Michigan State football: Spartans can't afford to relax against Purdue
Purdue would love to be the team to spoil Michigan State’s surprising run.
At 8-0 and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Spartans have all of a sudden become a media darling. Pundits and analysts have been in awe of coach Mel Tucker’s second season in East Lansing. Running back Kenneth Walker III has become a legitimate favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
Michigan State football is hotter than ever, recognized nationally as a CFP favorite per the initial rankings.
None of that will matter if the Spartans lose to Purdue, though.
And the Boilermakers are probably looking for another signature win, one that might maintain its luster better than the 24-7 win at then-No. 2 Iowa. After all, the Big Ten West has kind of fallen apart, and the Hawkeyes look more like pretenders than the contenders they were 3 weeks ago.
Knocking off the Spartans would keep Purdue (5-3, 3-2) in the thick of the West race while simultaneously shaking up the already heated East race. It’d also ensure bowl-eligibility for the Boilers, who are coming off a 28-23 win over Nebraska.
Here comes that word again: trap.
The Spartans have been in this position under Tucker, so it’s difficult to gauge how they’ll react. Ordinarily, teams under former coach Mark Dantonio responded well to these types of games.
“We put ourselves in a good position heading into the last month of the season,” Tucker said during his Monday press conference. “Really, we need to start playing our best football down the stretch here in November. That’s what it’s really all about, November madness.”
Tucker added that, of course, the visiting Spartans weren’t going to take Purdue lightly, adding that PU looked good on tape. Nor should they, considering Purdue in only a 3-point underdog to the No. 3 team in the CFP rankings.
It’s all in front of Tucker and the Spartans.
Going from 2-5, fielding a bunch of transfers, to beating Michigan … MSU is in reach of its second CFP berth with 4 regular-season games remaining.
So yeah, a loss to Purdue would be a no-no. Can’t even do it.
The Boilers have the No. 2 pass defense in the Big Ten, giving up about 174 yards per game. Slowing down the Spartans WRs Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed is probably Purdue’s best-case scenario. At least doing something to minimize their impact would be helpful.
Reed and Nailor have been sparkplugs for the Big Ten’s No. 5 passing offense (200 yards per game). They’ll certainly be frequently targeted by QB Payton Thorne.
However, Purdue hasn’t done too well against the run and now must face Kenneth Walker III. After burning Michigan for 5 rushing TDs, the most in the rivalry series, Walker has pretty much become an overnight celebrity and everyone’s favorite running back.
Boilers LBs, such as Jaylan Alexander, one of the leading tacklers in the Big Ten, will have their hands full Saturday against Walker, who has made a living accumulating massive after-contact yardage. He’s the No. 2 rusher in the country, coming off a 197-yard romp vs. Michigan, and has scored 14 TDs through 8 games.
On paper, the Spartans appear to have the edge. So many big names. So many big plays throughout the season. So much confidence.
But they can’t be cocky after silencing the Wolverines.
Beating a rival was a test in itself, but handling success is the true measure of a legitimate contender. Michigan State has a lot going right right now — and the college football world is about to find out if it can handle the pressure.