Mel Tucker doesn’t anticipate a letdown from his Michigan State team this week.
Following an exhilarating comeback victory over archrival Michigan, the surprising Spartans find themselves going on the road to Purdue this Saturday. Second-year coach Tucker fully expects his team to produce the same effort.
- Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana
- TV: ABC
Follow live game score updates here:
Michigan State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) rose to No. 5 in the rankings following their 37-33 win over the Wolverines. The Spartans also debuted at No. 3 in the first CFP rankings of the season Tuesday night.
“We’re not going to just show up and expect anything,” he said. “That’s not part of what we talk about. That’s not part of our mentality. I’ve had people reach out to me and talk about a trap game, things like that. I don’t understand any of that. I don’t understand what that is.”
What Tucker said he fully understands is that the Boilermakers (5-3, 3-2) are dangerous when underestimated. They upset then-No. 2 Iowa 24-7 on Oct. 16.
“It’s obvious they have a good football team, and they have a history of beating ranked teams when they’re unranked,” he said. “They’ve won some big games this year.”
So have the Spartans, none bigger than last weekend’s dramatic second-half rally. They were down 30-142, but stormed back behind Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III. The Wake Forest transfer continued his season-long rampage, rushing for all five of the Spartans’ touchdowns while racking up 197 yards.
Walker ranks second in FBS with 1,194 rushing yards and has scored 14 touchdowns on the ground.
The Spartans could be without one of their top receivers. Jalen Nailor was on the sidelines with his right hand heavily wrapped during the second half of last week’s game.
Nailor had 221 receiving yards and three touchdowns at Rutgers last month.
After Purdue, Michigan State’s remaining schedule includes games vs. Maryland, at Ohio State and vs. Penn State.
“We put ourselves in a good position heading into the last month of the season,” Tucker said. “Really, we need to start playing our best football here down the stretch in November. That’s really what it’s all about, November madness. We have to be at our best when our best is needed.”
Purdue is coming off a 28-23 road win over Nebraska. The Boilermakers have 10 takeaways in the last three games, and coach Jeff Brohm said getting a lead is crucial to forcing those turnovers.
“If we can somehow get in an advantageous situation, at least by the second half, and have a lead, our defense will play much better if a team has to throw the football a whole lot,” he said.
“That’s what we have to do. If we’ve got to play catch-up the entire game, it’ll be a dogfight until the end, and we’ll have to scrap and claw and try to hang in there,” Brohm added.
Quarterback Aidan O’Connell avoided turnovers against the Cornhuskers, completing 34 of 45 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
Purdue doesn’t have an explosive attack, so it will need to contain Walker in order to pull off an upset.
“Their offense is suited exactly for him and built around him, running the football, power football, running downhill, getting it to him multiple ways, trusting in the running game because you have a really good defense and understanding that they’re not going to beat themselves,” Brohm said.
“They’ll throw it when they need to and have to and mix it up, but for the most part they’re going to rely on that running game to be the foundation of their team, and they’ve done a great job with it,” he said.
Michigan hosts Indiana
Michigan showed it could move the football through the air on Saturday against rival Michigan State.
What the Wolverines couldn’t do was hold an 16-point, second-half lead, as they fell 37-33.
No. 9 Michigan (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) will look to bounce back from the disappointing first loss of the season on Saturday when it hosts reeling Indiana.
- Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
- TV: FOX
Follow live game score updates here:
“My approach is very similar to a fighter getting knocked down,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “You get up, referee wipes your gloves, you get up even more determined, with even more resolve, to prepare, to work harder, to find a way to finish.”
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara passed for 383 yards and two touchdowns before getting injured in the fourth quarter.
“Really played outstanding in almost every way,” Harbaugh said. “He played really well, made some throws, not just the best throws he’s ever made but some of the best throws you can make.”
The Wolverines have been most effective moving the ball on the ground this season, averaging a league-best 239.9 yards rushing per game. But with Michigan State taking the run away, Michigan showed the ability to adapt.
“This year’s 2021 Michigan football team is going to be defined by what’s already taken place and what they do this Saturday, what they do the Saturday after that, the Saturday after that and the Saturday after that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what’s going to define us. So the resolve is to get back to work.”
The Wolverines’ loss did not harm their standing too much in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee. Michigan debuted at No. 7 in the first CFP rankings of the season Tuesday night, one spot ahead of undefeated Oklahoma.
Indiana (2-6, 0-5) is coming off a 38-35 loss at Maryland. The Hoosiers have lost four straight and are still seeking their first conference win after notching six Big Ten wins in seven attempts a season ago.
“Just continue to be disappointed in our outcome from Saturday’s game,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “The guys took it hard. And a lot of emotion in that locker room afterwards. And the fight was there, just got to execute better.”
Five of the Hoosiers’ six losses this season have come against teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the matchup.
True freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley likely will make his second career start for Indiana, as starter Michael Penix Jr. (shoulder) and backup Jack Tuttle (foot) continue to rehab. McCulley set an Indiana true freshman passing yardage record in his first start, completing 14 of 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland.
“Really proud of him, his preparation and his ability to rise up in a road game, which is always hard for a young guy,” Allen said. “But encouraged by that. And not surprised though. I do think -- I’ve said all along I thought he’s a really talented player that has a big upside. And his best football is ahead of him.”
Tight end Peyton Hendershot has emerged as one of Indiana’s top receivers with 35 catches for 447 yards and four scores this season. The senior caught two touchdown passes at Maryland, matching his career high set at Rutgers last year.