BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Although in just his second full season, Indiana University coach Tom Allen knows the program history.
The Hoosiers are seeking a 4-0 start for just the eighth time in the school history when it hosts No. 24 Michigan State (1-1) in the Big Ten opener for both teams at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We are going to be absolutely focused on Michigan State and everything we have to do to win this game,” Allen said. “To me that’s the next step. You take them one at a time. We try to train a team to think that way, allow them to play their very, very best. We know we play in a great league with a lot of great teams. This is a great opportunity for us to take the next step in our season, which is to be 1-0 at the end of the week.”
Last season, the Hoosiers led 9-3 early in the fourth quarter at East Lansing and Michigan State scored two unanswered touchdowns for a 17-9 season.
“We didn’t finish last season,” Allen said. “We had opportunities to hopefully score touchdowns in the red zone. To their credit defensively, that didn’t happen for us. They were really good on defense.”
The Spartans are strong defensively again.
“Haven’t given up hardly any rushing yards at all, stingy down in the red zone,” Allen said. “Coach (Mark) Dantonio always has a great defense, big, strong guys that are very well-coached. The expectation is we got to score touchdowns when we get down there. You don’t beat a team like this kicking field goals. That’s the objective there, the expectation.”
On the other side of the football, Allen said his team has to play great defense.
“We’re still developing and growing,” he said. “They have big old backs, big receivers, really good quarterback, big old offensive line. They’re a bona fide, legit Big Ten football team that’s contending for the Big Ten championship. We are going to have to play our best game of the season, have our best week of preparation, execute at the highest level in all three phases.”
Although Dantonio is 8-1 against the Hoosiers, he said they always play well against his team.
“They expect to play us very well again,” Dantonio said. “It’s always been a close football game, you know, really, throughout time, really, even when there’s been a couple of occasions where we’ve sort of distanced ourselves, it’s been at the end of the game.”
The Spartans are coming off a bye week after losing 16-13 at Arizona State on Sept. 8.
“Nobody likes to lose and when you lose, you want to get back on the other end — the other side of things,” Dantonio said. “I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit and they have also had time to step away from football for a day or so; we gave them that opportunity, as well. You know, I’m looking forward to watching our players play on Saturday night.”
Spartans junior 6-foot-3 quarterback Brian Lewerke has completed 50 of 72 passes for 601 yards and three touchdowns. Allen is impressed with his accuracy.
“They got big receivers that can be matchup problems,” Allen said. “He’s (Lewerke) athletic enough to beat you with his legs. He’s tough enough to run over you. That’s kind of always a big challenge with a big quarterback like that because the rules are such to protect him. He comes barreling at you, runs you over, instead of sliding sometimes. I think he’s a tough old guy that loves to play the game. I have a lot of respect for him, how hard and tough he plays.”
LJ Scott leads the Spartans with 130 rushing yards, most coming in the first game.
“LJ Scott is a tremendously talented running back with a big old load, has great feet, good speed,” Allen said. “They’re really a complete team. They don’t have a weakness. They’re very, very solid in all phases, special teams included. Their defense is maybe the strength of their team.”
Dantonio said he anticipates IU redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey providing a challenge for his defense.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job there, throwing the ball for I think 72-plus or 74 percent completion rate but high, very high,” Dantonio said.
IU running back Stevie Scott has Dantonio’s attention as well. Scott has rushed for 388 yards in the three games, being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the past two weeks.
“He’s (Coach Allen) got them playing hard on defense, as always, it seems. Give you a lot of different looks, a lot of different pressures,” Dantonio said.