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3-2-1 Preview: 3 things we want to see, 2 key stats and 1 best bet for Michigan State vs. Purdue

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Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

While I haven’t mentally turned the page to this week, it was still probably worth writing about.

I am still riding the high from Michigan State’s win over Michigan on Saturday, and I have the luxury of doing that because I am just an idiot with a blog and not an actual player. I’m sure Mel Tucker and company have been beating it into the ground how focused the team needs to be this weekend.

So let’s try to at least know something about this weekend’s game, even if we are still stuck in Celebration Mode — and let’s hope the Michigan State Spartans are ready for the road trip to face the Purdue Boilermakers. This is an important game.

3 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE

A STRONG SHOWING FROM A THIRD RECEIVER

It goes without saying that Jalen Nailor’s presumed absence hurts the offense. However, it’s up to the guys behind him to make sure it’s not decimated.

Michigan State still has a great offense with Kenneth Walker III and Jayden Reed keeping defenses honest. And, hey, Tre Mosley has also quietly been having a really nice season, too. If MSU can get a big play or two or three from an under-the-radar wide receiver, that could be the difference in the game.

I’m fascinated to see how MSU handles this — do the Spartans just plug in the very athletic sophomore Montorie Foster and ride with that? Or do they go the route they did in last year’s Michigan game and seemingly give 19 different receivers some run?

GET OFF THE FIELD ON THIRD DOWNS, I AM BEGGING YOU

This portion is half of me stating the obvious and half of me still shell-shocked by the amount of key third-down conversions Michigan picked up last game.

Purdue is one of the better teams at converting on third downs, doing so at a 42.1 percent rate — that’s good for fifth-best in the conference. On the contrary, MSU gives up third-down conversions at a 39.9 percent clip — third worst in the conference.

Other than the obvious benefit of third-down stops (your defense getting off the field, duh), the field position battle could be won on third downs. Get Purdue off the field early in drives, and you get to see the 14th-ranked punt unit in the conference take the field. That’s last place in the conference for those keeping count.

Purdue boots the ball on punts at 36.7 yards per punt. Purdue plays in plenty of rock fights, and rock fights are won by winning the turnover battle and/or winning the field position battle.

GET TO THE PASSER, I AM BEGGING YOU FOR THIS, TOO

It was tough sledding for the Michigan State pass rush against a good offensive line and north of a dozen missed holding calls (see Wolverine fans, two can play “waaaaaaaaaa, the refs!” game).

I bring up pass rush for two reasons, and we’ll start with the first — that’s largely in part why the Boilermakers were able to stun Iowa earlier this season. All that Purdue’s quarterbacks faced was one sack and five quarterback hurries in that game. Last week against Nebraska, it was even cozier, as the Boilermakers saw two sacks and just one quarterback hurry. However, in Purdue’s loss against Wisconsin, the Boilermakers gave up six sacks.

The second reason pass rush is emphasized here is because (and I’m knocking on wood to not jinx this) the Boilermakers run game is nearly non-existent. MSU has done a fine job at shutting down the run game, and if the Spartans can also generate a rough day for Aidan O’Connell, it’s hard to see how Purdue lights up the scoreboard. Because, again, Purdue’s run game is bad. How bad? Well, let’s go over a few stats...

2 KEY STATS

(Insert Purdue running game stat here)

There were too many to pick from, so let’s just go over them in bullet point format.

  • 2.5 yards per carry — dead last in the Big Ten
  • Four rushing touchdowns — dead last in the Big Ten
  • 41.2 percent opportunity rate (runs that go for at least four yards) — tied for 120th in the nation
  • 50 percent power success rate (runs that pick up first down when it is third or fourth down and two or less yards to go) — tied for 124th in the nation
  • 24.2 percent stuff rate (runs that get stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) — 124th in the nation

Purdue does not have a running back that ranks in the top-20 in the Big Ten for yards per carry. Their leading back (statistically) Doerue King could triple his rushing yards this season and Kenneth Walker would still have more yards. The Boilermakers do have Zander Horvath back from injury, who was the team’s No. 1 running back to the start the season, though.

If Michigan State can limit the massive plays by all-conference receiver David Bell, it should be a fine afternoon.

77.4 percent

Allow me to talk about Michigan State’s “bend-don’t-break” defense for the 578th time this season. That 77.4 percent clip is Purdue’s red zone offense efficiency, which is near the bottom of the barrel in the nation, as it ranks 103rd.

In 31 red zone trips, the Boilermakers have 16 touchdowns and eight field goals on the season. Michigan State’s defense has notably been great at sealing the end zone once teams reach the red zone, holding its opponents to 14 touchdowns versus 13 field goals in 32 trips.

This has the makings to be a re-run of, well, pretty much every game this season. Purdue is a fine team at moving the ball between the 20-yard-lines. Michigan State’s defense seemingly enjoys watching teams move the ball between the 20-yard-lines. Purdue struggles a tad to punch the ball in once it reaches the red zone. Michigan State’s defense suffocates opponents once they reach the red zone. Bada bing. Bada boom.

1 BEST BET

MSU -2.5, over/under 53.5

By all accounts, Michigan State should win this game. HOWEVA, I’ve seen too much weird @#%& go down at Ross-Aide Stadium to make a Spartan win my best bet. Add in the fact that this is a traditional letdown spot for any team that just had an emotional, historic win over their rival, and I just can’t take MSU and lay the points.

So we will taking a ride back to Under City. Didn’t treat us well last week, so maybe we are due. Purdue can grind teams down on defense and Michigan State’s defense matches up well with the Boilermakers.

Pick: Under 53.5

Record: 3-5 IT’S RALLY TIME, BABY