Michigan State not looking past Purdue

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

West Lafayette, Ind. — Saturday's matchup between Michigan State and Purdue won't exactly be among the marquee games in the nation, but you can bet the Spartans aren't heading into it with the idea it will be an easy day.

Some of that has to do with the fourth-quarter letdown last week in a victory over Nebraska. And a quick look at the history against Purdue shows Michigan State better be ready regardless of the fact the Boilermakers have only one Big Ten victory the last two seasons.

Last year's game became a 14-0 slugfest in East Lansing as the Spartans managed one offensive touchdown. And the 2010 meeting required a late blocked punt before the Spartans pulled out a 35-31 victory on their way to a conference championship.

Trips to Ross-Ade Stadium have been no treat over the years.

Michigan State had to rally from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit in 2009 and won a shootout in 2007. Those came after a four-game skid that began in 1997 when coach Mark Dantonio was an assistant under Nick Saban.

"Crazy things happen," Dantonio said. "We were up by 11 kicking a field goal with two minutes to go and we lost."

That field goal was blocked and returned for a touchdown, and Purdue followed it by recovering an onside kick and going in for the winning score.

That might be a stretch to happen Saturday, but that doesn't mean Michigan State is looking at this game any differently than it would any other week.

"I think they are staying the course," Dantonio said. "(Purdue seems) to play up to their competition, and maybe when they are favored, they play down a little bit. I don't know."

Purdue played Notre Dame and Iowa tough before falling, and won on the road last week over Illinois. It's been a fairly quick turnaround for second-year coach Darrell Hazell, who went without a conference victory his first season.

The Boilermakers got a spark last week from sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby, who accounted for three touchdowns in his first start. As efficient as Appleby was, the running game is what the Boilermakers rely on most.

The tandem of Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert has been effective as Hunt ran for 177 yards last week while Mostert had 146 in the opener against Western Michigan.

"They want to run the football and I think they feel like they've got a niche that's a little bit different than last year," Michigan State linebackers coach Mike Tressel said. "They're having success within the zone game and doing some things that put linebackers and safeties in run-pass conflicts and they're doing a good job of that."

Offensively, Michigan State will be looking to improve on last week's uneven performance and should get a break as Purdue will be without linebacker Sean Robinson (knee).

The Boilermakers remain confident, regardless of being a substantial underdog.

"We don't look at rankings, so much, we look at the team itself," Hazell said. "We prepare as hard as we can and try to find those things that can help you win and then you go. They're going to be prepared for this game, the next game, doesn't matter what game it is, they're going to be prepared and I hope we don't need any extra motivation."

As much as Michigan State will have to focus on Purdue, it also will be aware of its position nationally.

At No. 8 in the country, the Spartans are fighting to stay in the four-team playoff hunt. And while they can't gain a whole lot with a victory Saturday, there is plenty to lose if they don't show well.

"In the big picture of things, if you win, you're going to advance," Dantonio said. "If you lose by a couple, chances are you don't.

"It's very competitive in terms of every week that we play. And I know how everybody else may look at things because they look at the big picture of things. But I think that if you just continue to win, good things will happen."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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Michigan State at Purdue

Kickoff: 3:30 today, Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana

TV/radio: ABC/WJR

Line: Michigan State by 21

Records: No. 8 Michigan State 4-1 (1-0 Big Ten), Purdue 3-3 (1-1)

Series: Michigan State leads 33-28-3 (Michigan State 14-0, Oct. 19, 2013)