Our look ahead to Michigan State’s 2021 season continues today with the Purdue Boilermakers coming at at No. 10 in the rankings. The Boilermakers, led by head coach Jeff Brohm who enters his fifth season at the helm this fall, are the first conference foe to make the list and are set to play the Spartans on Nov. 6 in West Lafayette this year.
2020 Record: 2-4
The Boilermakers picked up two quick wins on the season over Iowa and Illinois, then faced a cancelation for a road trip to Wisconsin in the third week of the Big Ten season. Following that, it was four-straight losses, the closest of which was a 34-31 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 20. Purdue closed out the season with two-straight weeks of cancelations for the Old Oaken Bucket game against Indiana due to COVID-19 issues among the two programs.
Series History: Michigan State leads 36-28-3
The Spartans and Boilermakers have met 67 times previously with the Spartans holding the series lead. However, the win margin is solely thanks to Mark Dantonio. Coach Dantonio came to East Lansing with the series tied at 28-28-3. He immediately snapped a four-game losing streak for the Spartans and won all eight matchups in the series during his tenure, the last coming in East Lansing in 2018. The 2021 game will mark Michigan State’s first trip to Ross Aide Stadium since 2014.
2021 Offensive Outlook
Gone this upcoming season for Purdue is star wide receiver Rondale Moore. While Moore only played in three games last season, he had 35 receptions for 270 yards and rushed six times for another 32 yards. He finished his career at Purdue with 1,915 yards in what really did not even add up to two total seasons due to COVID-19 and an injury as a sophomore.
However, the high-octane offense under Brohm is unlikely to miss the electric receiver too much, as David Bell and Milton Wright are both listed on the depth chart this spring as returners for the Boilermakers. Bell led Purdue last season with 53 receptions for 625 yards and eight touchdowns. He elected to use his extra year granted by the NCAA and return for 2021. Wright had a breakout freshman season in 2019 for 288 yards and then topped it as a sophomore in a shortened season with 24 receptions for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
As for running back, Alexander (Zander) Horvath will be back after totaling 442 yards last season on 89 carries and two touchdowns. He also had 30 receptions for 304 yards, averaging 10.1 yards per catch. Under center looks to be another battle, though Aidan O’Connell won the starting job last season out of fall camp. He started three games last season, as did Jack Plummer. Both threw 88 completions, but O’Connell had 916 yards and completed 64.7 percent of attempts to Plummer’s 938 yards and 71 percent completion. Plummer also averaged 7.6 yards per attempt to O’Connell’s 6.7.
Overall the Boilermakers’ offense totaled 391.2 yards per game (sixth most in the league), including 309 yards through the air and 82.2 yards on the ground (dead last in rushing in the Big Ten conference). Purdue finished ranked seventh in the league in points per game, averaging 27.2.
2021 Defensive Outlook
After firing Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator at the end of last season, the Boilermakers hope to improve the defense this season. Purdue ranked eighth in scoring defense (29.8 points per game) and in yardage (399 yards per game), which wasn’t exactly terrible, especially with a new defensive coordinator who had little time to implement his schemes, but obviously not great, either.
Brad Lambert will take over as co-defensive coordinator (although another co-defensive coordinator is yet to be named) and features a defense whose best players are probably defensive end George Karlaftis and DeMarcus Mitchell. Mitchell was the third-leading tackler for the team last season with 34 total tackles (22 solo and 12 assisted).
The Boilermakers also pick up Auburn linebacker transfer and former three-star recruit OC Brothers. Gone is the leading tackler from 2020, linebacker Derrick Barnes, who totaled 54 tackles (40 solo and 14 assisted) and was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round. However, linebacker Jaylan Alexander returns, who was second on the team last season in total tackles with 49 (28 solo and 21 assisted).
Why No. 10?
Jeff Brohm was brought in as an exciting and high-profile offensive mind. Unlike certain other recent hires in the Big Ten West Division with that reputation, he has actually lived up to the hype in terms of offense and even features a signature and high-profile win, the blowout over Ohio State in 2018. However, the Boilermakers have not done much beyond that under Brohm. Though, to be fair, he actually made bowl games his first two years despite inheriting an actual dumpster fire of a program. Brohm continues to struggle on defense, however, and seems unlikely to solve that next year.
While losing Rondale Moore may actually help in reducing a possible need to target the star athlete, thus spreading the ball around more to a number of talented wide receivers, Purdue will still miss Moore’s do-it-all ability when healthy. Regardless of that, Michigan State will most likely enter this one needing a win to try and clinch bowl eligibility later in November.
Purdue, on the other hand, will quite possible already be out of bowl contention at this point and comes into the game following a road trip Iowa, home game against Wisconsin, and road trip to Nebraska. That is a brutal gauntlet and a road trip to Ohio State is looming just a week later. Purdue’s ongoing rebuild should prove enough for Michigan State to make this one of the few “likely” wins on the season.
The Spartan defense likely struggles to keep Purdue in check, but the offense should be able to respond as needed. It may come down to the fourth quarter in this one, but Michigan State should get the win.