Michigan State football might miss Jalen Nailor against Purdue, whose defense has shined

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

EAST LANSING – Looking back at No. 6 Michigan State’s 37-33 win over No. 10 Michigan and looking ahead to the Spartans’ trip to Purdue:

3 things we learned

Dream Walker: It is hard to overstate just how much Kenneth Walker III means to the Spartans’ unbeaten start. The junior transfer from Wake Forest solidified his Heisman Trophy candidacy on the big stage by running for 101 of his 197 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He scored his third second-half TD to rally MSU from a 16-point deficit in the final 22 minutes. Walker’s career-high five touchdowns are the most ever allowed in the 142-year history of Michigan football, a list that now has him ahead of Red Grange, Vince Young, J.K. Dobbins and three others who scored four. Walker also became MSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher in eight seasons, and he continues to lead the nation at 149.2 yards per game on the ground.

Tuck comin’: Speaking of a list of legends, second-year coach Mel Tucker did something none of the MSU greats before him accomplished. The 49-year-old became the first to guide the Spartans to victories over U-M in his first two tries, a year after joining Nick Saban as the only coaches in school history to beat the Wolverines in their first rivalry game and the first to win his debut in Ann Arbor. MSU improved to 8-0 for the seventh time in program history and the first since 2015, while its 5-0 Big Ten start is just the fourth all-time and the first since 2013.

MORE FROM SOLARI: Tucker's motivational phrases manifest into MSU win vs. U-M

NEW: Kenneth Walker III wins Walter Camp weekly national award

SOLARI'S NOTES: MSU gets emotional boost from Drew Beesley's return vs. Michigan

Ultimate bending: The Spartans throttled Michigan’s vaunted run game, limiting the Wolverines to just 146 yards on the ground while keeping Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum under 60 yards apiece. But U-M quarterback Cade McNamara dissected MSU’s defense with underneath routes all day for 383 yards and two touchdowns, while J.J. McCarthy added another scoring pass to make it 406 yards allowed by the secondary.

However, MSU came up with turnovers when it needed them most, with Jacub Panasiuk pouncing on a McCarthy fumble to set up Walker’s go-ahead touchdown deep into the fourth quarter. Then freshman Charles Brantley ended U-M’s last gasp with a one-handed interception of McNamara with a minute to play.

Next up

Matchup: No. 6 Michigan State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at Purdue (5-3, 3-2).

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, in West Lafayette, Indiana

TV/radio: ABC, WJR-AM (760).

Line: MSU by 3.

Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) passes the ball against Nebraska during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)
Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) passes the ball against Nebraska during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

Know the foe: The Boilermakers are coming off a 28-23 win Saturday at Nebraska that puts them one win away from bowl eligibility for the third time in coach Jeff Brohm's five seasons but just the first since 2018. Quarterback Aidan O'Connell threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns against the Cornhuskers, with nine passes for 74 yards going to top receiver David Bell. However, O'Connell (34-for-45) also spread 13 throws for 83 yards between and a touchdown apiece to Jackson Anthrop and Milton Wright. Purdue upset No. 2 Iowa on the road as well, but it is just 2-2 at home, with losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

O'Connell has completed 71% of his passes for 1,551 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions after seizing the starting job from Jack Plummer, and Austin Burton also gets snaps at quarterback for the Boilermakers, who rank 16th at 307.1 yards passing overall while averaging 22.9 points and 386.6 yards per game of total offense. Purdue ranks 128th out of 130 schools nationally, though, with just 79.5 rushing yards per game. It is the defense which has shined, with the Boilermakers allowing just 17.1 points to rank 10th in the country in scoring defense, and they are 17th nationally in allowing just 314.0 yards per game overall.

[ Albom: Kenneth Walker III, new to Michigan-MSU rivalry, put stamp on it in epic fashion ]

3 things to watch

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne (10) celebrate a touchdown against Michigan during the second half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne (10) celebrate a touchdown against Michigan during the second half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

Nailor watch: The Spartans lost Jalen Nailor near the end of the first half Saturday to a right hand injury after catching four passes for 75 yards. Tucker did not address the situation in the postgame, but the junior wide receiver returned to the sideline after halftime with his hand heavily wrapped in neon green tape, with dark green tape around his middle fingers. Nailor and Jayden Reed have been a dynamic downfield duo, combining for 1,074 yards, 54 catches and 11 touchdowns. Keep an eye on sophomore Montorie Foster, who took over for Nailor against the Wolverines and had two catches for 15 yards.

[ Michigan State football grades: Coaching stars again in win over Michigan ]

Late-down struggles: MSU’s defense again had issues third down, allowing the Wolverines to convert 8 of 17 chances and another fourth-down conversion. The Spartans allow opponents to convert nearly 40% of third-down tries, which ranks 76th in the nation and 12th in the Big Ten. They are 109th with a 65.4% conversion rate allowed on fourth down. MSU’s offense also is struggling to convert on third downs, going 4 of 12 on Saturday and making just 34.3% of its attempts this season to rank next-to-last in the league and 111th nationally. Purdue’s defense is fourth in the Big Ten, yielding first downs just 33.3% of opponents’ third-down tries.

Passing problems: Payton Thorne did not throw a touchdown and had just 196 passing yards with two interceptions and three sacks against U-M. The sophomore quarterback goes against a Purdue defense that ranks second in the Big Ten and tied for 10th nationally against the pass, allowing just 174.0 yards per game.

The Boilermakers’ league-low 52.2% completion rate ranks ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision,and they are tied for 14th nationally with 10 interceptions. Thorne has completed 61.5% of his throws for 1,897 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions this season, four of those picks coming in his last two games as he failed to reach 200 yards passing against Indiana and U-M.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big question for Michigan State football: Jalen Nailor's status