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Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Purdue

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Joe breaks down the Homecoming game against the Boilermakers

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

I typically write these previews after my weekly Thursday softball game. My team isn't very good, but we're competitive; we generally give up a big fifth inning and it goes downhill.

This week, though, we got to play the team at the bottom of the barrel in our league. We had an 11-0 lead at one point, and nearly got our first mercy-rule win. It felt good.

Purdue is the equivalent of that bottom of the barrel team. And not just in the Big Ten, but in the FBS; the Massey Composite puts them at 105th out of 128 teams. By one system they are the second-to-worst team in the subdivision. In Hammer and Rails' preview, they said this as a positive:

Instead of getting blown out by superior teams Purdue has at least improved to the point where it beats itself again.

They've lost to two non-Power 5 teams and got blown out by Virginia Tech. In Austin's Q&A, they openly pine for Danny Hope (22-27 record) and QB Robert Marve (22-14 TD-INT ratio, 11-13 record in games played at Purdue):

From a fan's perspective we have a large section of the fan base pining longingly for the days of Danny Hope.

I would love it if Blough turns into a Marve clone.

And not only that, but their offensive coordinator is a poor man's Lane Kiffin:

I think I speak for most fans though when I say the main problem with the offense is John Shoop the OC. The guy seems to continue falling up in life. No matter what he does he always gets another well paying job.

My point here is just that playing Purdue should cure whatever it is that ails you.

When Purdue Has the Ball

Rushing Offense

The Boilermakers have had a little more success than their 4.1 yards per carry might suggest; they're 52nd nationally in terms of running success rate. They just haven't been explosive, ranking 113th nationally in IsoPPP on running plays.

They feature two main running backs: Nick Hill-ian sophomore D.J. Knox, who comes in at 5-7, 197 and averages 3.9 yards per carry, and true frosh Markell Jones who comes in at a more reasonable 5-11, 207 and averages a more-concerning 6.5 yards per carry. With 27 fewer carries on the year, Jones has almost an identical number of rushing yards as Knox.

Quarterback David Blough will get involved somewhat, too. He's had 10 carries for 34 yards on the season. See Robert Marve comparison above.

MSU's front seven shouldn't have too much trouble bottling up Purdue's attack, though. MSU checks in at 22nd nationally in the combined S&P+ rushing metric, and having Riley Bullough for the whole game should be helpful.

Passing Offense

Fun fact: former MSU commit David Hedelin is the starting left tackle for Purdue. And Purdue's offensive line has been poor when it comes to pass protection; they've allowed 8 sacks so far this season, including at least one in every game. This has earned them the 98th spot nationally in terms of sack rate. Shilique Calhoun, Demetrious Cooper, and Lawrence Thomas should be able to get some pressure on David Blough.

This will be an interesting test for MSU's secondary. Blough is a freshman quarterback making his first start on the road behind a spotty offensive line; if he has a solid day I think the concerns about the secondary are real.

On the personnel side of things, wideouts DeAngelo Yancey and Danny Anthrop are the two main targets. Yancey is more of a big play threat with 19.2 yards per catch, but has only caught about half the balls thrown his way. Anthrop is the possession-type, catching 69% of balls thrown his way (nice) but averaging only 7.8 yards per catch. The running backs will be involved in the passing  game as well, with Knox and Jones combining for 21.7% of targets.

When MSU Has the Ball

Rushing Offense

Purdue is not good at stopping the run. They are 13th in the Big Ten in terms of average total rushing yardage per game, and dead last in terms of yards per rush. The fancier stats back that up, as well.

I was pretty happy with Dennis Finley against Central in terms of run blocking, and MSU was able to put the game away at the end behind a good day from Gerald Holmes. I expect to see all three of Madre London, L.J. Scott, and Holmes play on Saturday. Again, if MSU struggles at home against this Purdue team in this area, concerns will become real.

Sophomore middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley is the Purdude to watch here. Hammer and Rails referred to him glowingly as "a legitimate linebacker."

Passing Offense

Purdue is a little bit better at defending the pass; they're ninth in the Big Ten in both defensive passing yardage and defensive passing efficiency. Those still aren't fantastic, but Purdue's had to deal with the third-most passing attempts of any Big Ten team. So they've been somewhat efficient.

Purdue has done a nice job of getting to the quarterback; they're sixth nationally in terms of sack rate on passing downs. Sophomore defensive end Antoine Miles gets much of the credit for that, with four sacks and two force fumbles. Wherever #11 Miles lines up, he'll be interesting to watch.

Overall, Purdue does a decent job of limiting big plays offensively (#24 nationally in passing IsoPPP) but not in limiting opponents' efficiency (102nd nationally in passing success rate). If Connor Cook has a little time and can be patient, there will be opportunities.

Special Teams

Purdue has been at a field position disadvantage all year, partially because they average just 33.3 net yards per punt, good for second-to-last in the Big Ten. On kickoffs, the only team they are better than in the B1G is... MSU!? Wait, that makes sense.

The Boilermakers have also only been able to make 3-of-8 field goal attempts so far this season.

I expect special teams to be a positive for MSU.

Bottom Line and Prediction

One thing I failed to mention at the top of this post is that my softball team nearly coughed up that 11-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, and eked out an 11-8 win. We're not very good.

If MSU is unable to secure a rout in this game, I will commence worrying. But I'm confident that won't be the case.

MSU 42 - PU 14