run and can rush the passer as well. Willekes, Raequan Williams and the rest of the Spartans’ defensive front will be ready to pressure whoever is taking snaps for Indiana.
The questions for Michigan State are on offense. It’s still hard to tell what to expect from the Spartans in a given week. They were fairly unimpressive in a season-opening win over Tulsa. Then they rebounded with a 51-point effort against Western Michigan. That was followed by a desultory 10-7 loss to Arizona State at home — and then last weekend’s 31-10 win at Northwestern.
“Every game, it’s probably little things,” offensive coordinator Brad Salem said. “After the Arizona State game, our big focus is finish. You’re moving the ball, but the reality is you have to score.”
Against Northwestern, Michigan State had five red zone trips and came away with four touchdowns and a field goal.
The winner of this game gets the Old Brass Spittoon, and recently the series has been dominated by Michigan State. The Spartans have won two in a row and 17 of their last 20 against Indiana.
TACKLE BY COMMITTEE?
Allen continues to search for the best way to replace left tackle Coy Cronk, a four-year starter who suffered a season-ending lower right leg injury.
After Cronk was carted off the field last Saturday, Allen moved right tackle Caleb Jones to the left side. Freshman Matthew Bedford finished the game at left tackle, and on Monday the depth chart listed Jones as the starting left tackle, DaVondre Love at right tackle and Bedford backing up Jones.
That could change based on whether the left-handed Penix is healthy enough to play or the right-handed Ramsey makes his third straight start.
“Just trying to get those guys ready to roll, so — but that’s what you have to do,” Allen said. “That’s why you recruit and that’s why you develop your guys and I just think it’s a great opportunity for somebody to step up and take advantage of it.”
Only one Michigan State quarterback has thrown for 6,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 in his career. That was Drew Stanton, who played for the Spartans over a decade ago.
Brian Lewerke can join Stanton with 39 more yards rushing.
Michigan State’s Darrell Stewart leads the Big Ten with 30 receptions and 439 yards receiving.
This is Indiana’s first true road game of the season. The Hoosiers faced Ball State in Indianapolis and played their other three games at home.
Of course, home-field advantage didn’t help much in Indiana’s first Big Ten game — a 51-10 loss to Ohio State on Sept. 14.