Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs by Maryland Terrapins defensive back Jakorian Bennett (2) during second half action Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021 at Spartan Stadium.

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Stakes high when No. 4 Ohio State faces No. 7 Michigan State

The stakes will be as high as they can be when No. 7 Michigan State battles No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

The loser will have two losses and almost certainly will be eliminated from consideration for the four-team College Football Playoff.

“It’s a huge challenge ahead of us,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We’ve got everything on the line here. This is what it’s all about. … This is why you come to Ohio State.”

The winner will be in control to represent the East Division in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 4.

Ohio State (9-1, 7-0 Big Ten) is coming off its most efficient offensive performance of the season, scoring touchdowns on its first six possessions in a 59-31 win against Purdue.

The Spartans (9-1, 6-1) use the legs of Kenneth Walker III, who leads the nation in yards (1,473) and rushing touchdowns (17), and the arm of quarterback Payton Thorne, who is second in the conference to Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud with 21 touchdown passes.

While Ohio State is first nationally at 46.3 points per game and the Spartans 26th (34.6), Michigan State second-year coach Mel Tucker is more of a defense-first coach, as he graphically explained Monday.

“I’m not in the shootout business,” Tucker said. “If it ends up being that, then it’s that. But that’s not the goal. … A shootout to me, when I hear something like that, it makes me want to vomit.”

Tucker’s team has been one of the surprises not only in the conference but in all of college football.

The Spartans were 2-5 in the abbreviated 2020 season, including a 52-12 home loss to the Buckeyes. Aided by an abundance of transfers, the turnaround has been quick for Tucker.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position to have this game really mean something. And that’s a good thing,” Thorne said. “Coach Tucker talked last year and he talked in the offseason that he’s not interested in a four-year plan and he’s not interested in getting his recruits here like people talk about. He’s interested in winning now. He said that last year, and he meant it.”

Day said the resurgence of Michigan State exemplifies how tough the conference is to successfully navigate.

“This has been quite a year for the Big Ten,” he said. “If you look at the second half, there have been some unbelievable games. There are no weeks off.”

The weather will be typically cold in Big Ten country this time of the year. The Buckeyes got a taste of it last week when the temperature was a blustery 37 degrees.

The conditions didn’t bother Stroud, the Inland, Calif., native who threw five touchdown passes vs. the Boilermakers to give him 30 for the season.

“I asked him before the game, ‘Can a Cali kid throw the ball in 40-degree weather with 10-mile-an-hour winds?’” Day said Tuesday. “And he said, ‘Yeah, no problem, Coach.’ He just shrugged it right off. It’s always good to see. You never know until you see it, but there will be worse weather coming.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) drops back to throw the ball during the first quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

No. 7 Michigan St. overpowers Maryland, 40-21

Payton Thorne tossed four touchdown passes, Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III gained 143 rushing yards with two touchdowns and No. 7 Michigan State posted a 40-21 win over visiting Maryland on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.

The Spartans rebounded from their first loss of the season last week at Purdue by racking up 481 yards of total offense, outpacing Maryland’s own inconsistent efforts on offense.

Thorne completed 22 of 31 passes for 287 yards with one interception. Jayden Reed caught eight balls for 114 yards and two scores for Michigan State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten).

Taulia Tagovailoa went 29-for-48 passing for 350 yards, two touchdowns and one pick for Maryland (5-5, 2-5). Rakim Jarrett hauled in 10 passes for 105 yards and Chigoziem Okonkwo caught eight for 112 and two touchdowns.

Michigan State completed passing touchdowns on two of its first three drives, including a flea-flicker on the opening drive that set up a 52-yard score to Montorie Foster. It was 13-0 after a missed PAT on the second touchdown.

Maryland got on the board with three seconds remaining in the first quarter. Tagovailoa took a designed run 45 yards down the left sideline to the Spartans’ 4, and Peny Boone ran it in on the next play.

Thorne used play-action on a third-and-goal from the 2 for a touchdown pass to Connor Heyward. Walker finally got his turn on a 1-yard rushing score on the next Michigan State possession, and at 27-7 the game threatened to turn into a blowout.

But Tagovailoa orchestrated a pitch-perfect two-minute drill with completions of 5, 23 and 20 yards before he found Okonkwo for a 32-yard score, making it 27-14 by halftime.

The Terrapins started the second half with the ball and drove downfield again, but Noah Harvey intercepted Tagovailoa at Michigan State’s 1-yard line. The Spartans came back with another quick drive that ended in Thorne finding Reed for a 3-yard TD toss.

Just three plays later, Okonkwo struck again for Maryland. The tight end caught a screen pass and took it down the right sideline 32 yards, hurdling two diving tacklers on his way to making it 34-21.

Maryland’s next two drives came up short — first a third-down intentional grounding call leading to a missed field goal try, then a turnover on downs inside the Spartans’ 25.

Walker scored again from 3 yards out with 10:34 left to play to conclude the scoring.

The Terrapins committed 13 penalties for 93 yards.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Jackson Anthrop (33) runs the ball while Michigan State Spartans linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6) defends in the first half at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Aidan O’Connell’s huge day lifts Purdue to upset over No. 3 Michigan State

Aidan O’Connell passed for 536 yards and three touchdowns and Purdue defeated a top-five team for the second time this season, downing previously unbeaten and No. 3 ranked Michigan State 40-29 at West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday.

The Boilermakers (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) defeated then No. 2 Iowa last month.

O’Connell completed 40 of 54 passes, with David Bell hauling in 11 passes for 217 yards.

Payton Thorne completed 20-of-30 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans (8-1, 5-1). Tre Mosley caught two touchdown passes and Kenneth Walker III rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

The Boilermakers led 21-14 at halftime.

O’Connell completed three passes of 13 or more yards on Purdue’s first drive. He found Bell from five yards out to put his team on top.

Michigan State tied it on its next possession, with Thorne hooking up with Mosley on a 26-yard score. Connor Heyward had a 35-yard reception during that drive.

The Boilermakers regained the lead early in the second quarter as O’Connell floated an 8-yard touchdown pass to Broc Thompson. Bell had a 42-yard reception to set up the score.

Jackson Anthrop weaved through traffic on a 39-yard screen pass from O’Connell to give Purdue a 21-7 lead with 4:50 left in the half.

Walker’s 14-yard run allowed the Spartans to cut their deficit in half before the break. That finished off an 11-play, 69-yard drive.

The Spartans tied it early in the third on Thorne’s 32-yard run, three plays after a Boilermakers fumble.

Purdue soon retook the lead on King Doerue’s 1-yard run, a drive aided by two Spartans penalties.

Bell’s 50-yard catch set up Mitchell Fineran’s 29-yard field goal, which gave Purdue a 31-21 lead.

Fineran also made a 24-yarder early in the fourth. The Boilermakers then drove down the field after Thorne was intercepted on fourth down deep in Purdue territory. Bell’s 53-yard catch set up Fineran’s 23-yard field goal.

Mosley’s 11-yard touchdown catch and a two-point conversion with 5:03 left made it 37-29.

Fineran’s 22-yard field goal in the final minute clinched the upset.

–Field Level Media

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III runs against Michigan during the second half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

No. 5 Michigan State professes wariness of facing Purdue

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

Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III, right, runs for a touchdown as Michigan's Vincent Gray trails behind during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

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No. 8 Michigan State rallies for 37-33 win over No. 6 Michigan

Kenneth Walker III scored his fifth rushing touchdown to lift No. 8 Michigan State to a 37-33 victory against No. 6 Michigan in a Big Ten rivalry showdown Saturday in East Lansing.

The Spartans (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) overcame a 16-point, second-half deficit against the Wolverines (7-1, 4-1), who led 30-14 midway through the third quarter.

Walker rushed for 197 yards on 23 carries and Payton Thorne passed for 196 yards for Michigan State. Walker’s go-ahead 23-yard score came with 5:08 remaining.

Cade McNamara passed for a career-high 383 yards and two touchdowns for Michigan. Andrel Anthony caught six passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including a 93-yard hookup in the first quarter.

The Wolverines led 23-14 at halftime.

They opened the scoring with McNamara’s 93-yard touchdown pass to Anthony.

A Mike Morris interception of a deflected Thorne pass led to Jake Moody’s 26-yard field goal later in the quarter.

The Spartans broke through on the first play of the second quarter on Walker’s 27-yard scoring run. Moody nailed a 38-yard field goal on Michigan’s next possession.

Michigan State took the lead with 7:16 left in the half on Walker’s 8-yard run. It was set up by Thorne’s 40-yard, fourth-down pass to Jalen Nailor.

J.J. McCarthy completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Anthony with 3:45 left in the half to put Michigan back on top. An apparent Michigan defensive touchdown late in the half was overturned on replay when Thorne was ruled down after getting sacked. Moody kicked a 35-yard field goal in the closing seconds.

Michigan took a 30-14 lead midway through the third quarter on McNamara’s 19-yard pass to Mike Sainristil.

Jayden Reed caught a 28-yard pass on fourth down to set up Walker’s third touchdown, a 1-yard plunge. The Spartans added a two-point conversion to cut the Wolverines’ lead to eight.

Walker then exploded through the line of scrimmage for a 58-yard touchdown with 12:29 remaining. Thorne’s conversion pass to Reed tied it at 30-all.

The Wolverines regained the lead on Moody’s 36-yard field goal with 9:20 left,

Following a McCarthy fumble, Walker burst through the middle for a 23-yard score with 5:08 remaining to give the Spartans a 37-33 advantage.

Charles Brantley’s interception of a McNamara pass with one minute left sealed the Spartans’ win.

–Field Level Media