This was an early defensive play that really set the tone for what the MSU defense was able to do to Purdue all day. They kept them off balance and had them out of sorts throughout the contest.
It’s third-and-long for Purdue after a near interception and a tipped pass on first and second down. MSU only has two down linemen, but is going to rush six total, including safety Khari Willis.
Purdue is going to have four people running routes, three of which are highlighted here, with the other behind the score bug at the bottom of the screen.
The slot receiver is Moore and he’s just going to sit down about two yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He is probably the only open player on the play, but because of the rush, Blough is forced to roll the opposite way.
Kenny Willekes creates the initial pressure, forcing Blough to step up, then Willis on the blitz flushes him out of the pocket.
Blough forces the throw to his tight end who is coming across the field. But he’s not coming straight across as he’s kind of fading downfield as well. The Spartans have the route bracketed over the top and underneath, so there is really no window at all to make the throw.
Blough either doesn’t see Dowell underneath, or he thinks his receiver is going to cut across in front of him. The result is an easy pick for Dowell, as it looks as if he was the intended receiver all along.
The different look up front and the pressure helped to create the turnover, even if it was Dowell and the coverage that came up with the ball.
Two Minute Offense
MSU actually used their timeouts on defense to set up a two minute drive opportunity at the end of the first half. But getting points didn’t seem as sure a thing after a 74-yard punt by Purdue set up them at their own 13-yard line.
But then Rocky Lombardi and the Spartans got things going on offense.
The first two plays were designed roll-outs to the right, which is both Lombardi’s arm side and the wide side of the field in this scenario. The first play Lombardi is forced to throw it away. The second he connects with Nailor for an 11-yard gain and a first down.
The next play Lombardi hits his tight end Sokol for another first down gain to the Purdue 38-yard line. With no timeouts the Spartans are forced to go tempo after the completions, and it is working.
After an incomplete pass on first down it sets up 2nd-and-10.
MSU has an empty backfield with five wideouts. Purdue is going to blitz their linebacker in the middle, putting everyone else in one-on-one coverage. Lombardi recognizes this and keys in on Stewart in the slot to the right.
Lombardi throws an absolutely perfect back shoulder laser to Stewart, who makes the catch and turns it up field for another five yards or so. It’s a big gain and gets MSU inside the Purdue 40 with plenty of time to operate. More than that though, this is just a fantastic throw and catch that really can’t be defended if executed like that.
Next play Lombardi has Dotson here for nine yards and he gets out of bounds. And follows that with another dart to Chambers on an out right to his left. Then they try Stewart on an end-around that gains three setting up second-and-eight from the 11-yard line.
Remember how I said that back shoulder throw can’t be defended in one-on-one if done right...
Well there it is again for the touchdown. That’s a nine play, 87 yard touchdown drive in 1:26 with no timeouts. Lombardi was 6-for-8 on the drive for 85 yards and a touchdown. He threw one pass away on purpose and misfired on the other incompletion. He was in complete control of the offense and going with tempo only seemed to help him an the rest of the offense get into rhythm.
Four Minute Offense
From the two minute drill to the drive to try and ice the game. Both are equally important, and neither have been super successful for MSU this year, until Saturday.
They start with a jet sweep to Nailor to the wide side of the field that picks up 15 yards. Jefferson then falls up the middle for three yards on first down, followed by a Lombardi option keeper for six more and a QB keeper for the first down on third and short.
That gives MSU a first down in Purdue territory and the clock is at 2:15 before they snap it again and Purdue is down to one timeout. Already you are in pretty good shape to at least be able to wind it down and force Purdue into a long field.
Jefferson runs for no gain on first and Purdue uses their last timeout with 2:11 to go. A first down ends the game. Speedy Nailor is not merely satisfied with a first down though.
The blocking is good enough that Nailor is able to get all the way to one side untouched before cutting it back across the field to daylight. There just wasn’t a lane for him to the right so, he went back to where there was one, and then all the way to the end zone.
Also, Lombardi trailing him all the way down to take out the last Purdue defender that had a chance is fantastic. Everyone on the MSU offense stayed committed to blocking on the play and it allowed Nailor to do his thing.
So the drive only takes 2:31 off the clock, but it puts MSU up two scores and basically ends the game.
Even before the big play it was a successful drive though as they were set up to bleed most of the remaining time on the clock no matter what.
Thoughts on Lombardi
What stood out after re-watching the game was how in control Lombardi was basically the entire game. He wasn’t great, but he was very good. He didn’t make mistakes, he didn’t force things, he took what was there, and he made some great throws in tight spots with plenty of zip on them. The only real knock was that he missed a few deep balls, most notably to Layne in the first half. But he also dropped a couple to Stewart in the endzone that could have gone for TD’s if Stewart holds on to one and gets a toe down on the other.
Lombardi also ran the ball confidently and with power. He stiff-armed a Purdue defender early in the game, lowered his shoulder throughout the game, and plowed his way for first downs on multiple third-and-short sneaks.
He stepped up in the pocket, bought time, escaped pressure and made throws down the field or scrambled when he had to. He played within himself and the offense and looked comfortable doing it.
These are not things that would have magically developed since last week with one additional week working with the first team offense. It was an impressive debut and at the very least should give MSU fans confidence that there will not be a huge drop off at the quarterback position due to injury.