What's this? Three opponent previews in one week? Has your humble gone mad or has he finally gotten off his lazy butt and decided to write more? Well, the truth is that I am headed for Colorado in seven short days and I wanted to try and get most of these done before Big Ten Media Days at the end of the month. Myles will be taking duty on that this year as my Padawan learner, so I'll be minding the fort on stuff like this both before and after my trip.
In the meantime, we step into the second half of the schedule today with a team that I can say with much confidence that we absolutely own... as long as we are within the borders of Tippecanoe County. There is little argument that Ohio State has been the class of the Big Ten this century, but since 2000 the Buckeyes are a meager 2-4 at Ross-Ade Stadium and were a fourth down Hail Mary from losing their beloved National Title and going 1-5 in West Lafayette.
Since the start of the 2000 season Ohio State is 36-12 on the road in Big Ten play. That's a mark that I can say with confidence that is probably the league's best in that time. A full third of those losses have now come in their personal house of horrors that is Ross-Ade Stadium. Penn State and Michigan have gotten them twice, while Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin have gotten them each once. It is a mastery that borders on the bizarre, especially since Purdue has not won in Columbus since 1988, our current longest streak against any regular opponent in their home venue.
Maybe they have overlooked Purdue. Maybe we've taken advantage of two bad OSU teams (2004 and 2011) to win at home. Maybe we figured out that if you rush an awful throwing quarterback like Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller and sell out to contain his running ability you can stop a pretty one-dimensional offense. Whatever it is, Purdue, of all teams, has played the Buckeyes better than anyone else in the Big Ten for over a decade.
Of course, this year's game comes in Columbus, which has not been kind to the Boilermakers since a 31-26 win in 1988:
1989 L 21-3
1994 L 48-14
1995 L 28-0
1999 L 25-22 (Travis Dorsch has a last-minute field goal to tie get blocked)
2001 L 35-9
2003 L 16-13 OT (Ben Jones misses in OT after Bobby Iwuchukwu blocks a game-winner in regulation)
2008 L 16-3
2010 L 49-0 (stricken from the record books)
That's eight straight losses, with only two coming within a touchdown. Clearly, there is some baggage there. Though the Buckeyes are essentially going through a glorified exhibition of a season their opponents still get to count wins over them. For Purdue to have a puncher's chance in the Leader's Division it will need to break its Columbus hex.
2011: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten
Bowl Result: lost Gator Bowl 24-17
Series with Purdue: Ohio State leads 38-14-2
Last Purdue win: 11/12/11 at Purdue 26-23 in overtime
Last Ohio State win: 10/23/10 at Ohio State 49-0
Last Season for the Buckeyes:
By Ohio State's recent standards the 2011 season was dreadful. It was their first losing season since 1979. They had a nasty offseason scandal that saw Jim Tressel get fired. Their long winning streak over Michigan came to an end. It was the first time they lost at least seven games in a single season since 1897. In reality, it could have been worse. On September 10th they survived a game against Toledo in which the Rockets lost it more than OSU won it. Toledo was on the OSU 17 yard line before an incomplete pass on fourth down with 48 seconds left preserved the win.
The Buckeyes had an impressive-at-the-time win at Illinois when the Illini were undefeated and followed it up with a dramatic win over Wisconsin, but they struggled with Indiana before losing four straight to end the year.
Now they have Urban Meyer, however, and if you listen to many Ohio State supporters it will all be sunshine and roses from here on out. This year's bowl ban is merely keeping a sleeping giant down because Meyer is miraculously signing every good recruit possible and will rule the Big Ten with an iron fist once the bowl ban is lifted. Only Purdue returns more starters at 19 than Ohio State's 18, and their starters are of a higher caliber.
Ohio State Offense:
The Buckeye offense was heavily skewed towards the run and Braxton Miller's freelancing talents last season. Miller ran for 715 yards and a team high seven touchdowns while throwing for 1,159 yards and 13 more scores once he became the starter after the Buckeyes lost at Nebraska. As a true freshman he was impressive. He only threw four interceptions and he was definitely a threat to break any play with his feet. Given what Meyer accomplished at Florida with Tim Tebow there is a lot of potential for Miller to blow up.
His completion percentage was only 54%, however. Against Purdue he was 8 of 18 for 132 yards with two scores while rushing for 43 yards and another score. Like Pryor before him, he struggled when pressured by our defensive line.
Ohio State always has good running backs, but Jordan Hall (408 yards, 2 TDs) will already be limited after tearing a tendon in his foot and having surgery recently. He should be back by the time we play them, but foot injuries can be very tricky. That leaves Carlos Hyde who ran for 566 yards and six scores last year as the primary back to start the season. Four-star freshmen Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn could also get some carries.
Devin Smith (14-294-4) and Corey Brown (14-205-1) were the top receivers last year, but with only 125 completions all season the totals were drastically low for leading receivers. By comparison, Chris Daniels once caught 21 passes in a single game for Purdue, and Smith, Brown, and Jake Stoneburner had 14 on the season as a team high. Stoneburner was more than effective, however, with half of his receptions going for touchdowns. Freshman Michael Thomas will likely be an instant impact receiver for the offense as well.
The offensive line could be a concern. It is experienced with four juniors and a senior, but three freshmen are listed as second on the depth chart. The line also gave up 46 sacks and 90 tackles for loss in 2011, so it is not like they were a brick wall. One has to wonder how much Miller's elusiveness saved him from other sacks. Given what our defensive line has done to them before both Kawann Short and Ryan Russell have to be excited for this game. They also lost Second Team all-Big Ten selections Mike Brewster at center and Mike Adams at tackle. Offensive guard Marcus Hall is the biggest player on the line at 6'6" 317.
Ohio State Defense:
Ohio State's calling card for years has been a stout defense, and defensive tackle John Simon (7 sacks in 2011) looks to be the anchor. The senior lineman should be one of the best in the conference at that position. Nose tackle Garrett Goebel is solid, while Johnathan Hankins and Adam Bellamy round out a front four that hasn't put up huge numbers, but is long on experience. Still, Ohio State gave up 141 yards per game on the ground last year, which is quite a bit considering some of their better defenses.
Experience is also key at linebacker where Etienne Sabino, and Ryan Shazier took some lumps last year. They still combined for 119 tackles and five sacks. Curtis Grant joins them as a first time sophomore starter.
Travis Howard will be the senior leader of the secondary with two interceptions and 41 tackles as a corner last season. Bradley Roby had an impressive freshman season with 47 tackles and three interceptions at the other corner position. C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant were first and third, respectively, on the team in tackles and each comes back as a starting safety.
Obviously experience is the critical factor for Ohio State on defense. 10 of the 11 expected starters saw significant time last season on a defense that was pretty good. It only gave up 21 points per game, which often should be enough to win. If the offense can make strikes while the defense goes from very good to elite it will go a very long way towards erasing last season's struggles.
Ohio State Special Teams:
Ohio State always had pretty strong special teams under Tressel and that should continue under Meyer. Drew Basil was a steady kicker going 16 for 19 with a long of 47 yards. He was 16 for his final 17 kicks on the year, but he did miss a 50-yarder at Purdue that proved large. Senior punter Ben Buchanan should be among the best in the conference after a 41.3 yard average last year and 27 downed inside the 20.
The return game is a major question mark. Jordan Hall handled return duties last year, but with his injury and likely starting tailback status someone else will have to take over. Incoming freshmen Najee Murray and David Perkins have 4.4 speed that could be utilized there.
For all the flack Danny Hope has taken his teams have shown they are not afraid to play the big boys of the conference. Ohio State and Michigan have kicked our program around for the better part of a century, yet hope is a very respectable 3-3 against those two. By comparison, Joe Tiller only beat Ohio State and Michigan a total of three times in 12 seasons.
This was not a good football team last year. The marquee win against Wisconsin came about by a combination of a good home crowd, Wisconsin forgetting to play defense after taking a late lead (and playing like crap before that), and a Braxton Miller prayer that was answered. Still, the pieces are there. I tend to agree with the "sleeping giant" theories that Buckeye fans have. They return 18 starters this year and only 8 of 22 starters on the initial depth chart are seniors.
Meyer is also cleaning house in recruiting. For 2013 he has one five-star committed and 10 four-stars. The talent is coming to make the Buckeyes very dangerous starting in 2013.
That said, Purdue may have its best chance to end the Columbus drought this season. To me, this is still a talented, but bad football team that has to adjust to a new coach and new schemes. Meyer knows how to coach running quarterbacks, but Miller is not the physical freak of nature that can take a pounding like Tebow. The passing game sucked last year for the most part, and if teams can see that like Purdue does they will greatly slow down the offense. Much of what the Buckeyes do this year depends on the development of Miller the passer. If Purdue can make him scramble and struggle to complete passes like last season I kind of like our chances.
Unlike the awful history in Ann Arbor Purdue has had some close calls in Columbus. Even the 2008 team that had no business playing Ohio State close refused to let the Buckeyes pull away. Purdue rushed for over 100 yards last season and threw for 234. Outside of Robert Marve's late interception the offense was very efficient. If the Boilers can replicate that and keep the passing game punchless the losing streak might be over.
Unfortunately, Ohio State is still the better team on paper. Purdue keeps it close, but falls in the end. Ohio State 20, Purdue 17