Know thy Opponent 2009: Ohio State Buckeyes

Every Big Ten team wants to be Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won at least a share of the last four Big Ten championships. They have played in a BCS bowl seven of the past eight seasons. They have also won 44 straight games against teams that did not finish in the BCS. Their last loss to a team that didn't play in a BCS bowl in the season of the loss came against Purdue in 2004. They are only 3-8 against BCS participants in that time, but no other program can boast their success against everyone but the best. For example: the sainted Florida Gators led by Christ Tebow have lost 3 games to teams that didn't play in the BCS, two of them at home, in Tebow's time alone. Ohio State gets the job done all while not throwing a fit about Terrelle Pryor not being a unanimous choice for first-team all-Big Ten.

It is not likely that we are going to break that streak. First of all, if we do beat Ohio State I'd like to think we are good enough to beat everyone else on the schedule and go to the BCS ourselves. Secondly, we're not that likely to beat Ohio State anyway. Of course, that was the general consensus last season. It was our only sure loss going into the year, but if we had any kind of an offense that day we probably would have won in Columbus.

2008 Record: (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)

Bowl result: Lost to Texas 24-21 in Fiesta Bowl

Blog Representation: We Will Always Have Tempe, Buckeye Battle Cry, Eleven Warriors, Men of Scarlet & Gray, Buckeye Blog

Series with Purdue: Ohio State leads 37-12-2

Last Purdue win: 11/13/2004 at Purdue 24-17

Last Ohio State win: 10/11/08 at Ohio State 16-3          

       Terrelle-pryor_medium

Unlike the SEC, the Big Ten doesn't throw a hissyfit when a very good player isn't a unanimous selection for something. God forbid people actually exhibit independent thought, especially when it comes to coaching and the SEC.

Last Season for the Buckeyes:

Ohio State was 10-3, played in a BCS bowl, and had a disappointing season. Very few schools can say that. They were 10-0 against teams that didn't play in the BCS, but 0-3 against those that did. It was supposed to be a national championship season. The defense was senior-dominated. Beanie Wells was one of the nation's best running backs. Terrelle Pryor came into his own as a true freshman quarterback. Instead of being a dominating force the Buckeyes were a little softer than expected. Ohio gave them a surprising scare in the non-conference season. USC won by a large margin. A 3-point escape from a night game in Madison wasn't a surprise, but scoring only 16 points with no offensive touchdowns against Purdue a week later was.

If you take away USC's return trip to Columbus, the non-conference schedule is pretty soft. Ohio State hosts New Mexico State and Navy and has a "road" game against Toledo that will be played in Cleveland. That game will likely be 80% Buckeye fans, but I am sure Toledo will enjoy the gate receipts. The Buckeyes get another virtual home game at Indiana in early October when thousands of Buckeye fans will sell out the renovated Memorial Stadium for IU's newest media guide aerial photo. At least the reconfigured stadium will have an early all-red look. Their first true road test will be their game with us at Ross-Ade. Judging by the number of sell out fans we had two years ago it could be another home away from home for them. I was embarrassed to years ago when we did nothing to stop them from doing O-H-I-O in the round, so hopefully Purdue fans won't sell out again.

It is very realistic to think that Ohio State could be in the driver's seat for the national championship game again if they beat USC September 12th because only a road trip to Penn State will be extremely difficult from there.

Ohio State offense:

It is Terrelle Pryor's time to shine. He no longer has a 1,200 yard rusher in Beanie Wells to take the pressure off of him. He also lost his top two receivers, so he will be the most experienced player returning on offense. Of course, he is a great talent to build around. Pryor only started the final 10 games of the year, but ran for 631 yards and six touchdowns. He completed 100 passes for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns against four interceptions. The four interceptions is a very good number for a true freshman quarterback in this conference. If he can improve on his passing numbers and get them over 2,500 yards or so the Ohio State offense will be very good.

As Sam from We Will Always Have Tempe mentioned, the key to his success will be the offensive line. Sam mentioned how Ohio State's offensive line has lacked consistency, and last year's Purdue game was an example of that. I feared that the Buckeyes were going to run for 400 yards on us, yet Ryan Kerrigan had a career day and both Wells and Pryor struggled to find running lanes. That line gets an interesting upgrade at left guard in former Michigan player Justin Boren. Boren was at the center of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry when he left the Wolverines and stated that their values had eroded. Even at 6'3, 315 pounds I doubt he'll feel comfortable when Ohio State travels to Michigan in November. Michael Brewster, Bryant Browning, Mike Adams, and Jim Cordle are all linemen with great size, but all but Brewster will be playing in a different slot on the line. Things also could get worse with the loss of all-conference left tackle Alex Boone. The shifting along the line is supposed to generate more consistency, but there is no guarantee in that.

Dan Herron is the most experienced running back left. He ran for 439 yards and six scores despite missing three games a year ago. One of those missed games was the Purdue game. He is a quick running back that has made it a point to improve upon his between the tackles skills. Brandon Saine will also take on part of the load left by Wells' departure. He also missed the Purdue game last year, but had 20 yards on 6 carries two years ago against us. His freshman year in 2007 was easily his most productive season.

Much like us, there isn't a lot of returning experience among the receivers. Ohio State has more talent, however. Dane Sanzenbacher (21-272-1) has the most in game experience, but he may be passed over as a starter by DeVier Poser (11-117-1) and Ray Small (18-149-0). Ohio State does not use its tight end much, but Jake Ballard (5-73-0) is a reliable option. Taurian Washington, Lamaar Thomas, and Duron Carter (son of hall-of-famer Chris Carter) could all emerge as productive targets. 

It seems to me that we can make Ohio State one-dimensional like we did last season when Pryor threw for just 97 yards against us. There isn't much proven production here, but there is plenty of raw talent. We have to maintain the same level of defensive intensity because points will once again be hard to come by against Ohio State.

Ohio State defense:

It really hasn't mattered who has played defense for Ohio State in the last two games against them. We only managed a late, meaningless touchdown in 2007 and a school-record 53-yard field goal last year as our only points in two games. Most of that defense is off to the NFL now, giving us some hope that we can score some meaningful points.

First, our offensive line has to keep a pretty good defensive line from getting to Joey Elliott. Thaddeus Gibson led the team with five sacks last season and should be even better this year. Cameron Heyward, son of former NFL-player Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, will play at the other defensive end position. He is decent, but hasn't been a pass-rushing terror. Tackles Dexter Larimore and Doug Worthington both have plenty of size to handle the running game by themselves. That will be critical, as the linebackers are not nearly as experienced as last season.

Ohio State has always had fantastic linebackers. James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman were the latest in a long line last season. Ross Homan is the only starting linebacker with much experience. He had 67 tackles with a sack and two fumble recoveries. Etienne Sabino, the player that returned a blocked for a punt for a touchdown in last year's game, could see time at linebacker along with Austin Spitler and Tyler Moeller. Brian Rolle will also factor into the rotation. It's Ohio State, so you know you're getting 220 pound linebackers that have tons of talent no matter who is in there. All this group truly lacks is experience.

The secondary lost a future NFL starter in Malcolm Jenkins, but it is still very good. Chimdi Chekwa had a career day in 2007 against us and he has now evolved into the top cover corner. Safety Kurt Coleman and his team high four interceptions returns as an anchor in the backfield. He also had 78 tackles and a sack to showcase his versatility. Andre Amos will likely man the other cornerback position, but freshman Corey Brown could factor in on nickel packages. Brown may also end up on offense as a wide receiver. Senior Anderson Russell is the likely starter at the other safety position and he has plenty of experience in nickel packages.

When I look at this defense I see that we might be able to have a bit of a running game against the Buckeyes for the first time in years. We have a maddening tendency to completely abandon the running game against them, yet Kory Sheets ran for 67 yards in last year's game. That was against a better defensive front seven as well. If we can be patient and generate something on the ground we could have a shot in this game.

Ohio State Special Teams:

Poor Chris Summers never had a chance at the 17 second mark here.

The Buckeyes consistently have some of the best placekickers in the conference and this year will be no different. Aaron Pettrey handles long field goals and was 7 of 8 with a long of 54. Ryan Pretorius handles the shorter kicks, but has 50 yard range. He was 15 of 19. Ohio State settled for 27 field goals against 38 offensive touchdowns. That shows they did have some trouble finishing drives off, so we can play this to our advantage.

We also must watch out for their punt return game. The block and score was a huge difference maker last year. Ray Small is also an excellent punt returner who took one back all the way and had a 15.2 yard average per return. Lamaar Thomas is the top kickoff returner at 21 yards per return. As bad as our coverage was last year our best bet is to kick away from Small.

Ohio State must find a new punter with the departure of A.J. Trapasso. John Thoma must replace a guy who downed 21 punts inside the 20 and had a better than 41 yards per kick average. Pettrey is known to use his big leg on kickoffs to force multiple touchbacks per game.

Intangibles:

I would honestly say the intangibles are in our favor. We have played Ohio State extremely well over the past decade given the circumstances. They have been the dominant team in the conference while we have seriously threatened for the conference crown just once since 2000. We didn't play Ohio State in four of coach Tiller's 12 seasons, but we won twice and lost twice in either the final two minutes or overtime. Only the 2001 game was really a blowout. I can't explain why we play them so well, but I will take it.

That certainly does not guarantee a win. This is likely the team with the most talent we will face all year. Only Oregon and possibly Notre Dame can match them on that level. Of course, we will have played both of those teams to this point. Because of that, we will have a good idea of how well this team reflects coach Hope's new attitude. We are getting a fair amount of respect in the Ohio State blog world. Eleven Warriors agrees that there are a lot of new faces, but things can't be much worse.

Game Outlook:

I still maintain that we are going to pull of one upset this year that few people expect. I have already predicted that it will be Oregon, but Ohio State or Notre Dame are much more likely. Notre Dame will not be a BCS team, contrary to what the media thinks, and Ohio State is a team that we played very well against last year. All we need is a similar defensive performance and for our offense to show up. By this point in the year we'll have a good idea of how well that offense is performing as well.

That being said, Ohio State is still a team that knows how to win no matter what. They take care of business against the bad, mediocre, and even the good, yet struggle against only the elite. We are not the elite. We will only win this game if we stay committed to the running game, our pass defense causes turnovers, and we contain Pryor. If Elliott throws 60 times it won't be pretty.

Prediction: This will likely be what we're used to with Ohio State. We keep it tantalizingly close, but fail to get enough offense mostly because of Ohio State's very good defense. The turnovers will likely be even, but Ohio State will do something with the ones they cause. I'll agree with Sam's prediction in his first look at us. Ohio State 23, Purdue 13

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