The question asked in the headline is a legitimate one. On Saturday in East Lansing one of the nation's best defenses will be tasked with stopping one of the nation's worst offenses. Here are the grisly stats:
Michigan State Defense:
228 yards per game given up (1st Nationally out of 123 FBS teams)
170.3 passing yards per game allowed (11th Nationally)
58 rushing yards per game allowed (1st Nationally)
15.8 points per game allowed (8th Nationally)
26.3% Third down conversion defense (5th Nationally)
80 First Downs given up (3rd Nationally)
287.3 yards per game gained (119th Nationally out of 123 FBS teams)
209.5 passing yards per game (84th Nationally)
77.8 yards per game (119th Nationally)
15.3 points per game offensively (118th Nationally)
28.9% Third down conversion rate (113th Nationally)
96 First Downs (113th Nationally)
This one is likely going to be as ugly as the last five games have been.
Michigan State Offense vs. Purdue Defense
For a very long time I was hoping this would be a couple of inept offenses clogging up the field for a few hours and that somehow Purdue's would be a little more competent in the end. That isn't the case, mostly because the Michigan State offense has looked semi-competent and has grown each week. Last week it hung 42 points on the board, mostly because of the, "we got to play the Indiana run defense" miracle cure.
Jeremy Langford ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns last week while Delton Williams had another 92 yards, showing that the Spartans have a versatile running game. It was Langford's best game so far as he has 420 yards and seven scores. We will likely see a big dose of him given Purdue's own struggles against the run.
At quarterback it appears as if Connor Cook has emerged as the winner of a Fatal Four-Way battle for the position with Andrew Maxwell, R.J. Shelton, and Tyler O'Connor. Cook is now at 923 passing yards and nine scores while completing 57.7% of his passes. He also has only two interceptions. He takes care of the ball very well, but Michigan State has had a small problem with fumbles (five lost as a team).
In the passing game MacGarrett Kings Jr. and Bennie Fowler have been steady while Aaron Burbridge has 17 receptions. Tony Lippett has a big day with six catches against Indiana and will likely be the receiver running completely uncovered over the middle of the field on any third downs Purdue forces. Purdue's secondary continues to be in flux due to injuries, but the new look with Ricardo Allen in the nickel slot can hopefully help.
Up front Purdue is going with more of a 3-4 look with Ryan Isaac in the middle and Bruce Gaston with Greg Latta on the ends. Ryan Russell is now more of a DE/LB hybrid. Which will hopefully help matters out. At least Purdue is trying something new after years of the same old thing not working. They're going against a line that has only given up four sacks all season and features three seniors in Blake Treadwell, Dan France, and Fou Fonoti.
Michigan State's offense is far from perfect, but the defense has been so good they don't have to be. Their offense has also gotten better each week, especially after a pretty bad ending to the Notre Dame game. Take away that ineptitude and they are at 6-0 right now. The offense might not be good enough to score at will on most teams, but should be fine vs. Purdue.
Purdue Offense vs. Michigan State Defense:
I have dreaded this matchup for weeks and after Purdue couldn't even get past midfield on a mediocre Nebraska defense it looks much worse. Last week Tevin Coleman opened the game with a 64-yard touchdown run. Indiana got 28 yards on the ground on its other 26 attempts. This is from a good offense that sets up the run well. As a change coach Hazell has said Robert Gregory will likely get some carries, but I don't think one guy is the answer.
Up front causing Danny Etling to run for his life for most of the afternoon you have Shilique Calhoun. The 6'4" 240 pounds sophomore is a menace with 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and interception, and three fumble recoveries. He has three defensive touchdowns this season, which is more than any single Purdue player has scored offensively and tied with Akeem Hunt (two receiving, on kick return) for the most by any Purdue player.
Calhoun leads a defensive front that has only given up four rushing touchdowns all year. When you consider that Purdue has only two rushing touchdowns, and both were scored by a guy now playing safety, this is a huge mismatch. Tyler Hoover. Marcus Rush, and Denicos Allen are all very good at getting to the quarterback. Allen, Max Bullough, and Taiwan Jones are three of the better linebackers in the Big Ten.
The secondary is just as good with Darqueze Dennard and Jairus Jones each notching two interceptions. It is a testament to how good Indiana's offense is that it gained 351 total yards last week, which is well over Michigan State's average. This is a unit that allows nothing on the ground, little through the air, and disrupts the passing game by hassling the quarterback. On the contrary, Purdue can't run the ball, struggles through the air, and it can't protect the quarterback.
Expect to see a lot of Cody Webster on Saturday who is battling Mike Sadler as best punter in the Big Ten. Kevin Muma and Michael Geiger have also split field goal duties for them with Geiger handling the longer kicks. If Purdue can get into field goal range at least Paul Griggs has been solid.
In the return games Purdue has done better on kickoffs, but Andre Sims has a nice 8.6 yards per return average on punts.
If there was an over/under on points scored by Purdue of three I am not sure I would take the over. For an offense that is struggling to do much of anything this is the worst kind of defense to face. Purdue has been unable to sustain drives and only found success in the running game for a handful of plays when it was still close against Northern Illinois. Now we're asking a true freshman quarterback that we can't protect to go into his first road start and somehow beat one of the best defenses in the nation.
I wish I had more positive thins to say but the truth is that we haven't seen many positives on the field since the start of the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. After leading that game 17-10 Purdue has been outscored 161-48, has held a lead for about two minutes vs. Northern Illinois, and has been down multiple scores for probably 85% of that time.
Yes, the Michigan State offense isn't great, but can we trust our defense to pitch a shutout while hoping something good happens on offense? Michigan State can run the ball a bit and is more than happy to where out defense down while our offense casually goes three-and-out each series. Even their bad offense has outscored out offense's best day in three of their six games.
A miraculous upset occurs if:
- Purdue's offensive line starts playing like a functioning offensive line.
- Akeem Hunt and Dalyn Dawkins can find some holes and space to run in.
- Etling settles down and stops holding the ball too long.
- Michigan State's defense simply has a very, very bad day.
Hide yo' wife and kids if:
- Purdue has multiple three-and-outs still.
- The Boilers can't even get to midfield offensively.
- The middle of the field is wide open on third and long, as is tradition.
- We continue to give a team's best receiver a 10-15 yard cushion.
Prediction: Coming in Friday's picks column.