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October 19, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - After three consecutive lopsided losses, Purdue found itself in a competitive game until the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Though the Boilermakers ultimately couldn't make enough plays and lost 14-0 to Michigan State, they left the game feeling good about the progress that was made.
And, really, that's probably the most important thing at this point in a rebuilding season: That Purdue shows it's improving in the midst of a brutal first-half schedule.
"I definitely think we're making strides, and any time you can make strides you're encouraged," first-year coach Darrell Hazell said. "We're not in the business of moral victories. You never want to be that way, but I think it gives our guys a little confidence if we do things right all the time, then you give yourselves a better chance to be successful.
"(Purdue players) played with a lot more confidence throughout the course of the game and they really were pretty fired up on the sideline. There was a belief. They played so hard. They played extremely hard from wire to wire. We've got to keep taking those steps forward."
An inspired defensive performance kept Purdue (1-6, 0-3 Big Ten) in the game until the fourth quarter.
The Boilermakers didn't allow the Spartans' offense into the red zone until there were 10 minutes left in the game.
Purdue showed a new package within its new three-man front scheme, using Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips at the same time in a true 3-4 look. It mixed its personnel frequently, too, using eight defensive backs and rotating a group of D-linemen to keep players fresh. That helped them stay aggressive and keep pursuit.
"They got a lot of hats around the ball, and I thought they ran to the ball exceptionally well," Hazell said. "They played with a tremendous amount of energy in that game, and there's good players over there that if you can get good players around the ball, then you've got a chance."
Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) didn't have a drive longer than 38 yards until the pivotal one early in the fourth. That started with Will Lucas getting into the backfield to produce a two-yard loss but then, for the first time all game, the Boilermakers dropped into some bad habits.
A 17-yard completion on second-and-12. A 25-yard completion on third-and-11. A 26-yard screen pass on second-and-nine.
Those big plays on favorable down-and-distance situations for the defense allowed the Spartans to move into a goal-to-go situation. On second down from the 5, Michigan State ran a play Purdue hadn't seen on tape: A pitch to a receiver in motion who rolled right and threw to a wide-open tight end for a touchdown.
They were the only points allowed by Purdue's defense, and they came 51 minutes into the game.
"I feel like everybody is taking it more personal now," senior captain Ricardo Allen said. "Not saying we weren't from the get-go, but everybody is really cranking down. There's more people in the film room. There's more people who want to learn. Everybody is seeing they have a chance to play now. It's not just somebody goes down and gets hurt and somebody ends up in a game who never got any reps. We're keeping everybody fresh, rotating everybody and staying aggressive.
"We love being in the close games. We love when it's a fight all night. But we would like to overcome and win."
One thing Purdue's defense didn't do was force turnovers.
And that's what this offense may need more than anything.
The Boilermakers had some significant drives against one of the nation's best defenses but still couldn't finish them.
Danny Etling was sacked five times for the second consecutive week, Michigan State also had three other quarterback hurries and Etling was hit multiple times after he released the ball.
The relentless pressure helped produce the game's biggest play.
With Purdue near midfield about five minutes into the second quarter, the Boilermakers lined up four wide and with Brandon Cottom in the backfield. Michigan State blitzed, and Cottom picked up one defender off the edge.
But no one touched Max Bullough.
The middle linebacker shot past Purdue's left side of the line and drilled Etling, the ball popping loose and being picked up by Denicos Allen. Allen took it 45 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought the corner was going to sit on the out route that I was going to throw," said Etling, who was primed for a three-step drop and quick throw. "Looking back - I'm going to watch film - but I don't think he sat on it. We were concerned about it. (Cameron) Posey was telling me 'Hey, watch out,' because if he jumps it, it' s pick-six the other way. So I held onto it half a second too long. I got hit and didn't see it coming, so I couldn't protect the ball well enough and I was in the throwing motion."
Purdue's next drive went 10 plays and 4:56 but stalled near midfield.
Its next two ended in missed field goals.
Its last real chance was late in the third quarter when it went 52 yards on seven plays to advance to Michigan State's 40-yard line. But Etling's deep shot to Posey on third-and-10 was off-target and Purdue punted.
"It's hard to go the long, hard way on teams," Eting said of the long drives. "We've got to find a way to give that extra effort or get that extra broken tackle or pull the string on the (deep) one to (DeAngelo) Yancey down the seam or to Posey and find a way to complete those balls. You want those back, but it's a great learning experience for me and everyone else. I'm tired of learning. I just want to play well."
Purdue hadn't been shut out since a 49-0 loss to Ohio State in 2010.
It avoided the shutout last week by throwing a touchdown pass in the final minute.
"We have to stop taking moral victories and start finishing drives and that starts with me," said Etling, who was 14-of-25 passing for 160 yards and an interception.
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