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Michigan St.-Indiana Preview

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The pieces are in place. Now Michigan State’s defense just needs a bit of fine-tuning.

Facing an Indiana team that just lost its starting quarterback might do the trick.

The eighth-ranked Spartans look to smooth out a few minor defensive issues Saturday when they visit Bloomington, where Indiana will try to move on after Nate Sudfeld’s season-ending injury.

“I think we’re playing OK,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. “Statistically, we have given up some plays, but we have won the football games.”

The Spartans (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) need to allow fewer “explosive plays,” Dantonio said, defining those as runs of 15 yards or more and passes of 20 or more. That work starts with slowing the nation’s top rusher, Tevin Coleman, when the Spartans face Indiana (3-3, 0-2).

Coleman’s job figures to be a lot tougher without Sudfeld handing him the ball. The junior’s season is over after he injured his shoulder in the second quarter of Indiana’s 45-29 loss at Iowa last Saturday.

Upping Coleman’s workload could be one solution now that true freshman Chris Covington is the starting QB, but coach Kevin Wilson says that won’t be the answer.

“We’ll keep throwing it,” Wilson said. “You got to keep your offense going. You got to stay in attack mode. We’ll emphasize different things because of the talent level of the quarterback and his youth, but you got to stay in attack mode.”

Last weekend, Michigan State’s allowed 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a 52-yard TD run, and 340 yards during the 45-31 win at Purdue. It didn’t perform as well as it did one week prior against Nebraska, perhaps the best showing of the season.

“I think we had more energy against Nebraska,” sophomore linebacker Riley Bullough said. “I think we’ve just got to finish. We did a pretty good job, we’ve just got to keep our momentum rolling from the first three quarters and we’ll be fine.”

The Spartans actively pursued Coleman as a defensive back in high school. In last season’s meeting with Michigan State, Coleman looked just fine at tailback, breaking free for a 64-yard run just over a minute into the game on the Hoosiers’ first possession, putting Indiana up 7-0.

That play serves as a reminder of what the Hoosiers’ star running back is capable of this week.

“We can see that from last year and we can see it from this year in how he’s been playing,” senior middle linebacker Taiwan Jones said. “We know we gotta go in, eliminate their big plays on offense in general and continue playing Michigan State football.”

In the end, Michigan State beat Indiana 42-28 last year, but those 28 points were tied for the most the Spartans gave up all season.

Indiana’s up-tempo offense also gave Michigan State trouble when it traveled to Bloomington in 2012. The Spartans saw a similar looking offense in Oregon early this season, and will look to shore things up having given up 46 points to the Ducks.

“We saw how we performed the first time. Now we’ve made our adjustments — how are we going to react to it this time? It’ll be that Oregon pace and we’ll see how we fared up against it,” junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun said.

But Michigan State is second in rushing defense in the Big Ten and rose to the occasion the last time it faced an elite tailback in Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, who entered East Lansing as the nation’s top back and was held to just 45 yards and 1.9 yards per carry. It was the first sign that this Spartans defense, which includes six new starters, could stack up against any offense in the country.

“We’re coming as a defense,” Dantonio said. “I think we are playing some younger players and they are getting better. … I think we’re just trying to continue to strive towards being perfect.”

That’s an intimidating prospect for Covington. The Spartans enter Saturday tied for eighth in sacks in the FBS with 22, bringing speed off the line of scrimmage that Indiana has not faced.

“It’s (speed) pretty hard to simulate, especially a Michigan State defensive speed,” Hoosiers offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said.

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