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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans versus Purdue Boilermakers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 27 Purdue at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week’s victory over the Michigan Wolverines was a huge accomplishment for the Michigan State Spartans, as the team improved to 8-0 after defeating its biggest rival. However, the next game is always the most important. The Spartans travel to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on the Purdue Boilermakers (5-3) at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday.

This is a challenging scenario for the Spartans. MSU is coming off of an emotional win over a rival, is on the road and is playing a team that is known for upsets — the Boilermakers defeated then No. 2-ranked Iowa by a final score of 24-7 on Oct. 16. Purdue also has a defense that ranks 17th overall, and in the top-10 in passing yards allowed and scoring defense. Offensively, the Boilermakers throw for a lot of yardage, led by quarterback Aidan O’Connell and David Bell.

The Spartans, meanwhile, are riding high right now and currently rank No. 3 in the College Football Playoff Top-25. Head coach Mel Tucker has done a tremendous job of preparing his team for each opponent and keeping his players focused on the task at hand each week. The Spartans have found ways to win in tight games, and that late-game poise could be needed again this week in what may end being another closely-contested game.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2021 Record — 8-0 (5-0 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 444.68 total yards, 244.38 passing yards, 200.3 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 424.6 total yards allowed, 300.5 passing yards allowed, 124.1 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 277 (34.63 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 164 (20.5 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 14th

2021 Record — 5-3 (3-2 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 386.63 total yards, 307.13 passing yards, 79.5 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 313.6 yards allowed, 174 passing yards allowed, 139.6 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 183 (22.88 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 137 (17.13 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 46th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 36-28-3
Current streak: Michigan State has an eight-game winning streak
Last Michigan State Win: Oct. 27, 2018
Last Purdue Win: Nov. 4, 2006
Michigan State all-time record: 718-470-44 (.601)
Purdue all-time record: 625-582-48 (.517)

Uniform Watch:

Michigan State will go with the “icey” all-white look with the helmets, jerseys and pants. The white jerseys have green lettering and numbering, while the white helmets have a green Spartan head logo and green stripe down the center.

A closer look at this week’s threads:

Purdue will be honoring our veterans with its helmets this week:

Previous Game Results

Michigan State 37 Michigan 33

It didn’t start out pretty for the Spartans, but thanks to an incredible performance by running back Kenneth Walker III (197 rushing yards and five touchdowns), and a game-clinching play by true freshman cornerback Charles Brantley, Michigan State did enough to win.

The Spartans received the ball first, but quarterback Payton Thorne threw an interception. Three plays later, Michigan’s Cade McNamara hit true freshman wide receiver Andrel Anthony for a 93-yard touchdown, and took a 7-0 lead.

Thorne would later throw another pick, and Michigan got a field goal out of it and took a 10-0 lead. Michigan State would then answer, as Walker scored a 27-yard touchdown to begin the second quarter. Michigan added another field goal on its next drive, and the Spartans responded with another Walker touchdown, taking a 14-13 lead at that point. True freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy came into the game and answered the Spartans’ score with a 17-yard touchdown to Anthony, and the Wolverines regained the lead at 20-14.

Disaster almost struck on the next possession, as Thorne was sacked and fumbled. Michigan recovered the ball in the end zone — however the call was overturned after video replay showed Thorne’s shin was down. Michigan would later add a field goal and take a 23-14 lead into halftime.

In the second half, Michigan scored first when McNamara found Mike Sainristil for a 19-yard touchdown strike. The Wolverines took a commanding 30-14 lead in the third quarter, but the Spartans kept chopping.

On the next drive, MSU converted a key fourth down on a dime from Thorne to Jayden Reed, and Walker punched it in from one-yard out. Thorne hit Tre Mosley for the two-point conversion. The score was now Michigan 30, Michigan State 22.

Michigan State then forced a punt, and scored again. This time, Walker took off for a 58-yard touchdown. Thorne hit Reed for another two-point conversion and the score was tied at 30.

Michigan would get a field goal on its next drive, and MSU went three-and-out on the following drive. The Wolverines got the ball back, however, McCarthy botched the handoff on the first play, fumbled, and the Spartans recovered.

Walker once again found the end zone, this time from 23 yards out, and Michigan State gained the lead at 37-33 with 5:22 to play.

Michigan got the ball, but turned the ball over on downs deep into Spartans’ territory. MSU would then punt it back to UM, but after a roughing the passer call, McNamara threw an interception to Brantley and the game was over. The Paul Bunyan Trophy stayed in East Lansing.

Purdue 28, Nebraska 23

After being blown out by Wisconsin the previous week, Purdue responded with a gritty road win against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers struck first when quarterback Adrian Martinez found Omar Manning for a 16-yard score to make it 7-0. That was the only score in the first quarter.

Purdue would get the next touchdown, however, it was the Boilermakers’ defense making a play. Martinez threw an interception to Purdue’s Jalen Graham, who took it 46 yards into the end zone. The game was then tied 7-7.

Nebraska immediately responded with another touchdown drive, as Martinez took the ball into the end zone himself on a rush, making it 14-7, Cornhuskers. Then it was the Boilermakers’ turn to answer. Purdue drove down the field and it was eventually capped off by running back Zander Horvath — returning from injury — crossed the goal line from one-yard out. Nebraska later added a field goal and took the 17-14 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.

Neither team scored until late in the third quarter when Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell found Milton Wright for a three-yard score with 3:14 to play in the quarter, giving the Boilermakers a 21-17 advantage. In the fourth quarter, Purdue scored again, as O’Connell found Jackson Anthrop from nine yards out. The Boilermakers now led 28-17.

Nebraska would get a touchdown with two minues to play (Martinez to Rahmir Johnson), but the two-point conversion failed. Purdue ran the clock out from there and got the win.

Key Matchups

Kenneth Walker III/Michigan State offensive line versus Purdue defensive front: Purdue has a good defense, but is statistically much stronger against the pass than the run. The Boilermakers are no slouches defending the ground game, but give up nearly 140 yards per game and rank 54th in the nation in that regard. Those numbers are respectable, but Kenneth Walker III is pretty much matchup proof and just torched a Michigan defense that ranked 24th in the country coming into last week’s game (116.6 yards allowed per game). The MSU offensive line looked improved last week (for the most part) and paved the way for a big day on the ground for Walker. Purdue will likely limit the passing game, so the Spartans need to try to win this game in the trenches and through the ground game.

David Bell versus Chester Kimbrough/Ronald Williams: David Bell leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (786) and has had four games this season with at least 120 yards. He also has 53 receptions (second in the Big Ten) and four touchdowns. Given Michigan State’s “bend-don’t break” defense, Bell will get his yardage, but whoever is matched up up with him on a given play — Kimbrough, Williams or even Charles Brantley — has to limit the damage and keep Bell and the rest of the Purdue wide receivers out of the end zone. The Spartans have been good at that this season.

Game Info

Time: 3:36 p.m. Eastern
TV Channel: ABC
Location: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana
Weather expectations: Mostly sunny with a high of 54 degrees. Winds blowing south/southwest at four-to-nine miles per hour.
Line: Michigan State -3


This is an interesting matchup, and likely one that will make Michigan State fans stress. It’s possible this game plays out similarly to the Indiana or Nebraska games, where MSU was on the ropes late in the game, but eventually made the plays to win. I think where Michigan State has the advantage is that the Spartans’ have a strong red zone defense, and while the unit may give up yardage, it doesn’t often give up touchdowns. Purdue, on the other hand, struggles to finish drives off in the end zone. In fact, the Boilermakers struggle to score in general, averaging just 22.5 points per, which ranks 103rd in the nation. Michigan State allows just 20.5 points per game, ranking 29th.

The Boilermakers are also one of the worst rushing teams in the country, averaging just 79.5 yards per game (128th in the country), so don’t expect Purdue to have much success on the ground against a Michigan State run defense that ranks in the top-30 in the FBS (124.1 yards per game). However, Purdue’s 16th-rank passing attack led by Aidan O’Connell and David Bell will certainly gain some yardage through the air. The question is whether or not the Boilermakers can score touchdowns over field goals or less.

As mentioned above Purdue is strong in a lot of defensive categories: points per game allowed (10th at 17.1 per game), total defense (17th at 313.6 yards allowed per game) and passing yards allowed (10th at 174 per game). This could be a lower-scoring contest.

I think this going to be a tight game throughout, but on paper at least, Michigan State should find a way to win.

For additional coverage on Purdue, read our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece, check out our Q&A with Hammer and Rails — SB Nation’s home for all things Boilermakers — and read my responses to Hammer and Rails’ questions.


Which school wins?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Michigan State
    (212 votes)
  • 18%
    (49 votes)
261 votes total Vote Now