Four takeaways from MSU football's 45-31 victory over Purdue
For a second straight week, No. 8 MSU football (5-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) nearly let a big lead slip away in the final moments of the game.
A late turnover preserved the 45-31 win over Purdue, but by no means was it pretty. Here are four takeaways from this week’s MSU victory.
Hard to get read on defense
For three quarters against Nebraska, it seemed fair to say the dominant MSU defense of old had returned. Even following the collapse in the fourth quarter, it was fair to say the defense had a stout performance by giving up only 47 rushing yards to the Cornhuskers.
But after surrendering 31 points to Purdue this past weekend, questions of what to expect from the MSU defense are back in full swing. MSU now ranks tenth out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in scoring defense, averaging 22.3 points against per game.
One spot that has struggled as of late is the secondary, including senior safety Kurtis Drummond. For a second straight week, Drummond didn’t look like his normal consistent self, missing tackles and letting Purdue receivers get open down the field.
“He didn’t play as well (Saturday), and he’ll be the first one to say that,” head coach Mark Dantonio said during his Sunday teleconference. “But there’s the next game next week and we have six more to go and he’s a very good player and made a lot of plays for us.”
Burbridge coming on as No. 2 option
The stats might not show it, but at the halfway mark on the season it’s safe to say junior wide receiver Aaron Burbridge is starting to show flashes of greatness.
Despite not starting in a single game this season, Burbridge has raked in eight receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown. He also has recorded 34 rushing yards on six attempts. The stats aren’t outrageous, but if you look at his most recent work there is a trend forming.
Burbridge had two receptions for 37 yards against Nebraska, and this past week against Purdue he finished with 35 total yards, including a 13-yard touchdown snag. Senior wide receiver Tony Lippett is by far the top wide receiver threat for MSU, but combining Burbridge’s recent production on the ground and through the air, he has emerged as a reliable No. 2 option.
Cook still needs to improve
After coming out flat against Nebraska, junior quarterback Connor Cook posted an improved performance against Purdue. But there are still areas for improvement, including protecting the ball.
Cook finished 19-of-37 for 238 yards and three touchdowns, but the passes he didn’t complete stand as a concern. Cook was intercepted in the redzone when MSU was going in for the final blow and had multiple throws bounce off Boilermaker hands throughout the game.
Cook has thrown an interception in MSU’s three games against power conference teams — Oregon, Nebraska and Purdue — and has looked inaccurate at times. Cook has all the tools to be great (some projections even have him going in next year’s NFL Draft’s first round) but he needs to get better at protecting the ball.
Survive and advance
The last two weeks have been ugly for MSU, but ugly in a good way.
The way MSU closed out its first two Big Ten games can be considered mediocre and frustrating. MSU has been outscored 33-7 in the fourth quarter the last two weeks, creating a bad taste in the mouths of many fans and alumni.
But the one thing that matters the most is MSU’s perfect 2-0 Big Ten record. Dantonio isn’t playing for style points and believes that winning out will put the Spartans in a great position for the College Football Playoff.
So while there may be concerns toward MSU’s current inability to close out opponents, remember all of this team’s goals remain in front of them. It’s about simply surviving and advancing to the next challenge.