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Michigan State drops road game at Purdue, 40-29

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The Spoilermakers strike again.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 3 Michigan State Spartans were riding high a week ago after knocking off arch-rival Michigan. But, the dreams of a 9-0 record and another week in the top-four of the College Football Playoffs came crashing back to earth in West Lafayette. The Purdue Boilermakers upset the Spartans, 40-29.

The Spartans have played with fire in several games so far this year. This time, they finally got burned. The defense bent too much and allowed too many touchdowns that in past games were only field goals.

MSU’s stars on offense, Payton Thorne (who passed for 276 yards), Jayden Reed (who caught four passes for 76 yards), and Kenneth Walker III (who rushed for 136 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown) were all solid. But, they were outshined by Purdue’s quarterback Aidan O’Connell (who put up 536 yards passing) and receiver David Bell (who caught 11 balls for 217 of those yards).

The Green and White attempted another heroic comeback in the final minutes, but it was too little and too late.

The Spartans received the ball to open the game and drove the ball into Boilermaker territory, but a fumble by Walker ended the drive, giving Purdue decent field position at its own 38-yard line. MSU’s defense appeared to get a key sack on third-and-goal, but O’Connell escaped the pressure and threw a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to give the hometown team the early 7-0 lead.

When the Spartans got the ball back, Michigan State was able to march back down the field, thanks in part to a misdirection 35-yard pass to Connor Heyward. Thorne then returned the favor on the Purdue defense, narrowly avoiding a sack and then throwing a 26-yard touchdown strike to Tre Mosley to tie the score at seven all.

The Spartan defense then got off the field quickly, thanks to two run stuffs and a sack to put the ball back in the hands of the offense. MSU failed to pick up a first down, however, when Reed could not haul in a third-down pass along the sideline from Thorne.

As the second quarter got underway, the Boilers once again drove the ball down the field, thanks in large part to a third down, 42-yard pass to Bell where Spartan corner Chester Kimbrough stumbled. Two plays later, O’Connell dropped a pass into the bucket in the back corner of the end zone to give Purdue the 14-7 lead.

The Spartans seemed to be in business on their next drive. A 29-yard run from Walker and a 19-yard pass to Reed had the Spartans in the red zone. But, a chop block penalty stalled the drive, and true freshman kicker Stephen Rusnak, making a surprise appearance, missed his first career field goal attempt, leaving the Spartans still trailing by seven with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

The Spartan defense got a key third down stop near midfield after a Purdue drop gave the ball back to the Green and White. The Spartans failed to pick up a first down, however, and had to punt the ball back to Purdue.

At first, it appeared that Spartan punter Bryce Baringer had pinned Purdue inside its own five-yard line. However, an illegal motion penalty forced Michigan State to punt again. This time, the kick was short, and Purdue returned the ball to near midfield.

Then, it was Purdue’s turn to dip into the bag of tricks. On second-down-and-10 at the MSU 39-yard line, Purdue ran a double reserve screen pass to receiver Jackson Anthrop, who evaded the Spartan defense all the way to the corner of the end zone to extend the Purdue lead to 21-7 with under five minutes to play in the first half.

But the Spartans were able to respond. Thorne patiently drove Michigan State down the field. When the drive almost stalled on the Purdue 14-yard line, head coach Mel Tucker opted to go for it on fourth-down-and-two. Walker was able to scamper around the right side of the line all the way into the end zone to draw the Spartans within a touchdown, 21-14 at half time.

Overall, the stats were fairly even after two quarters. Purdue had 257 yards total, with all but 21 of those yards through the air. Michigan State had 241 yards, with a much better balance between the air and ground. MSU had one more first down (13 to 12). The key fumble and missed field goal plays were the main difference in the game at that juncture.

Purdue received the ball to start the second half and picked up one first down. But, the Boilers would be the team to fumble the ball on the next step, which gave the ball to the Spartans deep in Purdue territory. On third-and-one, Thorne scrambled up the middle and eluded the Purdue defense to score a touchdown and tie the game at 21 all.

But the rest of the second half largely belonged to Purdue.

On the Boilermakers’ next possession, the Spartan defense gave up two consecutive 15-yard penalties, including a targeting call on defensive tackle Simeon Barrow, to advance the ball into the red zone. Purdue then scored on a run play from the two-yard line to retake the lead, 28-21.

After a Spartan three-and-out, it looked like the Green and White might be able to get Purdue off the field in three plays as well, but freshman cornerback Chuck Brantley lost Purdue’s Bell in coverage, resulting in a 50-yard completion. MSU was able to hold the Boilers to a field goal, however, making the score 31-21.

After another Michigan State three-and-out, Purdue had a chance to go for the jugular. The Boilermakers marched down the field all the way inside the five-yard line during a seven-minute, 14-play drive. The Spartan defense held tough at the end, though, and forced another field goal to keep the game within two possessions. With 13 minutes to play, the Spartans trailed 34-21.

Thorne and the MSU offense then went to work. Thorne was able to drive the Spartans back into the Purdue red zone, thanks in part to a 28-yard screen pass to Purdue transfer Maliq Carr. But, the drive then stalled.

The Spartans went for it on fourth-and-four just inside the 10-yard line, and a pass to Reed at the goal line was intercepted by Purdue. It looked as though the two players might have had simultaneous possession, but the play was not reviewed, and the home team took over the ball.

With time running out and the Spartans needing a stop, Purdue once again drove the ball down the field. The Spartans held Purdue to a short field goal, but with less than seven minutes to play, the lead was stretched to 37-21.

While the challenge was daunting, the Spartans did not give up. In four plays spanning just over a minute, Thorne found Mosley near the goal line. He squirted through the Purdue defense for his second touchdown of the afternoon. A two-point conversion pass to Carr brought the Spartans to within one score, 37-29.

But the Michigan State defense could not get the Boilers off the field. In fact, the Spartan defense failed to force even one punt in the entire second half. Purdue once again advanced the ball into the red zone and kicked a field goal to put the game out of reach, 40-29, with under a minute to play. A sack of Thorne in MSU’s final possession was the last nail in the coffin.

The 8-1 Spartans now return home to lick their wounds. They still control their own destiny in the Big Ten East, but the margin of error is down to zero. Michigan State is still in a great position for a top tier bowl game, but needs to pick itself off the mat following this tough loss.

MSU will return to Spartan Stadium next weekend to face the 5-4 Maryland Terrapins. The kickoff time has yet to be announced.

[Actually... let me go ahead and update that kickoff time, as of 11:30 PM]

Go Green.