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Preview: No. 5 Michigan State questing to continue Cinderella season at Purdue

November 4, 2021

Last week was quite the weekend in East Lansing.

Down 16 points in the third quarter, Michigan State stormed back to defeat Michigan, 37-33, in one of the most entertaining games of the college football season. Junior running back Kenneth Walker III put the team on his back with a five touchdown performance, solidifying himself in the Heisman Trophy race.

The Spartans’ magical 8-0 season continues this Saturday as #5 MSU heads to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.

MSU utilized the bye week two weeks ago not only to prepare for the big rivalry game, but also to help get healthy. Most notably both graduate defensive end Drew Beesley and redshirt junior running back Elijah Collins to the team after missing extended periods of time with injury. Beesley played significant snaps, but only made one tackle on Saturday. Collins, the team’s leading rusher in 2019, dressed but did not play on offense.

However, besides posting some occasional Arby’s promotional videos, Collins has become one of Walker’s #1 fan, even though his playing time has diminished significantly over the last two seasons.

The Spartans though could potentially be without redshirt junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor, who left Saturday’s game late in the first half and remained on the sidelines for the second half with a wrap on his right hand. Nailor is the team’s second-leading receiver with 587 yards and six touchdowns including a 221 yard, three touchdown game versus Rutgers and a key 40-yard catch on 4th down in the first half last week. Michigan State Football Head Coach Mel Tucker did not have an update on Monday in regards to Nailor’s status, leaving his availability in question.

Additionally, the first College Football Playoff rankings dropped Tuesday evening, with MSU debuting at No. 3. The committee has Michigan State matched up versus No. 2 Alabama, which would be a rematch of the lone time the Spartans have made the playoff in 2015. This is the first time MSU has made the CFP top-25 since 2018.

Scouting the opponent

The Boilermakers enter Saturday with a 5-3 record in what has been a rollercoaster season.

For starters, this is not the same old Purdue team that the Spartans have beaten eight consecutive times dating back to 2007. The Boilermakers picked up a big win Oct. 16 when they went on the road and defeated then-No. 2 Iowa in Iowa City. The win put Purdue at No. 25 in the AP Poll, the first time they entered the top-25 since 2007. It was a short stay in the rankings though after the Boilermakers lost by 17 at home to Wisconsin the following week.

Purdue's win over Iowa proves that Purdue is a team that cannot be taken lightly. The Boilermakers have 16 wins versus top-five teams while unranked, which is the best mark in the country. Purdue also became 6-10 all-time versus top-two teams after the Iowa upset.

“We’re not going to settle for anything less this week, just elite level preparation and focus and intent in everything we do,” Tucker said. “Nothing casual. And like I said, if there is any casualness in anyone, they will not go on this trip. They will not go on to the bus to go to the airport. They will not go on this trip.”

The Boilermakers are a pass-heavy offense and play well defensively too. Junior quarterback Jack Plummer was the starting quarterback to begin the season, but has since been benched in favor of fifth year quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Between both signal-callers, Purdue throws for 307.1 yards per game, third best in the Big Ten.

Aiding Plummer and O’Connell is junior wide receiver David Bell, who is one of the best in the Big Ten. He’s a receptions machine averaging 7.6 catches to go along with 112.3 yards per game. Bell was unstoppable against Iowa, catching 11 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a good football player,” Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnnett said. “Long, smooth, runs good routes, good ball skills. He has a great catch radius and so he is going to be a challenge for us, but we look forward to it.”

On the other side of the ball, Purdue has a stout defense, particularly when defending the pass. Only two quarterbacks have thrown for two touchdowns versus the Boilermakers, Notre Dame’s Jack Coan and most recently Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez. No team has thrown for three or more touchdowns on Purdue’s defense this year.

Junior defensive end George Karlaftis is the star of Purdue’s defense and is a big reason why they give up just 17.1 points per game. The stats do not necessarily show it, but Michigan State offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said he has similarities to Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who the Spartans saw last weekend.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. with the game being televised on ABC.

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