Know Thy Opponent 2013: Ohio State Buckeyes

Kirk Irwin

Purdue of all teams has played extremely well against Ohio State of late. Do the Boilers have another upset in them?

I have mixed feelings on last season's Ohio State game. On the one hand, It was a gut-wrenching loss in a game the Boilermakers controlled for 59 minutes. Purdue nearly erased a quarter-century of heartache in the place where its longest active losing streak exists. On the other hand, a win over an Ohio State team that eventually finished as the only FBS undefeated team might have saved Danny Hope's job for another year and we would have missed out on Darrell Hazell.

I think most Purdue fans would rather have Hazell than have saved Hope with a lackluster 7-6 record. It is not like the win over OSU would have kept us from getting crushed in Dallas. By the time the game happened Purdue had already flushed away the Leaders Division with consecutive no shows at home to Michigan and Wisconsin. In the end Purdue was overcome by dumb mistakes, which was the hallmark of the Hope era.

So, on November 2, 2013 Ohio State comes to Ross-Ade, which has been their own house of horrors since 2000:

Ohio State's Record at each Big Ten Stadium since 2000:

Illinois 6-0

Indiana 5-0

Iowa 3-1

Michigan 4-2

Michigan State 4-0

Minnesota 4-0

Nebraska 0-1

Northwestern 3-1

Penn State 4-2

Purdue 2-4

Wisconsin 4-2

That's right. The Buckeyes are a Big Ten best 39-13 on the road in Big Ten play since the start of the 2000 season, but four of those 13 losses have come at Ross-Ade Stadium, including now two in a row. The 2009 game is referred to as Purdue Harbor, when a 1-5 Boilermaker team absolutely stunned No. 7 ranked Ohio State 26-18 in one of the most shocking upsets I have ever witnessed. That broke a 17-game winning streak on the road in league play for the Buckeyes, which had started after losing at Purdue in 2004. Even one of their two wins was the miracle 4th down "Holy Buckeye" play that saved their national title season in 2002.

There is no logical explanation for Ohio State's struggles in West Lafayette, just as there was no explanation for Purdue nearly winning in Columbus last year. Instead, Ohio State fans have to at least be a little nervous that November 2, 2013 could be Purdue Harbor 2: Urban's Reckoning.

2012 Record: 12-0, 8-0 (Banned from Big Ten Championship game due to NCAA sanctions)

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Buckeye Battle Cry, Eleven Warriors, Landgrant Holyland

Series with Purdue: Ohio State leads 39-14-2

Last Purdue win: 11/12/2011 at Purdue 26-23 (OT)

Last Ohio State win: 10/20/2012 at Ohio State 29-22 (OT)

Last Season for the Buckeyes:

Last year was the undefeated season that wasn't, as the decision to not voluntarily sit out of the bowl season following the 6-6 2011 season bit the Buckeyes hard. Their 12-0 record was for naught, as NCAA sanctions meant they could not play for the conference crown, let alone the National Championship against Notre Dame.

Even in going 12-0 it was an up and down year. The two teams that gave them the most trouble might have been Indiana in a 52-49 shootout and a Purdue team that beats them in Columbus if not for a blocked 1st quarter extra point or if the Nordfense had the balls to go for a clinching first down in the waning minutes. Michigan State, California, Wisconsin, and Michigan all were within a score of beating them, but it is likely that only Purdue can say they had them beat before letting it slip away.

There is little denying that Purdue had the Buckeyes beaten. Akeem Shavers scored on an 83 yard TD pass on the first play of the game from Caleb TerBush, but the extra point by Paul Griggs was blocked. That ended up being huge, as a made PAT there puts Purdue ahead nine instead of eight when Chris Fields scores with three seconds left in the game. The two-point conversion by Jeff Heuerman then does not tie the game. Purdue had knocked Braxton Miller from the game only to have backup QB Kenny Guiton drive 61 yards in 44 seconds to tie it. Purdue also missed two field goals and threw an interception on third and goal from the OSU 6.

This was the second overtime loss in Columbus overall, as Purdue fell in OT back in 2003. The Boilers haven't won there since 1988, but have come close, at least. It just stings that Purdue had the football with 2:40 left and an eight point lead after a Landon Feichter interception and the Buckeyes had a single timeout, but we somehow lost.

Ohio State Offense

One of the biggest reasons Ohio State is so highly rated coming into this year is Braxton Miller. He is not only the early favorite for Offensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten, he could win the Heisman Trophy with a good season. He split First-Team all-Big Ten honors last year with Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, but is the most dangerous player in the league because of his running ability. He ran for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last year while also passing for 2,039 yards and 15 more scores against just six picks.

Purdue has been his kryptonite, however. Last year he threw for just 113 yards and an interception and ran for 47 yards and a score before leaving with a scary-looking injury. In 2011 as a freshman he ran for 43 yards and a score while passing for only 132 yards and two scores. Both times Purdue got lights out play from its defensive line, allowing the linebackers to stay in coverage. Ryan Russell and Bruce Gaston have to keep this tradition going.

Our defensive line will be going against a line with four seniors projected as starters. Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, and Marcus Hall all have years of experience as well as size and strength to let Miller do what he does. Right tackle Taylor Decker, a sophomore, is still a big dude at 6'8" 313 pounds. Norwell and Mewhort were all all-Big Ten selections last season.

Miller also has a pretty damn good stable of running backs with him in the backfield. Carlos Hyde (970 yards, 16 TDs) is a very capable back that ran for 91 yards and two scores last season, including a key 3rd down conversion on the final drive. Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn are also pretty good in their own right.

Heuerman, the hero on the game-tying two-point conversion last season, is now the starting TE after catching just 8 passes for 94 yards and a score. Jordan Hall (3-31-0), Devin Smith (30-618-6), Evan Spencer (12-136-0), and Corey Brown (60-669-3) give the Buckeyes one of the most experienced receiving corps in the country.

As you can see, this is a very experienced offense that can rack up points in a hurry. There are playmakers at every position and they can drop 50 points without breaking a sweat. Still, it is largely the same group Purdue dominated for 59 minutes last year on the road. The Boilermaker defense is clearly not afraid of them, which is a huge plus in our favor.

Ohio State Defense

It wasn't quite one of the stifling defenses known under Jim Tressel, but the Buckeye defense was still pretty good at 22.8 points per game given up. They gave up only 116 yards per game on the ground and the pass defense only surrendered 243.5 yards. It wasn't quite the brick wall their fans are used to, but it doesn't need to be when the offense can drop 40 on almost anyone.

Ryan Shazier will anchor the defense at linebacker after being a First Team all-Big Ten player last year with 115 tackles, 5 sacks, and interception, and three forced fumbles. He is simply one of the best in the Big Ten. Curtis Grant and Josh Perry are relatively new starters around him, however, so there could be a learning curve.

On the defensive line John Simon is gone after notching nine sacks and being a First Team selection himself. Adolphus Washington, Joel Hale, and Michael Bennett are expected to start up front in a base 3-3-5 package. Washington had three sacks last season, but there wasn't a huge pass rush aside from Shazier and Simon.

In the secondary we can expect to often see five defensive backs on the field. Bradley Roby and Doran Grant were both solid corners last year that will be even better this season. Christian Bryant was second on the team in tackles with 71 at his safety position, while C.J. Barnett was fourth with 56. Overall the secondary has a ton of experience, but Caleb TerBush was still quite successful against them last season.

Overall the defense will be good, but it is far from overpowering. They are going to give up some points. What becomes key is at least limiting how many Purdue gives up to their offense.

Ohio State Special Teams

Special Teams were a huge factor in last year's game. In addition to the blocked extra point, Paul Griggs missed two field goals (one was blocked) and Akeem Hunt had a kickoff return for a touchdown. Drew Basil returns as the kicker after hitting on 8 of 11 field goals, with one of his misses coming from 50 yards against us. The Buckeyes must find a new punter.

In the return game it is hoped that Raheem Mostert can be as big of a weapon as Hunt was last season. For Ohio State, Corey Brown was dangerous as a punt returner with a 12.3 yard average and two touchdowns. Conversely, the kickoff return game averaged under 20 yards per return.

Game Outlook

I will be the first to admit that on paper Purdue has no business keeping this close. Of course, the same could be said of last year and the stunning upset in 2009. I can't explain it, but for some strange reason we are a bad matchup for them. By the time this game happens Ohio State could easily be 8-0, but it is the first of a four-game finishing stretch with three games on the road.

The Boilermakers stand no chance whatsoever unless the dominance of our defensive line does not continue. In 2009, 2011, and 2012 the defensive line was after Terrell Pryor and Miller all day long, forcing them into bad decisions and never letting them get comfortable where they could run at their leisure. It forced Pryor into bad throws and forced Miller to run where we wanted him to, not where he wanted to run. If Purdue can do that again we could be looking at another upset.

On the other side of the ball Purdue can score on this team. They weren't exactly shutting folks out last year, as they gave up at least 14 points in every game except the opener against Miami (OH). Rob Henry or Danny Etling needs to be patient and trust that we can get a running game going. Purdue had a good balance last year of 117 yards rushing and 230 passing with only a single turnover. Dolapo Macarthy used his size for six big receptions and Gary Bush was able to get free for a big touchdown with his speed. The tools are there, but it has to be a complete game. Yes, Purdue had only one mistake last season, but it was a big one as TerBush was intercepted on third and goal from the OSU 6, taking even more points off the board.

Prediction:

Right now, Ohio State is a 17 point favorite. That is way too much. Purdue was a sloppy, sloppy team leaving at least 10 points on the field with two missed field goals, the missed extra point, and the goal line interception last year. They played with a lot of confidence and know they can beat this team. I think that leads to a much closer game than people expect with Ohio State winning in the end.

And I would not be as shocked this time if Purdue has another upset waiting for them. Ohio State 28, Purdue 24

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