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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Looking back at No. 9 Michigan State’s 40-29 loss at Purdue and looking ahead to the Spartans’ home game vs. Maryland.
Three things we learned
Defensive deficiencies: The Spartans gave up first downs on 11 of 18 third-down attempts for Purdue, which also converted its lone fourth-down attempt to further damage the defense. MSU ranks 100th nationally by allowing opponents to convert 42.2% of their third-down attempts, much of that has to do with porous pass defense. Aidan O’Connell’s 536 passing yards were the second-most ever against the Spartans. O'Connell's aerial display puts MSU's pass defense dead last among the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in giving up 326.7 yards per game, and the Purdue senior’s 40 completions tied the most by an opposing quarterback (Drew Brees, 1999). It marked the third game this season MSU allowed more than 400 yards passing, they've given up 939 yards through the air the past two outings.
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Walker rambles on: Saturday did little to slow Kenneth Walker III’s quest for the Heisman Trophy. The junior ran for 146 yards on 23 carries, sprinkling in big runs while grinding against an aggressive Purdue front seven hellbent on stopping him. Walker also showed his elusiveness and speed to the edge on a 14-yard touchdown run, and he still leads the nation in both rushing yards (1,340) and ground yards per game (148.9) while ranking fourth in all-purpose yards (155.11 per game). His 15 rushing touchdowns, 16 total scores and 96 points and 10.7 points per game all rank third in FBS.
Playmakers rise up: Despite gaining 458 yards, not having Jalen Nailor (right hand) at times slowed the Spartans’ offense, with Walker and Jayden Reed (73 yards, four catches) garnering more attention. MSU’s tight ends responded with big performances, with Connor Heyward, Tyler Hunt and Maliq Carr combining for 105 yards on seven catches to help Payton Thorne in the passing game. The sophomore quarterback also aided the run game with a 32-yard touchdown run, though the run game beyond Walker remains limited.
Matchup: No. 9 Michigan State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) vs. Maryland (5-4, 2-4)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: Fox, WJR-AM (760).
Know the foe: The Terrapins are coming off a 31-14 home loss to Penn State on Saturday despite a big game from quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who threw for 371 yards on 41 of 57 passing. The junior, who is the brother of former Alabama star and Miami Dolphins starter Tua, averages 306.1 yards per game and completes 70.5% of his throws with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is doing it without top receiver Dontay Demus, who hurt his knee against Iowa on Oct. 1 and will miss the rest of the season. In his absence, sophomore Rakim Jarrett (37 catches, 533 yards, five TDs) has emerged as Tagovailoa’s top target, and senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo put together a breakout 12-catch, 85-yard game against the Nittany Lions on Saturday. Maryland’s run game has struggled, though, with Tayon Fleet-Davis leading the way with 436 yards and six TDs on 87 carries. The Terps had just 48 rushing yards vs. PSU after two sacks, and Tagovailoa has been dropped 17 times this season. However, the offense still ranks fifth in Big Ten with 429.8 total yards and 27.6 points per game. Defensively, Maryland gives up 30.4 points a game, second-worst in the conference, and ranks 12th in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 408.8 yards.
3 things to watch
Responding to adversity: MSU’s first loss of the season comes after the spotlight from beating Michigan and debuting at No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff rankings last week. The Spartans got outmatched and out-schemed against the Boilermakers’ passing attack more so than overlooking them. Yet they also made it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter while scoring 29 points after averaging just 14 in last year’s five losses. They will face a Maryland team which — like Purdue earned on Saturday — needs one more win to clinch its first bowl berth since 2016. If there is anything such as a must-win game, with significantly tougher opponents waiting to finish the regular season in Ohio State and Penn State, this is one
Health check: Along with Nailor, a few other key Spartans are in injury limbo. Cornerbacks Charles Brantley (shoulder) and Ronald Williams II (back) played through their pain but were limited in snaps, while backup Marqui Lowery (left leg) dressed but did not play. Starting left tackle Jarrett Horst remained in East Lansing with Nailor for an unspecified medical reason, while kicker Matt Coghlin traveled and dressed but did not play at Purdue. Tucker only said after the game the sixth-year senior and MSU’s all-time leading field goal kicker was “sore.” Not having backup right guard Matt Carrick also has disrupted the offensive line rotation, and center Matt Allen tweaked his ankle early and split snaps with backup Nick Samac after his injury.
Tough tests ahead: Maryland arrives to Spartan Stadium ranked third in the Big Ten and 14th in the country at 316.1 passing yards per game. The following week, MSU heads to Columbus to face Ohio State's dynamic passing attack with QB C.J. Stroud and deep cadre of receivers that rank sixth in the nation at 352.8 yards per game. The Spartans then close against Penn State, which has the 25th-ranked passing attack in FBS at 277.7 yards per game with Sean Clifford getting healthy and throwing for 361 and 363 yards the past two weeks.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football: What we learned, what to watch vs. Maryland