The Old Brass Spittoon is the trophy that Michigan State and Indiana have been playing for since 1950, and the Spartans have held onto it in almost routine fashion.
Last year, the Hoosiers beat Michigan State in overtime to win the Spittoon for the first time in a decade. Beating the Spartans in back-to-back games would be even more rare.
“The Brass Spittoon is something that we take a lot of pride in. I know that over the years it’s spent more time away from us than here, and we haven’t been able to retain it in almost 50 years, back-to-back wins,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “So we want (the players) to be able to understand what it means.”
Last season was Indiana’s first victory in this series since 2006. The Hoosiers’ last winning streak against Michigan State came in 1993-94, and that’s only because the latter game — won 27-21 by the Spartans — was later forfeited to Indiana. Aside from that, the Hoosiers haven’t had consecutive victories in the series since winning three in a row from 1967-69.
It’s of little surprise, then, that Indiana is an underdog for Saturday’s game at No. 18 Michigan State. The Spartans’ loss to the Hoosiers last year came toward the beginning of a seven-game losing streak that derailed Michigan State’s 2016 season, but that 3-9 campaign is in the past now, and wins at Michigan and Minnesota have put the Spartans on the verge of becoming bowl eligible.
“Just playing with confidence. Last year, it maybe got away from us a little bit. But I don’t really like to talk about that much,” Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie said. “This year, we’re flying around, having fun, and the confidence is growing.”
Here are a few things to watch when the Spartans (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) host the Hoosiers (3-3, 0-3):
RUNNING GAME: Michigan State’s LJ Scott ran for a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend’s win at Minnesota, but he’s been in the news for other reasons this week: He faces a charge of driving with a suspended license.
The Spartans do have backfield depth. Madre London ran for 74 yards and a TD against the Golden Gophers.
STOUT DEFENSE: Indiana gave up 49 points in a season-opening loss to Ohio State. Since then, the Hoosiers’ defense has been tough. Two weeks ago, Indiana held Charleston Southern without a single completion, and Michigan managed only 58 yards passing last weekend against the Hoosiers.
CLOSING OUT: Michigan State’s three Big Ten victories were by a combined 14 points, and last weekend’s 30-27 win over Minnesota became close after the Spartans led by 17 after three quarters. That should give at least some pause to anyone ready to put Michigan State back among the conference’s elite.
“I think things speed up a little bit on you at the end of a game,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “You got to get off the field or make a first down, whatever you got to do. You’re going to make some mistakes, probably. I think as much as anything, it’s the competition you play against. We play against good football teams that are well coached. Nobody quits.”
TURNING AROUND: Michigan State was minus-six in turnover differential after the first three games of the season. In the three games since, the Spartans are plus-six.
TOP 20 CHALLENGE: Saturday’s game marks the fourth time this season that the Hoosiers will face a ranked team. Their conference schedule has been brutal to start — they’ve lost to Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
“I look at where we’re at and our schedule, and we’re the only Big Ten team that’s in our first seven games playing four Top 20 teams,” Allen said. “That’s been a great challenge for us and a great opportunity to be able to compete against the really good programs right out of the gate, and really been good for our guys to be able to keep them locked in and focused, and they’ve responded well to that.”