Michigan State defense is exposed, resulting in first loss of the season


MSU quarterback Payton Thorne looks for an open receiver in the Spartans’ 40-29 loss to Purdue on Nov. 6, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Aidan Champion, Football Beat Reporter

West Lafayette, Ind. — The upset that Spartan Nation had hoped wouldn’t come true became a reality on Saturday when No. 5 Michigan State’s undefeated season came to an end in its 40-29 loss to Purdue.

For weeks, the Spartan secondary has been the team’s achilles heel, and it was more clear than ever in the road loss.

MSU started out with an abundance of energy amongst its offense, as running back Kenneth Walker III gained a total of 40 yards on the Spartans’ first drive. It all came to a sudden halt, though, when Walker fumbled the ball, turning it over to the Boilermakers on their own 38-yard line.

Walker finished the game with 146 rushing yards and a touchdown.

MSU running back Kenneth Walker runs the ball in the Spartans’ 23-20 overtime win over Nebraska on Sept. 25, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

It seemed to be deja vu for MSU’s defense, as the Boilermakers marched for a big drive in the air right off the bat. It was capped off with a 5-yard receiving TD by Purdue receiver David Bell. Bell recorded 217 receiving yards in the contest.

The pass came from Boilermaker quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who finished with a remarkable 536 passing yards and three passing touchdowns on the day.

The Spartans successfully responded, igiting what would be a scoring drive with a 35-yard completion from QB Payton Thorne to tight end Connor Heyward. Three plays later, Thorne connected with wide receiver Tre Mosley for a 26-yard TD reception. The Spartans had tied the game with a little over six minutes to go in the first quarter.

Thorne tallied 276 passing yards in the loss.

MSU was then able to stop the Boilermaker offense on the following drive. Spartan defensive end Jeff Pietrwoski got to O’Connell for a 10-yard sack, blowing up Purdue’s third-down conversion attempt.

Purdue retaliated, forcing a three-and-out. 

The second quarter was when the nightmare for MSU would start to arise. Just four plays in, O’Connell threw an 8-yard TD pass to wide receiver Broc Thompson. 

The Boilermaker defense completed its mission once again, forcing MSU to settle for a 43-yard field goal to end a nine-play drive. Kicker Stephen Rusnak’s attempt was no good, and the Spartan offense came away with nothing again.

MSU’s offense continued to struggle and was forced to punt on its next possession. Purdue returned the ball to its own 49-yard line and four plays later, found the end zone on a 39-yard reception by Jackson Anthrop, extending its lead to two scores.

Walker took the game into his own hands on the next Spartan drive, totaling 58 yards that included a 14-yard TD rush to end the 11-play drive. MSU pulled to within a possession at the end of the half.

Another Spartan comeback looked to be on the horizon, as MSU would come back and tie the game at 21 apiece in the third quarter. 

Purdue wasn’t ready to throw away the success it had achieved against the top-five opponent, though. The Boilermakers answered on the next drive with a TD rush by running back King Doerue. Purdue regained the lead.

The MSU offense went silent on its next possession at a time when it desperately needed to stay effective. The Spartans were held to a three-and-out, allowing the Boilermakers to march into their territory and make a 29-yard field goal.

Purdue would have a 10-point lead going into the final quarter.

Another Boilermaker touchdown would almost surely put the game out of reach, and the Spartans needed a big stop to start the quarter. They did just that, forcing Purdue to settle for a 24-yard field goal. The underdogs took a 13-point lead.

On the following drive, MSU’s offense marched all the way down to the red zone, but was forced to face a fourth-and-short situation on Purdue’s 9-yard line. The Spartans went for it, but Thorne was picked off in the end zone by Boilermaker cornerback Dedrick Mackey. 

Purdue went on to settle for another field goal, but extended its lead to 16, making MSU’s comeback chances very slim with 6:48 remaining in the game.

Nevertheless, the Spartans pursued. Thorne and the offense marched down the field with a 15-yard reception by Montorie Foster, a 33-yard run by Walker, a 32-yard pass from Thorne to Jayden Reed and a 7-yard reception from Tre Mosley. Thorne would connect with Mosley again on the following play, as the Spartans found the end zone on the 11-yard reception.

MSU wide receiver Tre Mosley makes a catch on a 2-point conversion attempt against No. 6 Michigan on Oct. 30, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

MSU executed on the 2-point conversion, trimming the margin to just eight points.

The 16-point comeback against Michigan would not repeat itself this time, though, as the Spartans would not score again in the matchup.

MSU had an opportunity to stop the Boilermakers on third down and potentially get the ball back to attempt to tie the game, but O’Connell was able to find receiver Milton Wright for a fresh set of downs. Once again, MSU’s defense bent but didn’t break, but the Purdue field goal would put the contest back out of the Spartans’ reach.

MSU would take its first loss of the season.

The Spartans will look to bounce back in next week’s matchup with Maryland at home.