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Know thy Opponent 2021: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has slipped in recent years. Can Purdue end an 8 game losing streak to them?

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Did you know Purdue is still in the same conference as Michigan State in football as well? The basketball Spartans have had some really good games with our Boilers in recent years, but since the Big Ten was reorganized they have not come to West Lafayette since 2014. Even worse, of the last five games in the series only one has been in West Lafayette. Purdue went to East Lansing in 2010, 2013, 2015, and 2018, but Michigan State’s only visit the last decade was in 2014.

That 2014 game might have been the high water mark of the Darrell Hazell era. Purdue hosted a Michigan State team that had been 13-1 the previous year and made the Playoff. The Boilers were coming off of a win at Illinois and they actually had the ball down 7 late before throwing a pick 6.

It may not be a bad thing that we haven’t played Michigan State much. The Spartans have won the last eight games against Purdue. Only Wisconsin and Penn State have longer active win streaks over us. There is a decent chance Purdue can reverse this trend in 2021 though. The Spartans, like so many other teams, struggled greatly last season. They were all over the map with a loss to Rutgers and a win over Northwestern. They make for an interesting matchup and yet another toss-up game.

Michigan St. Spartans

2020 Record: 2-5

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Only Colors

Series with Purdue: Michigan State leads 36-28-3

Last Purdue win: 17-15 at Michigan State on 11/4/2006

Last Michigan State win: 23-13 at Michigan State on 10/27/2018

Head Coach: Mel Tucker (2-5, in 2nd year, 7-12 overall)

Last Year for the Spartans

Rutgers won three games last season, and two of them were of the “uh oh, this isn’t going the way we thought,” variety. Purdue’s loss to the Scarlet Knights was due to an abysmal second half defensive performance from the Boilers. Michigan State’s loss was a surprising 38-27 defeat in the season opener, where Rutgers scored nearly as many points (38) as they did in the previous year’s entire Big Ten season (51). Michigan State rebounded to surprise Michigan 27-24, but got outscored 73-7 in losses to Iowa and Indiana before shocking Northwestern 29-20. Double digit losses to Ohio State and Penn State then closed the year.

Three of the East Division’s big four in Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State had extremely down seasons, allowing Indiana to rise all the way to second place. Michigan State was way off from its previous few seasons in year 1 without Mark Dantonio. Was it a blip or a growing trend as they enter year 2 under Mel Tucker?

Michigan State Offense

An argument could be made that Michigan State was the worst team in the conference a year ago. They were dead last in the conference in both scoring offense (18 ppg) and scoring defense (35.1 ppg). Purdue may have had a similar record, but at least we were middle of the pack in doing so. Like Purdue, Michigan State could not run the ball (91.4 yards per game) and the passing game was 7th in the league at 238.9 yards per game. Purdue, on the other hand, led the league in passing but was last in rushing.

The offense clearly needs to be better, and the QB position is where it needs to start. Payton Thorne had limited action in four games last year and had 582 yards and 3 TDs against 3 INTs. Anthony Russo could also start. He transferred in from Temple and had 863 yards and 9 TDs against 6 picks for the Owls. Temple was also 1-6.

For what it is worth, the top two rushers are back. Jordan Simmons led the team with only 219 yards and did not find the end zone. Connor Heyward also had 200 yards, but no scores. In one of the most shocking stats out there, Michigan State had one rushing touchdown all season, and that was from Thorne. Thorne rushed for 47 yards all season, but 38 were on one play. Kenneth Walker III should help significantly as well, as he is a transfer in from Wake Forest after rushing for 579 yards and 13 TDs.

The top receivers returns in Jalen Nailor (26-515-4), and Jayden Reed (33-407-3). Ricky White had a good freshman debut with 10 catches for 223 yards and a TD in just four games. That gives them a really good receiver trio that features both talent and speed. All five starters return on the offensive line as well, so that helps. The addition of the transfers at QB and RB might be the key to a huge turnaround.

Michigan State Defense

It takes something to be worse than Purdue’s defense was at times last year, but at least we had some good moments. Michigan State was just bad all season. They gave up a league worst 35.1 points per game. They were in the middle of the pack yardage-wise, but they were a whopping -9 in turnover ratio thanks to an offense that threw 12 interceptions.

Most of the defense returns, for good or ill, but they lose top tackler Antjuan Simmons. Noah Harvey was next on the team with 54 tackles at linebacker. He will be helped by Minnesota transfer Itayvion Brown and Ben VanSumeran from Michigan.

The defensive line should be strong behind Jacub Panasuik and Duke transfer Drew Jordan. Drew Beesley led the team with three sacks along with Michael Fletcher. Those four should be pretty strong on the edge, but what can they get out of the middle?

The real question mark is the defensive secondary. Shakur Brown was very good last year with five interceptions, but no one else on the team had a single interception. He is gone, but Xavier Henderson and Michael Dowell both have significant experience at safety. Kalon Gervin should handle at least one of the corner spots, but this is a secondary that Purdue can take advantage of given our passing prowess.

Michigan State Special Teams

Matt Coghlin was decent as a kicker last year, going 9 of 12 with a long of 51. Bryce Baringer was also good at punter, averaging better than 43 yards per kick. Aside from that, this unit is unproven. There was not much there in the return game last season, but there is enough speed on the roster to do something.

Game Outlook

Given how good Michigan State was under Mark Dantonio it is weird to think Purdue might be favored in this one. The Spartans definitely fell last year after a slide in the final Dantonio years. Athlon sports rates them No. 79 in the nation in the preseason. That is 7th in the East. Considering Purdue has to go to Ohio State, getting the consensus last place team seems like a gift.

Purdue is sitting at 60 in the Athlon rankings. They are ahead of Oregon State (75), Michigan State (79), Illinois (83) and UConn (126). That makes this game arguably a must-win if Purdue is to make a bowl game, especially since those other three come in the first four games. Nebraska (49) and Northwestern (43) are also relatively close to Purdue.

If Purdue is having a decent season at this point this should be a very winnable game. If the season has gone south, however, look out.

Way-too-early Prediction

Michigan State’s defense is a major question mark and the offense needs some substantial improvement in order to catch up. This is a game Purdue needs to win, really. Purdue 31, Michigan State 21