Spartans Triumphant in Defensive Battle

"Well, we're 9-2. That's what we were shooting for, so that got done," said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio after the game. Michigan State gutted out a slog of a battle against a resilient Purdue squad, winning 21-7 and setting up a game against Penn State in two weeks for all the marbles.

EAST LANSING -- Unlike the week before, it was clear Michigan State came to play against an inferior opponent. The opening defensive series produced a three-and-out with team tackling and tight coverage on receivers, setting the tone for the afternoon.

And on its first offensive series, with excellent field position, a theme which would recur throughout the first half, State decided to give Purdue a heavy dose of Javon Ringer.

After pounding out six yards, Ringer made an inspired pass protection pickup on third down that allowed Brian Hoyer enough time to complete a pass to Jeff McPherson for a first down.

Ringer soon found a crease on an outside toss to the 5-yard line, setting up an eventual fourth-and-goal touchdown run for himself. The Spartans led 7-0 before five minutes had ticked away.

After an Ashton Leggett fumble on what appeared to be another easy scoring drive (starting on Purdue's 26), the defense denied the Boilermakers on fourth-and-inches to take over on PU's 33, eventually setting up another fourth-down attempt. Ringer got the call again but was tripped up in the bacfield, leaving the score at 7-0.

The pressure from the Spartan front seven early in the game created sacks, tackles for loss and even forced an intentional grounding call on Purdue quarterback Justin Siller. In a word, the defense was suffocating.

"We knew he was a good athlete and we wanted to get after him," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said after the game. "I think we did that a little bit today. We put a little bit of pressure on him and the kids did a good job executing, and that's always what it comes down to."

Despite the relative domination -- MSU out gained Purdue 160-yards to 38 -- the Spartan offense couldn't move beyond a 7-0 first half lead. But the defense could. Johnny Adams took a pick for six with nine seconds to go, giving MSU a 14-0 haftime lead.

"Defensively, I thought our kids came out and played hard all day," Narduzzi said.

As for the offense, here's four words few envisioned before the start of the season: Blair White, deep threat. In addition to blocking, running precise routes, and being an inspiration to the team, the senior has now become another option for Hoyer on long bombs with players like Mark Dell ailing on the sidelines.

"I don't know about that," White said with too much humility after the game. "I just have to fill in for them (injured players) ... it's no big deal, it's just another way to do things."

As the teams took turns punching each other in the mouth, White hauled in a 49-yard pass deep down the middle, the kind of ball that was thrown for the receiver to go up and get. That's exactly what White did and Ringer pounded the pigskin into the endzone a few plays later for a 21-0 MSU lead.

Later, on another Purdue fourth-down attempt, cornerback Ross Weaver sacked Siller with 7:47 to go in the third, abruptly terminating what looked to be a promising Purdue drive that penetrated deep into Spartan teritory.

Soon after, a second MSU toss-to-the-running back fumble put PU back in business. But the Spartan pass rush was relentless and Siller went down under heavy pressure, injured, leaving the game to be briefly replaced with Chris Bennett. And yet again, Purdue went for it on fourth down only to come up empty.

Ringer carried the Spartan offense much of the rest of the way and finished with 121 yards on his usual workhorse load of 32 carries. He scored two touchdowns.

Now MSU sets its sights on Penn State in two weeks, with a bye to rest up, and plenty of time to think about how much winning a Big Ten title could change this program and fulfill the goals this staff and team have set from day one.

"I said last year we have an opportunity to win every game we come out to," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "Everything we do, the 80 hours a week you work as a coach, that's to win, that's not to stay close. I knew it could happen. ...

"It's important that everybody that's with you has both feet in and uderstand what your message is in trying to climb that ladder. We've done that this year."

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