EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Last year, Michigan State needed to win its final game of the regular season to become bowl eligible.
No need for that kind of drama in 2013. The Spartans have already picked up win No. 6 -- and they can expect to be firmly in the Big Ten title hunt when November rolls around.
Michigan State eased past Purdue 14-0 on Saturday to remain one of three teams unbeaten in Big Ten play. The Spartans didn't look sharp at all offensively -- and coach Mark Dantonio even considered a quarterback change -- but the team's stellar defense was again up to the challenge.
"Last year, our sixth win was against Minnesota -- went down to the last game in 12-degree weather," defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun said. "We didn't want that to happen this year. We want to be able to win early, win big, keep moving forward because as you keep winning the bowls get better and better."
Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) is atop the Legends Division, although the Spartans remained outside the Top 25 on Sunday. It was not a particularly stylish win against Purdue (1-6, 0-3), which had been routed by Wisconsin and Nebraska in its first two conference games.
The toughest part of Michigan State's schedule is still to come. After playing at Illinois next weekend, the Spartans face Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern in consecutive games.
"Hopefully, our football team is maturing as we move forward," Dantonio said. "We're understanding that nothing is easy, and we mature and we grow. With every game we grow. That doesn't mean we're always going to have success, but we grow with that."
Denicos Allen returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring Saturday. On offense, the Spartans didn't make it past the Purdue 32-yard line until the fourth quarter, when receiver Tony Lippett threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Gleichert on a trick play.
Dantonio had considered pulling Connor Cook, but he remained patient with his quarterback, and on that fourth-quarter drive, Cook completed a pass to Macgarrett Kings for 25 yards on third-and-12. A 26-yard catch-and-run by Josiah Price put the ball at the Purdue 7.
Two plays later, Lippett took the ball on what looked like an end-around, but he threw to an open Gleichert for a touchdown.
Cook went 13 of 25 for 107 yards, although at one point he had only 17 yards on eight completions.
"Below average," Cook said. "Obviously I would have liked to have a higher completion percentage. I wasn't really stepping into my throws. The best thing is we finished strong. We came together as a group at the end. We ran the ball great all game."
Jeremy Langford had 131 yards on 24 carries for Michigan State.
While the Spartans were sputtering offensively, punter Mike Sadler gave them a lift, landing three punts inside the 10-yard line.
And the defense remained stout -- even as it became clear there was little margin for error.
This was Michigan State's first shutout in a Big Ten game since Nov. 13, 1999. The Spartans, who were coached then by Nick Saban, beat Northwestern 34-0 that day.
"It's very, very difficult to get a shutout in modern-day football, extremely hard. It's a big deal for our defense," Dantonio said. "I'm not going to apologize for winning. It's a great team win and it takes us to 6-1 and that's what's exciting right now."