A week ago we were anxiously awaiting the announcement of who would be starting under center for the Purdue Boilermakers. Austin Appleby earned his first start and certainly didn’t disappoint. He played Illinois last week, who is good but not great, but this week Appleby will be facing a much tougher opponent in the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans.
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So far the Spartans are 4-1, 1-0 in Big Ten play after beating No. 19 Nebraska last week. Their lone loss came in Week 2 against the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.
Offensively the Michigan State Spartans are ranked 24th overall, averaging 496.4 total yards per game. Their passing attack is led by quarterback Connor Cook. Cook has thrown for 1,071 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. His stats could be a lot better if the Spartans didn’t blow out a couple of opponents in the opening quarter. Against Eastern Michigan, Cook threw only six passes, but tossed two touchdowns and ran in another one, all in the first quarter. And then against Wyoming he threw two touchdown passes and ran one in, all within the first 17 minutes of the game.
Sep 20, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) makes a touchdown pass during the first quarter against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
If not for Michigan State’s large leads, Cook wouldn’t have been taken out of the game as quickly and would likely be close to the Top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns, instead of outside the Top 25 in both. But that’s not to say Cook isn’t good. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 170.1. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt made easy work of the Boilermakers secondary last week and I think Cook is a better quarterback, with a better team, so don’t be surprised if Cook has a huge day.
Cook’s go-to receiver this year has been Tony Lippett. Through five games, Lippett has 25 catches for 525 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s only been averaging 3-to-4 catches per game, except for the 11-catch game he had against Oregon. Even though Lippett isn’t getting a lot of targets, he’s turning those targets into touchdowns. He’s had a touchdown catch in every game this year and had two touchdowns in the games against Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan. If there is any receiver the Boilermakers will need to stop, it’s Lippett. If Lippett get’s single coverage against a safety on Saturday you can bet the house that Cook will hit him deep down field or for an easy touchdown.
Michigan State’s passing game is pretty good, but their running game might be even better. As a team they’ve ran for 1,196 yards (239.2 per game) and 18 touchdowns. Against Wyoming and Eastern Michigan they racked up 300-plus rushing yards. The rushing attack is lead by Jeremy Langford, but it’s really a three-headed monster with Nick Hill and Delton Williams also being dangerous in the backfield.
Langford has ran 91 times for 451 yards and four touchdowns. He’s posted back-to-back 100-plus rushing yard games, including a season-high of 137 yards against Wyoming. Purdue’s defense has shut down opposing running backs for the most part this season. They are allowing an average of 135.2 yards per game, a number the Spartans have only be held under once, against Oregon. If Michigan State gets the passing game going, then that will space out Purdue’s defense which will help in the run game.
On defense, the Spartans are 11th best in the nation, allowing only 297 total yards per game. They give up 225 yards through the air and 72 yards on the ground – fourth best in the nation. The Spartans might be tested if the Boilermaker offense that showed up last week against Illinois, shows up again this week. Appleby looked calm and confident in the pocket and Akeem Hunt, along with the rest of the running backs, were able to find massive holes in the line that turned into massive gains and touchdowns.
Safety Kurtis Drummond leads the team in tackles (24) and is tied with cornerback Trae Waynes for interceptions (2). Defensive end Marcus Rush leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and has 3.5 sacks, second to linebacker Ed Davis who has 4.0.
As a team, the Spartans have forced 16 turnovers – nine fumble recoveries and seven interceptions. Purdue has only nine turnovers on the season, but they’ve yet to face a defense as good as Michigan State’s.
The Spartans are good and will likely be the toughest opponent the Boilermakers face this season. Many could argue that Notre Dame was tougher, but no matter how bad the Boilermakers are they always seem to play the Fighting Irish well, which is not the case with the Spartans.
Purdue-Michigan States kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.