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.
Michigan State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) rose to No. 5 in the rankings following their 37-33 win over the Wolverines.
“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.
–Field Level Media