The next opponent for Michigan State in its quest for a perfect season is the Purdue Boilermakers. The Spartans travel to West Lafayette a week after beating Michigan in the biggest college football game of the year so far to move to 8-0 on the season.
Purdue enters the contest sitting at 5-3 on the season after defeating Nebraska last week. Purdue has had an up and down season all season with wins over then-No. 2 ranked Iowa and tough losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Boilermakers are a game behind Minnesota in the Big Ten West and need some help if they want to reach the Big Ten Championship for the first time ever.
Jeff Brohm and Purdue are relying on a high-octane passing attack on offense like in years past. Quarterbacks Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer have appeared in at least six games at quarterback but the fifth year quarterback O’Connell has cemented himself as the starter in recent weeks. The duo has combined for 2,413 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air in eight games. The main target is junior wide receiver David Bell, who is the Big Ten leader in receiving.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue has feasted defensively. The Boilermakers allow a measly 17.1 points per game and 315 yards per game. The unit has been good against the run and pass. The defense is led by junior defensive linemen George Karlaftis and senior linebacker Jaylan Alexander.
Here are three players to keep an eye out for on Saturday when MSU takes on Purdue.
As mentioned before, Bell has been statistically the best receiver in the Big Ten this year. The 6’2” junior is averaging 7.6 receptions per game for 112.3 yards on average. His best game of the season came in Purdue’s upset over Iowa when Bell caught 11 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. He has not caught fewer than six passes in a game so far.
Bell will be one of the best receivers that the Michigan State secondary faces all season. After allowing Miami wide receiver Charleston Rambo to set the Hurricane single-game reception record, MSU faces an even bigger test in terms of a possession receiver in Bell. MSU is also coming off a game in which it allowed a breakout performance from Michigan freshman receiver Andrel Anthony.
“He's a good football player,” MSU defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett said of Bell. “(He's) long, smooth, runs good routes, good ball skills. He got a great catch radius. And so he's going to be a challenge for us, but we look forward to it.”
Karlaftis is one of the scariest men in Big Ten Football. The 6’4”, 275-pound defensive end from West Lafayette has been consistently one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten this year for his hometown school. Karlaftis has 25 tackles and 2.5 sacks on the season, but dominates at the point of attack, demanding a double team from the offensive line.
Karlaftis has served as the anchor to Purdue’s rigid defense up front. He is one of the main reasons why Purdue has one of the best scoring defenses in the country and only allows 141.6 rushing yards a game. He will be tasked with trying to slow down junior running back Kenneth Walker III and generate a pass rush to affect redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne.
MSU graduate student right tackle AJ Acuri had high praise for Karlaftis during the week, who he compared to Michigan senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
“They're both very good defensive ends,” Acuri said. “Playing the Big Ten, that's why you come here. You come to play good opponents. That's something that you look forward to; that's an opportunity to go against good guys and see how well you hold up.”
The third Boilermaker to keep an eye on is junior safety Cam Allen. Allen is tied for the Big Ten lead in interceptions with Iowa’s senior defensive back Riley Moss and Nebraska’s senior safety Deontai Williams with four. Allen has been a ball hawk all year and as a result, Purdue has had one of the best passing defenses in the country.
The Boilermakers only allow 174 passing yards per game, good for 10th in the country. Allen has four of Purdue’s 10 interceptions through eight games and is in a good position for more this weekend. Thorne threw an interception to Michigan safety R.J. MotenY and likes to test his arm deep. Allen will find himself in positions to make plays on Saturday and could provide a big momentum shift with a turnover.
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