When I was searching tickets for this game a week ago today, I almost decided not to go. For starters: none of my Purdue friends wanted to come up for this game and join me. I hate going to games by myself, especially if I'm an opposing fan. Luckily, one of my Michigan friends said yes because he wanted to see some good football (at least from MSU). In addition, I normally, whenever I attend at game at Michigan State, my friend who is in graduate school there would get me discounted tickets. Well, those weren't available for this game, which wasn't too big of a surprise given 1) MSU was #2 in the country and 2) It was their homecoming game. Looking at StubHub for tickets was a little worrisome too, as I didn't want to spend so much money watching my Boilermakers get rolled over.
However, I remembered that this would probably be the last time I get to watch Purdue football in the state of Michigan until 2018, and by then my career could be taking me out of this state. So when I finally came across a good deal in the north end zone of Spartan Stadium, I purchased the tickets and planned my trip to East Lansing.
This wasn't my first time in East Lansing for a Purdue/Michigan State game, as I was here back in March for the Purdue/MSU basketball game in the Breslin Center, which wasn't exactly a pleasant experience, and I also made the trip back in 2013 for the 14-0 MSU shitshow win over Purdue, which might have been one of the worst football games I ever experienced, but those are stories for another time.
For having a large football program and fan base, parking for the game was actually easy. We parked in a free lot about 30-45 minutes away (walking distance) that offered shuttles dropping you off next to the stadium for a $5 round trip ticket. It was certainly a great convenience that maybe that school in Ann Arbor could adopt some time in the future...
Almost had issues entering the stadium when the usher nearly scanned my ticket twice. That would have forced my to get my ticket re-issued at the ticket office, which could have been problematic since it was from StubHub. This happened to my MSU friends before the Oregon game, and they nearly missed kickoff as a result. At least this was one of the few negatives that I experienced that day.
Since I avoided the upper deck unlike 2013, it didn't take me 20 minutes to get to my seat. For those who have never been to MSU: unlike Ross-Ade where you enter at Row 43 (?) since it's partially underground, the field at Spartan Stadium is at ground level, so there's a long climb to the top up endless ramps just to get to the upper deck.
We got to our seats with 50+ minutes left until kickoff, and we noticed that the students were doing competitions on the field for Meijer gift cards and stuff like that. It seemed a little odd, since I'm used to seeing this between quarters or long timeouts, but if you've always wanted to do these competitions without a giant crowd watching you, this would be the time to do it!
Just before kickoff, drizzle started to fall, and I was getting worried. The forecast throughout that week called for rain to push through that evening, so I thought I would be in the clear. Turns out the rain reached Michigan a few hours earlier than expected and soaked us throughout the rest of the game. I was hoping that we'd at least get good weather for this game, but with Purdue down 21-0 in the first half, it turned out this game was going to be an awful experience.
Thankfully, at the end of the half, an MSU fan who was leaving offered me their poncho to at least cover my legs, so I had that going for me, which was nice. Two older Michigan State fans who were behind us were well informed and were commenting on MSU throughout the whole game. To be honest, I'd rather listen to them than most play-by-play and color announces on ESPN, BTN, FS1, etc.
Overall, the Michigan State fans were nice to me and others, probably because they know how tough Purdue can be, and I made sure I didn't mention I was going to Michigan for graduate school. There were a few instances from the fans that annoyed me though: One random MSU fan decided to give me sass and said to me that she wouldn't apologize for making me get up so she could get to my seat since I was wearing Purdue gear. Yup, whatever. Then in the 4th quarter, when a Purdue player went down with an injury, some of the Michigan State fans booed when the ref called a media timeout for the injured player. I thought that was a little classless, and my friend heard someone said he should "walk it off so they don't call a timeout." Ugh.
It was obvious from kickoff MSU fans wanted to steam roll Purdue in this game, not out of disrespect to Purdue, but because they wanted to win big and prove their #2 ranking. Turns out, they didn't exactly get what they wanted, and the fans behind me were not impressed with Dantonio's conservative play calling in the 2nd half.
When Purdue scored in the 3rd quarter, I got up and cheered "We aren't going to get shut out and we might beat the spread!" The Michigan State fans that were left around me found it hilarious. But they weren't laughing when Markell Jones scored the 60 yard touchdown to bring their lead down to 21-14. I got up and almost made a sarcastic comment about Purdue, but then I realized "These guys probably won't find it funny any more" so I just clapped and enjoyed the moment as Michigan State was probably going to respond with a touchdown.
Michigan State was starting to drive down the field again and starting to look like the #2 team in the country again, but the Purdue defense made sure MSU wouldn't score another touchdown and forced them to kick a field goal. When Purdue followed it up with another Jones touchdown to bring the lead down to 24-21, I could hardly believe it, and neither could the rest of the fans in the stands. I started thinking, "This is actually happening. Spoilermakers could happen!" Alas, we all know that wouldn't be the case.
When Purdue got the ball again at the end of the 4th quarter, the remaining MSU fans stood up and made a great deal of noise. Given the design of Spartan Stadium, it made it sound like there were 50,000 fans there rather than the 30,000ish that were left. I have to agree with the Michigan State fans that the pass interference call on 4th down was an awful call; it didn't seem like there was a lot of contact on a good defensive stop. When Purdue was given the first down, I told my friend that there's no way Purdue wins now: Ball don't lie.
I wasn't even upset or heartbroken like most of you after the game. It was probably because 1) I was so cold I couldn't feel anything and my heart had no feelings left and 2) I didn't really have faith in our coaching staff to pull out the win given how it's never happened under Hazell. I was actually more impressed that Blough didn't throw an interception or fumble the ball to end the series, since that's how these 4th quarter drives usually end under Hazell so far. I know we weren't happy with the result of that last drive, but I think we need to give Michigan State credit for stepping up their defense on that drive. Sure, Purdue should have called some better plays, but Michigan State and their defense looked and played like the #2 team in the country on that drive.
I ran into many Michigan State fans leaving the stadium and at dinner after the game, saying they were impressed with Purdue in the 2nd half, and also noted that this is why they don't leave Michigan State games early, regardless of the score and weather. It's nice hearing those kind of compliments after a game, but you still wish Purdue would finally push through and earn a win in the 4th quarter.
Sure, it's another "damn moral victory" for Purdue, where Hazell is undefeated. However, there is a lot to build on for this team. I'm not sure what Hazell and his staff said at the half, but it worked. I could tell something was different when the team took the field in the 3rd quarter. Players were pumped up on the bench and on the kickoff to start the 2nd half, despite being down 21-0. If Coach Hazell and his staff can build off the 2nd half and beat Minnesota on Saturday, I will gladly call this loss a moral victory and a turning point for Purdue football under Hazell because Purdue is finally pushing through a winning games.
They have the stats and the players to succeed, and look better than they did in the past 2 seasons. Now they just need to start winning.