So, uh, yeah (big box score):
And in chart form:
[Note: I removed the last drive of the first half for Purdue (2 carries for 7 yards) and the last drive of the game for MSU (3 carries for -6 yards.]
How was MSU more explosive on a per-play basis, more efficient on a per-drive basis, better at finishing drives, +3 in turnovers, and still need a game-saving stop in the fourth quarter?
This Was the Worst Game for Special Teams
Yes, MSU gave up big returns against Western Michigan and Oregon. But MSU had huge field position advantages in both games, as well as in games against Air Force and Central Michigan. To have that flipped in a huge way is why Purdue was able to hang around in the way that it did. Purdue flipped field position and limited big plays, causing MSU to have to drive methodically. MSU was able to do that in the first half, and got better in the second half with two field goal attempts. Still, that's one way to stick around against a superior opponent.
Purdue's punter, Joe Schopper, was their MVP. He averaged 47.2 yards per punt, put three of his four punts inside MSU's 20, and allowed zero returns. MSU punter Jake Hartbarger has been solid on the season but was outplayed by Schopper, regardless of the muffed snap which gave Purdue a short field.
In the second half, MSU's average starting field position was their own 19.2 yard line. Purdue's average starting field position was on their own 36.4. Sometimes it is that simple.
The Run Defense Isn't as Bad as It Looks
If you sack-adjust the rushing average and subtract out the two carries for Purdue at the end of the first half which were meaningless, Purdue averaged 6.6 yards per carry. That's the worst since the Ohio State game last year. But it isn't without precedent; Wyoming averaged 6.7 YPC against MSU in 2014 and Purdue averaged 7.0 YPC in the 2014 game.
Of course, Purdue finally figured out that Markell Jones was by far their best running back and just gave him the ball a bunch instead of 5'7 D.J. Knox. Of course they did.
Additionally, 68 of Purdue's 177 yards came on one rush where Montae Nicholson took an absolutely horrible angle. Check it out:
This play did happen, but it seems pretty easily correctable. Without that play, Purdue averaged 4.2 yards per carry. I'm not overly concerned.
MSU has now been lucky in the turnover department in every game except Oregon. Typically this is an area where regression is likely; I do believe that MSU will continue to win the turnover battle against most teams just because the defense does a good job generating opportunities for turnovers, and Connor Cook is solid at protecting the ball.
Still, it terrifies me that MSU got about 10 points worth of turnover luck in a game against Purdue it won by 3 points.
If you haven't seen the history, check it out here. It is somewhat dated, but largely true; no MSU offensive lineman have been drafted under Dantonio. In 2013 and 2014 offensive line injuries were somewhat limited, but they are back with a force in 2015.
The injuries to Jack Conklin, Kodi Kieler, and Dennis Finley have, well, sucked. At one point, the line went Jack Allen at LT, David Beedle at LG, Brian Allen at C, Bennie McGowan at RG, and Donovan Clark at RT. Brandon Clemons and Miguel Machado also got playing time. When you have literally zero offensive linemen playing the positions they started with at the beginning of the year, things might go poorly. The second half woes on offense probably had something to do with this.
The good news is that the injuries to Conklin and Kieler are apparently not season-ending. So there's a chance the starting five of Conklin, Allen, Allen, Clark, and Kieler are back together before long. Is that before 10/17 in Ann Arbor? I have no idea.
And to be fair, MSU still ran the ball effectively in this game. Could those injuries (plus those to Josiah Price and Macgarrett Kings) have caused Dave Warner and Jim Bollman to be a little more conservative than usual? Perhaps.