Another sleepy start for Michigan State nearly led to a nightmare late.

The Spartans were sawing logs. Catching some zzzs. They looked like they were completely unaware of the situation.

Their stars were nowhere in sight, and host Indiana kept swinging.

Near-TDs for RB Stephen Carr and WR Miles Marshall in the late stages would have given Indiana a much-need boost and really shook the No. 10 Spartans. Carr was short at the goal line and Marshall slipped a foot out of bounds on an overturned TD reception. Carr ended up diving in for 6 right after he was called short on the doorstep. A failed 2-point conversion kept the game at 17-15 in favor of MSU, which couldn’t get out of Bloomington fast enough during its 20-15 road win.

Imagine if the Marshall TD counted. Things could have been different for IU (2-4), which hung around with stout defense while backup QB Jack Tuttle struggled to lead the offense.

Luck was in MSU’s favor most of Saturday.

Another close call for a top team.

That’s not what the Spartans (7-0) needed at Indiana, especially after their snail-paced start vs. Rutgers the previous week. After finally rolling out of bed, the Spartans won 31-13 vs. the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey. But MSU didn’t just have a rough start vs. Indiana, it essentially slumbered through the entire afternoon, barely escaping vs. a team it was supposed to easily handle.

During the first 30 minutes of game time, Bryce Baringer was the front man of the Spartans’ offense, which, considering that he’s a punter, wasn’t a great sign for a team that was hoping to reach 7-0 for the first time since 2015. The 2015 team won 8 straight before falling on the road to Nebraska and still made it to the Cotton Bowl (38-0 loss to Alabama).

After readjusting expectations, this year’s team was thought to be on a similar, mostly-dominant pace. Now it appears to be somewhat lucky — due to consecutive concerning weekends — to be undefeated and still in the race for a Big Ten title.

Anyway, back to Baringer, who had a season-high 6 punts for 255 yards — in the first half alone — and was basically MSU’s way of moving the ball. His career-high came against Ohio State in 2020, when he punted a mind-boggling 10 times for 435 yards during the 52-12 loss in East Lansing. For a few moments, it looked like he would approach those same statistics.

Week 7 wasn’t what the Spartans envisioned … but the dream season remains intact. Big Ten contention probably would have been dashed, realistically, with a loss to a struggling Indiana team playing without star QB Michael Penix Jr.

What naptime looks like

This is what confusion looks like

Couldn’t get it together early

MSU opened Saturday with two quick 3-and-outs. A long ball dropped by WR Jayden Reed had TD potential. But it didn’t matter, because IU was flagged for an illegal substitution, giving the Spartans another shot at scoring 6 points. However, QB Payton Thorne and WR Jalen Nailor couldn’t connect on a pass that would have moved the sticks, forcing another punt.

Penalties were a pain for MSU. During its third offensive series, a false start by TE Connor Heyward kept MSU inside Indiana’s 20-yard line and forced, you guessed it, another punt by Baringer.

Indiana’s offense has struggled this season, averaging a Big Ten-worst 28.3 points per game. If not for FG kicker Charles Campbell, Indiana would have been blanked in the first half. But a trio of field goals gave the Hoosiers a 9-7 lead at the break.

If not for a 30-yard pick-6 by DB/LB Cal Haladay, the Spartans wouldn’t have had points on the board in the first half.

N0-show from stars

Thorne was 4-for-10 with a first-half season-low of 34 yards. Considering that he’s been one of the steadiest QBs in the Big Ten, that horrid beginning was quite the surprise. He looked out-of-rhythm and confused for most of the afternoon; he also threw his 3rd pick of the year, another sign that Saturday just wasn’t the Spartans’ day.

The nation’s leading rusher, RB Kenneth Walker III, had 10 attempts for 22 yards, also a season-low for a half. The Hoosiers dialed-in on the Heisman candidate, shutting down the star Spartans ball-carrier at nearly every turn.

After having 4 catches for 208 yards — and 3 TDs — during the first half vs. Rutgers, WR Jalen Nailor had just 1 catch for 3 yards during the first half.

Jayden Reed, best known for his punt returns vs. Nebraska, was blanketed all day by the Hoosiers DBs — particularly Jaylin Wilson, who broke up what would have been a first down midway through the third quarter. With field position being an issue all day, the Spartans could have used some success on that attempt. It could have led to a touchdown.

Indiana, entering Saturday, had the No. 9-ranked passing defense in the Big Ten, allowing 223 yards per game. However, against MSU, the Hoosiers DBs looked like an all-league defensive backfield.

Passing defense woes continue

Entering Saturday, MSU had the worst pass defense in the Big Ten, allowing roughly 300 yards per game. During the first half vs. Indiana, the Spartans allowed Tuttle to throw for 122 yards, having great success on bubble screens and short slants and crossing routes.

Haladay’s pick was a highlight for the pass defense, but CBs such as Chester Kimbrough — whose side of the field was targeted all day — had a rough afternoon against a mediocre Hoosiers attack. Late in the fourth quarter, Kimbrough chased down Tuttle, forcing a fumble — but then the Spartans gave away the ball on the next play, with Thorne throwing his second pick of the afternoon.

Bubble screens were a pain for the Spartans. When those stopped working, Indiana decided to stretch the field and work the middle. Tuttle didn’t put up video-game numbers, but he picked apart MSU DBs in relief of Penix, who didn’t play due to a shoulder injury.

MSU Players of the Game

DB Darius Snow had an INT, thanks to pressure applied by DL Jacob Slade, late in third quarter. Despite pass-defense concerns, and the fact that he had personal struggles, Snow deserves a nod for making a big play as the Spartans pushed toward the fourth quarter.

Speaking of Slade, he was among the steadiest Spartans on either side of the ball Saturday. Though Tuttle had some success in the air, he was constantly looking around for Slade, a 3-year starter and one of MSU’s most important players on the D-line.

Noah Harvey, LB, had a major goal-line stop in the first quarter that held the Hoosiers to a field goal.

Haladay’s pick-6 in the first half proved to be more than a timely play — it literally kept the Spartans afloat against the Hoosiers.

Tyler Hunt scored his first career TD, a 12-yard TD reception from Thorne late in the third quarter.

Matt Coghlin isn’t having one of his typical seasons, in which he hovers around 80 percent accuracy. However, he nailed a pair of field goals that provided points for a team that couldn’t get its offense going at full capacity. A 49-yarder midway through the fourth quarter gave MSU a 20-15 lead that it never relinquished.