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Michigan State Football vs. Purdue Preview

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The Spartans look to get their second Big Ten win in West Lafayette against an improved Purdue team.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it's a sign of MSU's improved cachet with college football fans that this game against Purdue was chosen to be aired at 3:30. Maybe the execs over at ABC Sports thought MSU vs. Purdue would be more interesting than either of Indiana vs. Iowa or Illinois at Wisconsin. Whatever the case, MSU will look to stay in the Big Ten title and playoff hunt by facing the Boilermakers in West Lafayette. Here's a look at Purdue:

Purdue - The Story so Far

After finishing 1-11 last season, one would think it would be nearly impossible for Purdue to do anything but improve on last year's campaign. Sure enough, they've improved. They began the season with a win over Western Michigan, then lost to Central Michigan by 21 points at home. However, Purdue didn't wilt. They played both Notre Dame and Iowa tough before losing, and have wins against Southern Illinois and regular Illinois in Champaign. By virtue of that Illinois win, the Boilermakers are no longer the laughing stock of the conference, and we'd like to welcome the Illini to that position.

Purdue on Offense

Danny Etling began the season as the starter as quarterback, and had a less than stellar run of play, completing 54.9% of his passes. He also averaged 4.9 yards an attempt and had a passer rating of 102.47, both the lowest in the Big Ten among quarterbacks. Darrell Hazell then turned to Austin Appleby, who had a great start against Illinois, completing 15 of 20 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. Appleby will be the starter, and Purdue might finally have a long-term starting QB after years of a carousel at that spot.

Raheem Mostert started the season at running back for the Boilermakers; however one too many fumbles caused him to lose that spot after the Southern Illinois game, and Akeem Hunt took over. Hunt has excelled in the position, running for 90 yards in 14 carries against Iowa, and for 177 yards on 30 carries against Illinois. Undoubtedly Hunt will be the feature back again against MSU. The Boilermaker rushing attack averages 4.68 yards an attempt, putting it almost smack dab in the middle of the Big Ten pack at 8th.

Purdue on Defense

Runners against Purdue average 3.85 yards per attempt. That puts them at 10th in the conference in that stat, just behind Northwestern and ahead of Ohio State. As for passing, Purdue ranks second to last in the Big Ten in  allowing 269.5 yards in passing per game. However, a second look at the stats indicates that the Boilermakers' pass defense is not quite as bad as that stat would indicate, as passers against Purdue have a QB rating of 125.13, putting them 10th in the conference.

Keys to the game

  • A return to efficiency for Connor Cook. Cook hit enough big plays last week to pull out the win against Nebraska, but his completion percentage was below 40%, definitely not up to his normal calibre.  The toughest opponent Purdue has played this season is Notre Dame, and the Boilermakers did a good job of limiting the Fighting Irish on the ground, as their rushers averaged 3.7 yards a carry. If the runs don't work, Cook will have to complete those short passes to move the ball.
  • Stop Akeem Hunt. Austin Appleby did a great job against Illinois last week, but the Spartan defense will be a significant step up in difficulty, even though they've had trouble defending the deep ball this season. MSU did a great job in stopping Ameer Abdullah last week, and even though Hunt looks like he could be a very good back, I doubt he's as good as Abdullah. I'd rather have Appleby try to beat the Spartans.
  • Solidify the special teams. Like the Spartans' other units against Nebraska, the special teams were great in the first half, and heavily suspect in the second half. Mike Sadler put two punts inside the five yard line, but his line-drive kick in the fourth quarter was a big reason Nebraska returned that kicked for a touchdown. Michael Geiger made two field goals inside the 30, but he doinked one in the fourth quarter off two posts, which SHOULD'VE BEEN THREE POINTS FOR DOING THAT ALONE, but alas. MacGarrett Kings muffed a punt which gave the Huskers excellent field position. In all, it was the worst special teams performance in a long time for MSU, and here's hoping they fixed most of it.
This isn't the same Purdue team as last season. They've significantly improved, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in a bowl game this season. After last Saturday's near collapse, I'd expect MSU to come out with focus and purpose and put away the Boilermakers. However, Purdue played both Notre Dame and Iowa tough, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Spartans take all four quarters to secure the game.