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Ohio State Preview (Where Your First Place Boilermakers Look to Hold On)

First off, I want to offer a get well soon to Robert Marve and Keith Smith, who had their knee surgeries yesterday. I really hope the athletic department has gotten a punch card like you get at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee. If Albert Evans has a similar injury the surgery might be free by now. The running theory seems to be that the Mackey Renovation unearthed some sort of Indian Burial Ground, desecrating it in the process. It is the only logical explanation at this point.

In regards to football, we face an incredibly difficult challenge this week in going to Columbus to face the Buckeyes. Last season's game was one of the very few times I have ever gone to a Purdue game where a win was my last expectation. I admit that I went because I had already paid for the tickets, and I expected to get crushed. That's when something amazing happened. Now, a first place team is playing in Columbus, and I am not talking about Ohio State.

That seems to be the M.O. of this football team. Just when we write them off, they pull off something incredible. They knocked off Ohio State, the conference bully for the past five years, despite being 1-5 last year. This year we had lost to a MAC team and were down our top two options at running back, quarterback,, and wide receiver, yet we knocked off a ranked team in a night game on the road. Now we're going into the Horseshoe as a first place team in the league, yet we haven't won there since 1988. Can we win? Absolutely!

2009 Record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten (Big Ten Champions)

Bowl Result: won Rose Bowl 26-17 over Oregon

Blog Representation: Buckeye Battle Cry, Eleven Warriors, Men of Scarlet & Gray, Along the Olentangy

Series with Purdue: Ohio State leads 37-13-2

Last Purdue win: 10/17/09 at Purdue 26-18

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

Ohio State Offense:

Wisconsin borrowed from our game plan to beat Ohio State last week, and they were incredibly successful. That is why we have a great chance to win on Saturday. We have three of the same four defensive linemen that dominated the game last year, and Bruce Gaston has been a solid fill-in for Mike Neal. We still have Ryan Kerrigan, who in two games against Terrelle Pryor has five sacks, seven tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. Of the 21 sacks Kerrigan had coming into this season almost a quarter of them have come against the Buckeyes. If the defensive line can replicate what it did last season it allows the linebackers to play in pass coverage and totally limit what Pryor can do.

Any chance that Purdue has at a victory will come from its defense. Ohio State has proven multiple times that they are not a team that plays well from behind. Give them a lead like they had against Miami and they can swarm you. If you punch them in the mouth, get a lead, and force Pryor to stay in the pocket while containing his running ability they are an average (at best) offensive team.

Still, Pryor's stats (118-181-4, 1505 yards and 15 touchdowns) have been decent this year. He also has over 400 yards rushing and three scores on the ground, but games against Marshall, Eastern Michigan, and Ohio are certainly helping those stats. In a pair of Big Ten games (Wisconsin and Illinois) against real defenses he has struggled. Even against Miami he was greatly helped out by a four interception game from Jacory Harris that gave them the ball in good field position. That Ohio State win was more a result of Miami completely crapping the bed and Ohio State taking advantage of it.

While Pryor is a threat on the ground, Dan Herron has done most of the work with 446 yards and nine touchdowns. Jamaal Berry is a speedy change of pace back with 219 yards on only 20 carries, making him a big play threat. Brandon Saine (183-2) is also still around to give them three solid options to run the ball in addition to Pryor.

Pryor's top receivers will be a challenge for us to stop if he has time to throw. Dane Sanzenbacher (33-505-7) has emerged as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten. DeVier Posey (30-402-3) is a big, athletic receiver that gave us trouble last season. Posey had nine catches for 87 yards and a score last year, including a 4th quarter jump ball touchdown that had me thinking dark things late in last year's upset. Other than these two guys, Pryor has not used his other receivers much. Saine and Herron are the next two top receivers out of the backfield, so once again, defensive line play that allows coverage of Sanzenbacher and Posey is paramount. The linebackers then need to cover the running back out of the backfield, and Pryor won't have anyone to throw to. I also look for Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen to continue their solid play.

That brings us to the offensive line. Jake Stoneburner (a good tight end, but not a huge receiving threat), Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts, Justin Boren, Bryant Browning, and Michael Brewster are all big and experienced, but they have given up 16 sacks on the season. They now face one of the best pass rushes in the nation, and a team that they played pitifully against last season. If there is going to be another upset, it will be because this line can't contain Gerald Gooden, Kerrigan, Kawann Short, and Bruce Gaston.

Ohio State Defense:

Two seasons ago Purdue went to Columbus and played a surprisingly good game defensively, but got nothing on offense in a 16-3 loss. Ohio State's only touchdown came off of a blocked punt recovered for a score, but Purdue's only offense was a 53-yard field goal by Carson Wiggs. It was a prime example of many past Purdue-Ohio State games. Our defense usually plays very well, but unless the offense can do something it won't matter.

John Clay last week was the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against Ohio State since approximately 1864. Even though we have rushed for over 200 yards as a team in five straight games (a first since 1973) I don't know if we can do it in a sixth straight game. Ohio State always has a good run defense. Even in the upset last year we only had 80 yards rushing as a team, which was a good day historically against their defense. We're going to nee more of a passing game from Rob Henry, and our receivers are going to have to get open and help him out.

Ohio State's defense has 12 interceptions on the season, and Boilermaker killer Chimdi Chekwa has two of them. He was twice the recipient of an errant Jacory Harris pass, and he had a pick against Purdue last year. He also had a career high 10 tackles against us in 2007. Brian Rolle also has two interceptions to go with 38 tackles. Cameron Heyward is also a solid run-stopper along the defensive line.

Ross Homan leads the team with 41 tackles to go with a sack and an interception. He leads a defense that has a +10 turnover ratio on the season. Once again, ball security will be paramount. Purdue forced five turnovers last year, four coming from Pryor himself. Sure, we gave up three turnovers, but won was on a throw by Dan Dierking that I guarantee won't happen again.

Ohio State's pass rush is pretty varied. They have eight sacks on the year, but they are spread across eight different players with Nathan Williams getting credit for 1.5 sacks. The defense is only giving up about 150 yards passing per game, but the run defense at 93.7 yards per game is not as stout as it has been in the past. Marshall, Eastern Michigan, and Ohio were also significantly lower than 93 yards per game, so the real teams Ohio State has played have had room to run. Our read option has been working, and if we can keep the ball moving on the ground it runs time off and keeps the ball out of their hands as well.

Ohio State Special Teams:

Talking about our return game, especially on punts, would imply we had one. This could be the week that Al-Terek McBurse and O.J. Ross make a difference on kickoffs because Ohio State's coverage is terrible. The Buckeyes are giving up 23.4 yards per kick return and have surrendered two touchdowns. They are giving up 15.8 yards per punt return as well with a touchdown, but I can't remember the last time we got more than five yards on a punt return.

Jordan Hall does a good job of returning punts for Ohio State at seven yards per opportunity. Jamaal Berry is very dangerous on kickoffs, especially given our history this year. We have to cover him or have Wiggs kick it through the end zone.

Ohio State usually has solid kickers and Devin Barclay is no different. He is 12 of 14 on field goals with a long of 42. Ben Buchanan has punted well, averaging over 40 yards per punt, dropping nine of 25 inside the 20.

Final Thoughts:

It needs to be said that we're probably facing a pissed off Ohio State team. Wisconsin handed them their ass last week, likely ruining their National Title hopes. They also want revenge for Purdue Harbor as their fans have called it last year. We haven't won there in 22 years, and that victory is our only win in the venue in the past 44 seasons.

That said we always play them tough for whatever reason. Coach Hope has ended a lot of streaks in the past 18 games. We've beaten a ranked team. We've beaten a ranked team on the road. We've won in Ann Arbor. The Horseshoe is currently our longest losing streak in terms of a regular road opponent, so why can't it go down as well?

We're not going to be given much of a chance by anyone, but if we can duplicate the performance of last year with our defensive line we have a chance. I see those 16 sacks given up by Ohio State's offensive line and I am very encouraged. As long as we can get consistent offense along with that line play I think the Boilers can stay in first place in the Big Ten.