- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has spent two seasons instructing the Boilermakers about winning football.

Apparently, the message is resonating.

The Boilermakers used a solid ground game and stouter defense last weekend to produce their most complete game of Hazell’s tenure. This week, the study sessions have taken longer and required more attention to detail with No. 8 Michigan State coming to town on Saturday.

“They’re very sound and physical and they know how to win,” Hazell said. “We’re going to have to do some things to make sure we take advantage of some of the things they give you, but we cannot make the mistakes we have made in the past.”

Actually, Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) could serve as the model for what the Boilermakers (3-3, 1-0) hope to build.

The Spartans have one of the best defenses in the nation, a quarterback in Connor Cook who has made great strides in his second season as the starter, an offense capable of grinding it out or airing it out and a Rose Bowl championship. They’re the Big Ten’s last hope for making the inaugural four-team playoff.

But even the Spartans aren’t perfect.

After nearly blowing a double-digit lead at home last week against Nebraska, they’re eager to show everyone they can win on the road. Michigan State’s only other road trip this season resulted in a 46-27 loss at Oregon.

“It will be a change for us,” Spartan coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s more challenging when you go on the road, and I think you have to rise up to those challenges.”

Dantonio is convinced his team is ready. The question, of course, is whether Purdue can pass its big test Saturday.

“I think we’re playing better football, more sound,” Hazell said. “I think we’re playing with a greater intensity level, and we just need to keep improving.”

Here are some things to watch on Saturday.

LINING UP: Michigan State is averaging four sacks per game this year. Purdue starts three sophomores and two juniors on the offensive line. Even though the Spartans defensive line and the Boilermakers offensive line both average 6-foot-4 and 296 pounds, this matchup could dictate how this game is decided.

FIRST-TIMERS: This season has been filled with milestones for Darrell Hazell. For the first time since arriving last season in West Lafayette, Indiana, the Boilermakers have beaten an FBS school, a Big Ten foe and, yes, won a road game. The Boilermakers are hoping to add another feat to Hazell’s list this weekend - his first back-to-back wins at Purdue.

THE STREAK: Meanwhile, the defending Big Ten champs are trying to remain the league’s hottest team. The Spartans won all nine conference games last season, including the league title game, its conference opener season and its season finale in 2012. The 11 consecutive wins against league foes is Michigan State’s longest streak since taking 16 in a row from 1965-67

RUN TO DAYLIGHT: Purdue ran 45 times for 349 yards and four touchdowns last week in the 38-27 win at Illinois, posting their four longest runs of the season. It’s a trend the Boilermakers would like to keep going. A year ago, Purdue rushed for 805 yards all season. This year, they already have 1,020. With quarterback Austin Appleby making his second career start this weekend, a solid ground game could be one of the few things that will give Purdue a chance to pull an upset.

CLOSE CALLS: Michigan State has won five straight in this series, and its 42 wins from 2010-13 was tied for the seventh highest total during a four-year span in conference history. But this series has not been as lopsided as it might appear. Six of the last nine games between the Boilermakers and Spartans have been decided by 10 or fewer points, a point Dantonio has made clear this week to his team.

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