I have spoken a lot in the last week about Purdue Harbor II as being a massive upset brewing in West Lafayette. I recognize it is unlikely, but why else would we as Purdue fans go tot his game if not for the hope, even a small one, of a huge upset? This game has the potential, if you look at it negatively, as a very lopsided contest in which the Boilers are run off the field from the opening kickoff on. It can also be the chance for a monumental turnaround.
I choose to think that we at least have a shot on Saturday. Otherwise I am wasting my time. While I expect a blowout in favor of the Buckeyes, the history of this series has proven otherwise. Four times since 2000 has Ohio State entered the game Purdue has only 14 wins all-time against Ohio State, but four have come in their last six trips to West Lafayette. They also have a long history of losing to the Boilermakers as a top 16 team:
10/20/1945 - No. 9 Purdue 35, No. 4 Ohio State 13 in Columbus
10/4/1952 - Purdue 21, Ohio State 14 in Columbus
10/15/1960 - Purdue 24, No. 3 Ohio State 21 in West Lafayette
10/14/1978 - Purdue 27, No. 16 Ohio State 16 in West Lafayette
10/6/1984 - Purdue 28, No. 2 Ohio State 23 in West Lafayette
10/28/2000 - No. 16 Purdue 31, No. 12 Ohio State 27
10/17/2009 - Purdue 26, No. 7 Ohio State 18 in West Lafayette
So of course, Ohio State is historically one of the best teams in college football, so they are ranked a lot. That gives a team like Purdue plenty of opportunity to beat a ranked Ohio State team. Purdue is 7-19-1 all-time when the Buckeyes are in the top 16, which is more than respectable. Of the 13 road losses in Big Ten play OSU has had since 2000, four have come at Ross-Ade Stadium. No other Big Ten stadium has more than two.
Purdue is going to need all that history and more if it is going to add to the legend of Purdue Harbor.
Ohio State Offense Vs. Purdue Defense
Last week quarterback Braxton miller had one of the best games of his career. He was 18 of 24 for 252 yards and three touchdowns while adding 68 yards and two scores on the ground. Against the Nittany Lions he showed how good he can be with his versatility. He has 715 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground this year despite missing two full games and most of a third. Last season he was one of the top rushers in the Big Ten with over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Inexplicably, however, Purdue has been his Achilles heel. The biggest reason for Purdue's last two wins in West Lafayette and the near upset in Columbus last year has been the defensive line of the Boilermakers playing out of its mind. Having Ryan Kerrigan and Kawann Short certainly helped, but the unit as a whole was excellent at containing Miller (and before him, Terrelle Pryor) by getting pressure solely from the front four, not letting him run, and forcing him to throw. Pryor and Miller were both far less accurate that way, and it kept Purdue around.
Before getting injured last year Miller played nearly three full quarters and was 9 of 20 for only 113 yards and an interception. Only his game against Wisconsin was worse. Purdue also held him to a season-low 47 yards rushing. In the 2011 game Miller, then a freshman, was 8 of 18 for 132 yards and two scores while also being held to just 43 yards on the ground. Back in 2009 with Pryor, a similar QB, was better at 17 of 31 for 221 yards, a TD, and two picks, while being held to 34 yards rushing and a score on 21 attempt.
Bruce Gaston, Ra'Zahn Howard, Ryan Russell, and the rest of the defensive line have to have a similar effort to these three previous games for the Boilers to have a chance. The Ohio State line has given up 11 sacks even with a mobile quarterback under center, so it is not a complete brick wall. Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Corey Linsley, and Jack Mewhort are all fifth year seniors that have been in the trenches for awhile up front.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is not Miller, but running back Carlos Hyde. Since missing the first three games he has been on a tear in the last three games with 464 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a load of a back at 6', 242 pounds, so Purdue needs to find a way to stop him. If he gets his yards Purdue is in for a long day.
Miller has two excellent receivers in Corey Brown (37-520-7) and Devin Smith (35-524-6), but we have seen that he struggles to find them when he is contained in the backfield and forced to throw on the run. I am encouraged that many of the same players that did so well last season against Ohio State's offense are back and still playing key roles defensively. Taylor Richards had 7 tackles, Joe Gilliam had five tackles, and Ryan Russell had six tackles. Each needs to have another big game.
Purdue Offense Vs. Ohio State Defense
Purdue has strangely performed well on defense against Ohio State and the defense played some excellent football in its last outing. Yes, it was against a pretty bad Michigan State offense, but that seven point outing (remember, 7 points were on the offense) was bracketed by 40 point outings against Indiana and Illinois. The defense has at least shown some signs it can play well enough to keep Purdue in it, especially if it continues to get after Miller.
It is the offense that concerns me. Purdue scored seven points in two games in the month of October, and those came against a Nebraska defense of scrubs and scout-teamers. It moved the ball well on a very good Michigan State defense, but still could not finish drives. To pull off the upset of Ohio State there cannot be empty possession like the missed field goals in East Lansing.
The OSU defense is good, but it is not the smothering unit it has often been. In Big Ten play they have struggled against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa. What will help the Buckeyes greatly is the shoddy play of Purdue's offensive line. Danny Etling will need to get used to pressure because they will bring it. Ohio State has 20 sacks on the season, five coming from Noah Spence. Six other players have two each. Linebacker Ryan Shazier is playing like an All-American with 66 tackles, 9 for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He leads a defense that often gets better as the game goes on.
Bradley Roby and Doran Grant have been excellent in pass coverage as well with two interceptions each. As you know, Purdue has given up four defensive touchdowns, which cannot happen if the upset is going to occur. They give up 336 yards and 19 points per game as a unit, but you can do that when the offense scores 47 points and gains 517 yards per game.
Last season Purdue had some success moving the ball to he ground with 117 total yards rushing. Mostly Purdue hit on three big plays (A long pass to Akeem Shavers, a kickoff return by Akeem Hunt, and a 31 yard pass to Gary Bush). Purdue probably has to do something similar and hope the defense holds. Unfortunately, the offense has performed so poorly I don't think the defense can do it all.
Maybe the return of B.J. Knauf from suspension will help.
Paul Griggs cost Purdue with two missed field goals in East Lansing and is only .500 on field goals. Drew Basil is a perfect 7 of 7 on the season and has hit from 45 yards to lead the Buckeyes. Purdue does, at least, have an edge in the return game with Hunt and Raheem Mostert, plus Cody Webster continues to punt like an All-American.
At least the recipe for success is simple: Contain Hyde and force Miller to become bad Braxton like he has been for two games against Purdue. Arguably his two worst games in college have come against the Boilers, and Purdue will need a third such game in order to spring another upset. It also has to stop Hyde from running wild like he has since the second half of the Northwestern game. Hyde is an angry runner, something Purdue often struggles against.
The offense also has to protect Etling and generate something, anything on the ground. The best way to slow down Hyde and Miller is to keep them off the field with sustained drives. For three quarters in East Lansing the Purdue offense was able to do just that, but it couldn't score points. It had several lengthy drives that allowed the defense to rest, something we haven't seen all year, and stay fresh.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. Ohio State has won 20 games in a row for a reason. They have a metric shit-ton more talent than Purdue has, plus they are experienced and well coached. There is no reason they shouldn't win this one with ease.
But we go back to their history in West Lafayette. The four losses since 2000 have come under three different coaches. There was also a very near miss in 2002, which was one of only two victories for them. I can't explain it, in fact no one can explain it, but they do not play well when they come to Purdue. The most points they have scored in that time in West Lafayette is just 27, and only one team, the Brees team in 2000, could really be called a great Purdue team.
Whatever the reason, Purdue desperately needs it to happen again.
Columbus will burn to the ground if:
- We get bad Braxton Miller
- Carlos Hyde is held under 100 yards (50 would be better)
- Purdue's defensive line is dominant
- Purdue's offensive line creates holes and protects Etling (which it hasn't)
- Purdue gets a special teams touchdown
- Purdue gets a defensive touchdown
Bowl eligibility is officially gone if:
- Ohio State plays as it has all year
- Purdue plays like it has all year
Prediction: Coming in Friday's Big Ten Preview