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Know thy Opponent 2008: Ohio State Buckeyes

After letting a pair of excellent fellow bloggers take over for the past few days it is high time I got off my lazy butt and produced some content of my own. When looking at Purdue’s next opponent, however, how can you blame me for wanting to delay looking at this game?

Until the 2004 season Purdue went 59 years since starting a season with a 5-0 record. The Boilers have since accomplished the feat twice, in 2004 and 2007. Each time, however, the record was questioned because of the level of competition. In many years those 5-0 starts would have looked good simply because it would have meant a win over Notre Dame. In both cases, however, Notre Dame was terrible, lowering the value of the wins. Aside from the Irish we have beaten the following teams in those 5-0 starts: Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ball State, Syracuse, Penn State, and Toledo. Even the conference wins in that span have been against teams in down years.

I write this because another 5-0 start is possible this season, but if it happens it will carry a lot more weight. The only easy game we have in this stretch is the opener against Northern Colorado. The remaining four are very tough, but manageable games. Much like in 2004 and 2007, however, we will have a likely top 10 team waiting for us in that sixth game to ruin things once again. It was Wisconsin in 2004, Ohio State in 2007, and the Buckeyes will get as second chance in 2008 if we start 5-0.

Last season for the Buckeyes:

If last year’s 11-2 season that included a second straight visit to the national championship game is considered a rebuilding year it is merely a testament to the lofty heights Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to. The Buckeye defense was a virtual wall last season, allowing more than 17 points just twice. That was the magic number, as both times teams managed to better that number against Ohio State the Buckeyes lost. Illinois did it in a stunning 28-21 win in Columbus, while LSU hit 38 in a 38-24 win in the championship game. If you take away the LSU game, Ohio State allowed a meager 25 points in its four non-conference games against Youngstown State, Kent State, Washington, and Akron. Ohio State was even better in four games against a couple of pretty good offensive teams in the Big Ten. Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan, who all posted good offensive numbers last year, combined for just 24 points.

While the defense was spectacular, Ohio State was far from the "score 13 and put it in the hands of the defense" team of 2002. Ohio State was held under 20 points just once, by Michigan in the regular season finale. Often times, like in the Purdue game, Ohio State needed to merely crack 20 points and put things on cruise control. Still, the Buckeyes were over 30 points seven times.

Since losing to Purdue near the end of the 2004 season Ohio State has gone 35-5. Three of those losses (Texas, Florida, and LSU) came against a team that was ranked #2 in the country at the time. I must also give Ohio State credit for being the one Big Ten team not afraid to go out and play a marquee team in non-conference play. The standard of the Big Ten’s non-conference season used to be Notre Dame, who is regularly scheduled by Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State, while Penn State, Northwestern, and Ohio State have played them in the last 15 years. The standard is now Ohio State. The Buckeyes recently split with Texas, while this season USC begins a home and home with them. In future seasons Miami (FL), California, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all have home and homes scheduled. It’s a great strategy, as a win automatically gives Ohio State (or their opponents) a leg up in the BCS race.

Ohio State offense:

The Buckeye offense returns nearly every top contributor from last season’s team. That fact alone would have Ohio State as the early Big Ten favorite, but all told 18 starters return. The best cog in that offense is Chris Wells. Wells is only one of the favorites to take home this season’s Heisman trophy after rushing for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Surprisingly, Purdue was able to keep him mostly in check. Wells rushed for at least 100 yards nine times last season, and cracked 200 twice. Against Purdue he only had 85 yards and no touchdowns, but the way the defense played it didn’t matter. Should Wells go down top backups Maurice Wells (367 yards, 3 TD’s) and Brandon Saine (267 yards, 2 TD’s) both return. Redshirt freshman Daniel Herron could also get some carries.

Quarterback Todd Boeckman wasn’t spectacular last season (2,379 yards, 25 TD’s, 14 INT’s), but he rarely needed to be. One of the few positives from the Purdue game for Boilermaker fans was that the Boilers picked off Boeckman three times. Boeckmann was still able to throw for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns as our defense played well, but wasn’t backed up by the offense. For Ohio State to take the next step Boeckman only needs to show marginal improvement. Two of his worst outings last season were in the losses to Illinois and LSU, as he threw a combined five interceptions against two scores. If he keeps the interceptions down Ohio State will be fine. That Terrelle Pryor guy who is supposed to be pretty good.

Assisting Boeckman will be the return of nearly every single player that caught a pass last season. The only player I could find that caught a pass last season for Ohio State and will not be back this year was senior fullback Trever Robinson, who had three catches for 10 yards and a touchdown. Leading the way will be Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. The duo combined for over 100 catches, 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns. Boeckman also gets back his top tight end in Jake Ballard, who added another 149 yards and pair of scores. The top reserve receiver, Ray Small, is also back with 20 catches for 267 yards and two scores. Small’s best day last year came in a 6 catch, 70 yard effort where he had the opening score of the game at Purdue.

The offensive line was a large reason Ohio State was successful last year, and one should expect more of the same in 2008. Alex Boone is going to make some NFL team very happy after this season, as he is one of the best tackles in college football. Next to him is fellow senior Steve Rehring. A third senior, Ben Person, is at the other guard position, adding tons of experience to the line. Only 297 pound center Jim Cordle is under 300 pounds. Sophomore tackle Bryant Downing is the least experienced member of an excellent line.

Ohio State defense:

This unit certainly looks like another unit capable of protecting any lead. Almost everyone on Ohio State’s schedule should be afraid of the Buckeyes get three touchdowns, because this group is not going to give up more than 20 points very often. It seems like Ohio State, much like Penn State, simply grows NFL caliber linebackers out of the turf of the Horseshoe. This year is no different. James Laurinaitis leads a trio of seniors (Marcus Freeman and Curtis Terry are the other two) that will allow little if anything in the middle of the field. Laurinaitis and Freeman were both over 100 tackles last season, while Terry gets his first chance at extended playing time in his career.

In my interview with Eleven Warriors this week Jason stated that the one weakness (maybe) on defense was the middle of the defensive line. Even then, it is far from a normal team’s weakness. Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington make up the interior of the defensive line. Both were respectable last season, but didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. On the outside Lawrence Wilson and Cameron Heyward look to replace the pass rushing beast that was Vernon Gholston. Gholston, who was almost comically ripped in the muscle department, led the team with 14 sacks and may be the biggest hole to fill from last season. Laurinaitis tied with the departed Larry Grant for second on the team in sacks last season with five, so Ohio State must find more of a pass rushing threat.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the secondary is more than capable of handling things while such a threat develops. Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington are two of the best cornerbacks in the country. Ohio State only had 11 interceptions last season, but Jenkins had four of them while Washington had one. For good measure Chimdi Chekwa, who had a field day last season against Purdue, is back as a backup to this pair. He is a very effective nickel back, as seen from his team high 10 tackles against us last year. Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell return as the safeties, and they were third and fourth on the team in tackles last season. They also contributed a combined four sacks from the safety position, showing that Ohio State is so confident with Washington, Jenkins, and Chekwa in pass coverage they can afford to have their safeties play up against the run or blitz.

Ohio State special teams:

Ryan Pretorius returns as one of the best placekickers in the Big Ten, if not the country. He was 18 of 23 on the season last year with a long of 50 yards. Should Ohio State fail to find the end zone they can rest assured Pretorius will make sure most drives into opponent territory end in points. If the Buckeyes fail to advance the ball, punter A.J. Trapasso is more than capable of pinning opponents deep. Trapasso had a 41.5 yard average on punts last season, dropping 21 of his 63 kicks inside the opponents’ 20 yard line. This contributed to the fact Ohio State’s opponents only returned punts for a 4.7 yard average and didn’t take a kick back for a touchdown.

One very slight weakness the Buckeyes had last season was kickoff coverage. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 21 yards per return and allowed a pair of kicks to be taken to the house. Considering Ohio State allowed just 20 touchdowns last year, it is an almost staggering weakness defensively. Ohio State struggled in the kickoff return game, but Hartline is also an excellent punt returner. He averaged over 11 yards per return last year and had a 90 yard return for a score.


Ohio State is very well coached and they are extremely confident in Big Ten play. They have struggled in the championship games each of the past two seasons, but we don’t get the luxury of several weeks to prepare for them. Their experience from playing for it all each of the last two seasons cannot be discounted. Most of these players don’t know what it is like to not win the Big Ten, as the Buckeyes have won at least a share of the conference crown in each of the past three seasons.

They can also rely on the fact that their fans will take over nearly any stadium the team plays in. Last year, in one of the biggest home games in years, Purdue was embarrassed to have Ohio State take over Ross-Ade Stadium so much that they were able to do their O-H-I-O chant in the round. Purdue fans should be embarrassed by this as much as Ohio State should be proud of its ability to do so at a nationally televised night game.

Game Outlook:

When I did last year’s previews I stated that if we were undefeated coming into our game at Michigan and we somehow defeated the Wolverines we could dream of an undefeated season. Because our 2008 schedule gets much easier after our visit to the Horseshoe than 2007 was after going to Ann Arbor I can say the same thing. If we somehow come out of this game 6-0 we can dream of playing for the national championship.

That is not going to happen. Even if we come into this game 5-0 again (and that is a very big if) it will take a Herculean (and un-Tiller-like) effort to beat the Buckeyes in Columbus. We will need to play the best game we have ever played under coach Tiller. Even then it may not be enough.


In looking at our schedule I have seen just one game where you can guarantee a win, and that is Northern Colorado. On the other side, I see just one game where we have very little chance of winning, and that is Ohio State. That leaves 10 toss-ups. The defense played well last year and we still lost by 16 at home. Expect more of the same this year. Ohio State 28, Purdue 7