Getting Hammered Edition – the MSU Predicto
Purdue seems to really like rolling out special, alternate helmets against at home against opponents who are likely to wax our boys. The thing is, Purdue’s athletic department makes so many bonerbrained moves that this kind of doesn’t even get noticed by fans. Last year’s head-to-toe all black look and blackout theme came against OSU in a stadium filled with red-clad fans… that kicked off at noon. Neat! Saturday, the Boilers will wear another alternate helmet, this one in support of cancer survivors. A noble cause, to be sure, but a quick search of the interwebs will tell you that yellow is not an all-encompassing cancer support color. Sure, I’m glad they didn’t force-feed pink in just because it’s breast cancer awareness month, but no matter what we’re told, yellow isn’t really connected to cancer in general. In fact, it’s actually connected to troop support. In fact, it turns out that lavender is really the overall cancer support color, though I’m not sure how lavender would look on those helmets. Perhaps bdowd can design us an option.
But that’s neither here nor there. The Boilermakers are wearing a pretty bad-ass helmet and sporting the all-white look that so many fans hate – mainly due to bad memories and the belief that they’ve never won in that look. While they’ve certainly suffered some memorable poundings in them, they did have a pretty fun road win in them not too long ago. But hey, I know… it was only Iowa. Hardly counts.
I don’t know the last time Purdue wore even white jerseys at home, let along the all white look. I would go further to say they haven’t worn this particular combo (white unis, black helmets) since at least 1990, the last year of the Akers-era black lid, but I’m not even sure they sported the all white look then. I did a little searching, but I’m pretty lazy. Maybe you can tell me if you ever recall (or can provide evidence of) Purdue wearing all white at home.
We say the helmet is bad-ass because it’s at least original. It’s in support of the survivors of the awfulness that is cancer but instead of just having some small tribute, the ribbon is designed right into the helmet itself. A pretty cool idea and it was pulled off without ruining Purdue’s “P” on the helmet. Whereas the photos-in-the-P look from a few weeks ago looked really small-time, this looks to us like something Nike would give Oregon to wear. Not a bad thing.
Speaking of bad things, let’s talk about what MSU might do to Purdue this weekend.
Any "thirst quenching" analogy would be appropriate for what happened during the Illinois game. I can't overstate how important that win was for Purdue's football program. The team - and coaches, and fans - needed it in the worst way. It proves, in definitive, tangible terms, that this team is making progress. Yeah, that progress might not be as fast or as strong as we all would have liked to see, but it's there, and that's good enough for now.
But let's be clear - Illinois is an awful team. Their offense is not half-bad; their defense...well, if I didn't know better I'd suggest they are trying to let people score. They had no second-level defense, no pressure on the quarterback, no quality tackling. That defense is a dumpster fire, and Purdue took advantage. No complaints here.
But now we have Michigan State, the anti-Illinois. They were my pick to represent the Big 10 in the playoff, and although that looks less likely than it did in August, they are still a formidable team. Purdue is improving on offense, and should undoubtedly do better than the mind-numbing zero points they put up last year. MSU won't exactly light the world on fire on offense either, but I did briefly wonder if they were going to hang 100 points on Eastern Michigan (side note: does Eastern Michigan just round up the locals from the neighborhood to play and coach for them? How can a school be that bad at football without being like "Ok that's enough. We're canceling the program, tearing down the football stadium, and salting the Earth so nothing shall grow here ever again."). All that to say, it doesn't look like MSU will live up to the hype I placed on them this off-season, but they probably are good enough to contend with the top tier of Division I programs, which means they have enough to beat Purdue easily.
When you're fairly confident that you're going to lose, you start looking for secondary indicators that things aren't as bad as the scoreboard might suggest. For me, this game is all about Austin Appleby. While everyone (myself included) was excited about his play (and demeanor) at Illinois, I wonder how many touchdowns Lafayette-Jeff could have scored on the Illini. MSU presents an order of magnitude step up in difficulty. Some guys are made for the moment and can handle adversity, and others simply can't. If Appleby gets beat up and stymied by the Spartans, yet maintains his composure throughout, then we might just have ourselves a quarterback.
Ultimately, I don't think this goes Purdue's way, but I trust their development enough to suggest that they at least make it interested at points. Purdue gets beat, but there will be some positives.
Michigan State: 34 Purdue: 17
Good news! The Boilers are unbeaten on the road, winning their road opener for the first time since 2007 (defeating a Toledo team not coached by Tim Beckman; his 2009 team lost their opener in West Lafayette) and their Big Ten road opener for the first time since 2010 (over a 7-6 Northwestern team that was not as good as its record).
Bad news! Purdue hasn't beaten Michigan State since 2006 and hasn't beaten a Spartan team that finished above .500 since 2001; their last win over a legitimate Big Ten contender from East Lansing was in 1999, when the Boilers ran MSU off the field, 52-28.
I can guarantee you that this Purdue team will not score 52 on this Michigan State team. When Purdue lost a couple of high-scoring games to the Spartans in 2009 and 2010, the MSU defense was bad (2009) and moving up (2010). This MSU defense isn't as dominant as last season's, which you may recall from the 0 that Purdue bravely hung on Sparty. Unfortunately, the offense has more than made up for it. In 2013, the tire fire that masqueraded as offense was frequently outscored by the Spartan defense and special teams. I watched last year's MSU-South Florida game and had to be convinced by my brothers that it really happened: it may have been the worst offensive show I've ever seen, and I've watched Fred Akers and Jim Colletto offenses. (And worse. Did you know that in 1983, Northwestern averaged 9.2 points per game? They weren't even the worst team in the conference! In 1981, they averaged 7.5 points per game, outscored by more than 38 points per game. My goodness, that team was bad. Dennis Green was a baaaaad college coach.)
This season, Michigan State is averaging more than 45 points per game; yeah, 73 of those were against Eastern Michigan, but Purdue had two cracks at MAC teams and couldn't top 73 combined. MSU isn't exactly rolling coming into the game; they did coast to a 27-3 lead against Nebraska in Lincoln, but kind of shut down in the fourth quarter. The Huskers missed two two-point conversions, which ended up costing them a shot at a game-tying field goal, but they did make the final score look a lot better than it did after three quarters. And Purdue has finally put some momentum together, which would ordinarily give them a shot at home.
But not Saturday. This is the wrong team at the wrong time for Hazell's Boilers. Notre Dame was apparently the diamond in the coal that was Purdue's first-half schedule, but the other gems are lining up in the second half against the Good Guys, and until we get to the Bucket game, the Boilers are going to be cut down by a number of polished teams.
Can we talk about the Monon Spike now? Seven straight Ps on that chain. I like sports where Purdue kicks ass and takes names. I don't like Michigan State. Saturday at 7 PM, the Boilers face IU in University Gym, looking for their second consecutive season sweep of the Hoosiers ... oh fine, I'll predict a score. You're no fun.
Worse than 8/31/1996 (really? the season opener? ugh, I'd forgotten that, 52-14)
Michigan State 51 Purdue 7
Aneesh the Swamy:
"The only thing we talk about is the process. We always say win the next game one possession at a time. You can have a goal of winning a National Championship or getting into the Final Four, or whatever the case may be. But it's baby steps, there's a process to get there and the focus has got to be on that."
--Brad Stevens, former Butler Bulldogs head coach, current Boston Celtics head coach, hopefully not future Hoosiers head coach
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about coaches/administrators/leaders who preach that “the process” is more important than subsequent results early in an organization’s development. Practice harder than you play, show your work on exams, measure twice cut once…all that jazz. It got me thinking about Purdue’s football team (as most of my thoughts usually devolve into the state of Purdue athletics), and the task Darrell Hazell has taken on in rebuilding a program like ours. What are Coach Hazell’s (and, to an extent, Morgan Burke’s) immediate priorities, winning or establishing a culture regardless of the win total?
I guess we should reframe the questions for the important audiences: What do recruits care about? Well…recruits want to win, and they want to look cool while winning. What do the parents care about? Parents care about culture.
If there were a “Process to Results” spectrum, I would lean towards the process side. To me, it's more important to establish a system you can trust when variance in gameplay can lead to drastic results. However, when you are 22 months into the rebuild, results have to start matching rhetoric to validate that system’s progression. Especially in a collegiate system when young recruits might only know Purdue football as a punchline. (J has written some great stuff on this recently.)
Last week's win, even though it was against the dregs of a week Big Ten, started the process of justifying Hazel's methods. Some writers say that Purdue has already had a wildly successful season, regardless how the Boilers finish. (How many “wildly successful” three win seasons have you seen before?) But we, as the clichéd “Boiler Nation”, can’t be immediately satisfied. And we will have to watch how Hazell’s process will evolve given constantly changing circumstances and expectations; whether his mindset will stay static, like his predecessor, or if he adapts and relies on his established Purdue culture as a foundation for success.
Now……everyone and their mother knows we're going to get killed by Michigan State.
Grantland ran two great features on MSU this year: one on their seemingly infinite boring-but-effective quarterbacks (with a focus on their current incarnation, Connor Cook), and an orgasmic breakdown of Pat Narduzzi’s defense by Purdue alum Chris B. Brown. Long story short, they’re really good at the football, really creative, and led by really brilliant coaches who have a proven system and…wait for it…culture that Coach Dantonio has fostered during his 8 season tenure.
Spoiler: we’re gonna lose. But that’s where that whole “process” thing is important.
Every recruit, every parent, every potential prospect that has interest in the Boilermakers will be watching this nationally televised game. Will they be pleased with what they see? Will parents look to the sidlines and see a coach that they would trust with their child? Will recruits see a cool alternate helmet worn in support for a Purdue-driven cause? Will prospects see a spot for themselves in the potential program that Hazell is building?
Sorry to be so serious, especially when so many jokes can be made about the fine powder MSU is about to produce out of Purdue this week. But I just got to thinking…why was my process-driven mind so relieved after last week's victory, even as flawed as it was?
I realized that even though we can all talk ourselves into wins against Indiana, Minnesota, possibly Northwestern…what I'm really looking for is on identity for Purdue football.
Spread: Michigan State -21
Michigan State 34 Purdue 17
Purdue has this weird habit of playing MSU tough. But I also think MSU and Dantonio generally play teams only as hard as they need to in order to win. He’s very methodical and once he knows he’s got the win, I think the creative plays go back in the bag and are saved for a time when they’ll be needed. Look no further than the 14-0 win over the Boilers last season. Sure, Purdue’s defense played a spirited game and that was certainly something to build on, but I have to imagine once MSU realized Purdue had no chance at scoring any points, they simply went into a super-conservative, let’s-not-get-anyone-hurt mode. That sort of thinking doesn’t win many points with pundits who have already written off MSU and anyone else from the Big Ten as national contenders, though, so there is the possibility that MSU knows they need to make statements for the rest of the season.
Looking for something to tell yourself as you pour your scotch at 3:30 tomorrow? Well, isn’t it possible that this could be a “trap” game? MSU had Nebraska in prime time last weekend and has Michigan and Ohio State coming up after this weekend at Purdue and next weekend in the same afternoon time slot at IU. No? Not convinced? Neither am I.
I think Purdue’s confidence is in a good place right now and that’s key no matter who you are, especially in college football. And I think MSU is not the team they were last year for whatever reason. But there is no denying they are more talented, deeper, and better-coached. That’s not exactly the best combo.
Still, I’ve seen pretty marginal Purdue teams play MSU incredibly tough in recent years. As mentioned, it was 14-0 last year (one win Purdue vs one loss MSU); it was 35-31 MSU in 2010 (with Purdue blowing a 28-13 lead with Rob Henry at the helm); and it was 40-37 MSU in 2009 as Purdue scrambled to try to make a bowl. Obviously none of those games really mean anything for this year, but it’s just something we’ve seen before. Maybe Purdue isn’t scared… or isn’t as scared of MSU as we all are. But I think they make it fun.
MSU 33 Purdue 24
I felt good last week...mainly because I knew Illinois isn't good and is poorly coached.
I have no such positive feelings this week. MSU is well-coached, talented and probably angry after their unsatisfying victory over Nebraska...wouldn't it be nice to have such results?
Purdue has been in a state of sub-mediocrity for a while...so much so that when a team loses to Purdue, their fanbase goes berserk and starts making demands of a change to their favorite team's coaching staff...it's been no different among the Illinois fanbase this week in the wake of last week's poor home showing by the Chief.
Where Illinois had poor tackling, back-biting, poor communication and lousy schemes, MSU has tremendously-sound tackling, team continuity, great team communication and schemes by a defensive coordinator that is the apple of many eyes in the college football world.
Offensively, they're physical, large, experienced and skilled. Purdue allowed a bad Illinois offense to amass loads of yardage...I shutter to think of what MSU will do to Coach Hudson's suddenly-thin linebacking corps tomorrow.
I don't think Appleby's second start will be as storybook as his first. I look for Purdue's running game to struggle, the wide receivers to continue to drop easy catches and Appleby to be running for his life for much of the day.
The blood letting will be televised nationally...
MSU 42 Purdue 17