Wednesday, August 10, 2022

HALF: Purdue leads Michigan State 21-14; Spartans on upset watch in West Lafayette

November 6, 2021
Thorne (10) and Walker (9) in the team's match against the Boilermakers. Nov. 6, 2021
Thorne (10) and Walker (9) in the team's match against the Boilermakers. Nov. 6, 2021 —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

For the second consecutive road trip, Michigan State is off to a sluggish start and trails at halftime. Purdue leads the Spartans 21-14 at halftime on the back of a strong start from fifth year quarterback Aidan O’Connell.

New Faces were prominent for the Spartans

There were a lot of new faces seeing a meaningful portion of snaps for Michigan State in the first half. MSU was without a number of contributors in the first half and had to turn to the depths of the roster for an answer. Two starters on offense, junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor and senior left tackle Jarrett Horst, did not dress and play for the Spartans. Nailor’s absence led to more snaps for redshirt sophomore Tre Mosley and sophomore Montorie Foster on the edge. 

Michigan State responded to the absence of Horst much differently. Without its starting left tackle, MSU opted to rearrange its entire starting offensive line for the first time this season. Graduate student tackle A.J. Arcuri, normally the starting right tackle, started on the left in place of Horst. Junior guard J.D. Duplain, who normally plays right guard, started at left guard. On the right, redshirt senior guard Blake Bueter got the start at guard and redshirt senior guard Kevin Jarvis was at tackle. Graduate student center Matt Allen was the only remaining constant from last week starting at center. 

The attrition even impacted special teams for the Spartans. Starting graduate senior kicker Matt Coghlin did not attempt a kick in the first half despite being dressed for the game. He stood on the sideline to watch backup freshman kicker Stephen Rusnak make his debut for MSU. Rusnak was 1-1 on extra points but missed a 43-yard field goal wide right. There has been no announcement about an injury to Coghlin.

The defense has bent AND broke so far

It might seem extreme to write this after only giving up 14 points, but the Spartans should be very happy it's only 14 after the first half performance from MSU’s defense. On five offensive possessions, the Boilermakers have gained 231 yards, 222 of which have come through the air. O’Connell has put on a clinic in the pocket so far, completing 20 of his 24 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He has stood calmly in the face of the collapsing pocket and delivered strike after strike to his wide receivers. 

The wealth has been distributed well between Purdue’s receiving corps. Michigan State opted to play soft coverage, as it has all season, and let Purdue’s receivers run free on short routes underneath the defense. Purdue has marched down the field on most of its possessions with absolutely no resistance from MSU’s defense. The two drives that resulted in punts for the Boilermakers were because of drops. Purdue has been able to do whatever it wants so far through the air and Michigan State’s secondary has looked confused.

Michigan State’s defense was unable to get off the field in the redzone too. The staple of this defense through eight games has been its ability to grit out stops with its back against the wall, but today has been different. The Boilermakers are two for two on converting redzone trips into touchdowns and scored another touchdown on a 39-yard double-reverse screen to fifth year wide receiver Jackson Anthrop. 

Today has been the Kenneth Walker show again… by force

Michigan State has given a bulk of the offensive touches to junior running back Kenneth Walker III so far today against Purdue. This has been the norm for Michigan State’s offense all season, but today has been different. Without a bevy of options at receiver with Nailor’s injury, Michigan State has went with a diet of force feeding Walker the ball.

Walker responded with running for 103 yards on 17 carries in the first half and a touchdown. He was able to break one run for 29 yards in the first quarter, but has mostly been held in check by Purdue’s front seven. Walker also lost his first fumble of the season on MSU’s first possession. The fumble came in Purdue’s territory, which killed MSU’s chances of taking an early lead and resulted in a Purdue touchdown.  

Walker was able to score a touchdown late with a little over a minute in the second half to cut Purdue’s lead to seven into the locker room. Walker’s performance in the first half is largely the reason why Michigan State is not being blown out so far.

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