'Stop that train': Michigan State seeks to slow Purdue's roll
East Lansing — With its season on the brink, the schedule isn’t doing Michigan State any favors.
Coming off last week’s loss at home to Michigan and carrying an injury list as long as any team in the Big Ten, the Spartans look to turn things around against one of the hottest teams in the conference.
The hottest is probably Michigan, and the Wolverines won their seventh straight last Saturday at Spartan Stadium. This week, the opponent is Purdue, which has won four in a row, including a dominating performance last week over then-No. 2 Ohio State.
“Their first three losses they only lost by a couple of points each game, so they’re very close to being a 7-0 football team,” Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie said. “They’ve got a good offense, they’ve got weapons on the outside with a good slot receiver — No. 4 kind of does it all for them. They’ve got two good running backs, the quarterback is playing well right now, so they’ve got confidence. They’re on a roll right now so we’ve got to stop that train.”
That’s easier said than done as the Boilermakers (4-3, 3-1 Big Ten) are averaging roughly 514 yards a game and are fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 35.7 points a game. And thanks to the slot receiver and quarterback Bachie talked about — freshman Rondale Moore and fifth-year senior David Blough — Purdue’s passing offense ranks sixth in the nation, averaging 337.6 yards per game.
Blough has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the last three games while Moore has five 100-yard receiving games this season and is coming off the Ohio State victory when he caught 12 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Not bad for a true freshman and a quarterback who didn’t even start the opener.
“Purdue started out 0-3 losing three games very, very late in the game, and then now they've gone on a four-game win streak. Playing very, very well right now offensively,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Been very impressed with their quarterback. He dishes the ball to the correct people, spreads it around. No. 4 Rondale Moore is an outstanding receiver, freshman, do-it-all kind of guy. Jet sweeps, catching the ball, punt return, kickoff return.
“Coach (Jeff) Brohm has done a great job there since getting there really last year and sort of turning the program. He's going to run trick plays. He's going to run fake punts, four of them last year, so those type of things.”
Those types of things have been paying off from Brohm, who got the Boilermakers to a bowl game last season, his first in West Lafayette after winning 30 games in three seasons at Western Kentucky.
After the win last week over Ohio State, the national spotlight is on the Boilermakers’ coach. His name was included in the open Tennessee job last year and it’s already being thrown around for jobs that aren’t even open at this point. But he’s got his team focused on a fifth straight win and staying in the hunt in the Big Ten West.
“I think we do understand it's a one-game season and we've had some extreme highs and some extreme lows all in one season,” Brohm said. “So anything can happen when we play the game if we're not fully ready and hitting on all cylinders.
“We know (Michigan State) will come ready to play and if we don't play well, we'll get blown off the field, so we have to do all the small things to give ourselves a chance to win and we're going to work very hard to do that.”
How capable Michigan State (4-3, 2-2) will be to blow Purdue off the field is debatable. The defense has played well and could get cornerbacks Josiah Scott and Josh Butler back this week to help slow the Boilermakers.
However, on the offensive side of the ball, the Spartans are simply becoming almost too short-handed to take advantage of a Purdue defense that ranks last in the Big Ten against the pass. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is battling a bad right shoulder and signs are pointing to redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi getting his first start.
The Spartans also lost senior receiver Felton Davis III last week to a ruptured Achilles and are still awaiting the return of Cody White from a broken hand. So, after managing just 94 total yards last week, it’s hard to see Michigan State scoring enough.
But short-handed or not, they believe they’ll be ready to play.
“You can’t backward to try and move forward,” Bachie said. “It’s what this game is. You lose sometimes and you’ve got to be able to move forward. This will test what kind of guys we are, what kind character we have.”
Dantonio is confident in how the Spartans will approach the game.
“I don't think there's been a game where we've come and said we're not prepared mentally or we're not prepared emotionally,” Dantonio said. “We've come to play emotionally, and what we've got to do is execute. But we're going to play with effort and toughness.”
Purdue at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Purdue 4-3, 3-1 Big Ten; Michigan State 4-3, 2-2
Line: Michigan State by 1