Purdue Harbor. That is what Ohio State fans have called last season's stunning upset in West Lafayette. Even nine months later I struggle to understand how it happened. Ohio State certainly played like an elite team for the rest of the season, but for one day Purdue, that is, 1-5 Purdue, completely dominated them. Yes, we had a gift call or two (Keith Carlos being stopped on forward progress before fumbling is one), but in truth we went out and won that game. We never allowed Terrelle Pryor to be comfortable. Our normally pitiful run defense allowed only 35 yards against a team known for its grinding, tough running game. Ryan Kerrigan, Mike Neal, Kawann Short, and Gerald Gooden dominated the line of scrimmage. Brandon King had two interceptions. In fact, if not for three turnovers of our own the game would have even been as close as 26-18.
At the time I questioned if this victory meant the curse of The Fumble had been broken. It certainly felt like a program changing victory, much like the win over Notre Dame in 1997. Some Ohio State fans immediately wrote it off as a fluke and predicted that retribution will be order when we visit Columbus this season. There is good reason to think that. The Buckeyes have gone 6-0 since playing us and won all but one game by multiple scores. After giving up 26 points to us their defense gave up 14 points in the next three games combined. Two of their last three losses against teams that did not finish in a BCS bowl were against Purdue, while the third was USC last year. That streak dates back to 2004. This year's contest will certainly see Ohio State as the favorite, but Purdue will not fear them.
2009 Record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten (Big Ten Champions)
Bowl Result: won Rose Bowl 26-17 over Oregon
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
Last Season for the Buckeyes:
What else can you say? The Buckeyes really only played poorly in one game: the loss to Purdue. If not for a very late touchdown by USC Purdue would have been the only blemish on a perfect season. The team has played in five consecutive BCS bowls, two of them being the National Championship game. After an early hiccup against Navy the defense was awesome. They shut out three teams and gave up only seven points two other times. Purdue, Iowa, and Navy were the only teams to score more than 20 points against them. With a defense that good, you really don't need much offense.
Pryor gained more control off the offense after the Purdue game and the defense should be just as good if not better. The non-conference features three layups against Marshall, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan. Then there is the September 11th game in the ‘shoe against the Miami Hurricanes. People are looking at Miami's performance against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl and calling this a Buckeye win, but it won't be easy. It is their first meeting since, as my wife angrily refers to it, THAT game. Miami will be out for blood and retribution for the title that was rob of them. The conference schedule has tough trips to Wisconsin and Iowa and a home game against Penn State. It is a tough enough slate that means an undefeated season surely sends the Buckeyes to Tempe. Some fans think it is an easy schedule, but I will be surprised if the Buckeye don't drop at least one game. Their history says they'll have one unexpected stumble somewhere. Why not against us again?
Ohio State Offense
You know what you're getting with Pryor at quarterback: He is a threat to run on every play and his size and speed makes him tough to tackle. Purdue strangely has had success against him the past two seasons. He has led the offense to just two touchdowns combined in the last two games against the Boilermakers, and both of those were set up by big plays made by receivers rather than Pryor himself. Brandon Saine broke a screen pass to set up OSU's first score last year, while DeVier Posey hauled in a pass for #2 that was really thrown up for grabs. Ryan Kerrigan in particular knows how to contain him with five sacks and three forced fumbles in two games against him. His numbers last year (56.6% completion percentage, 2,094 yards, 18 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) were average at best, but he does not need to excel for Ohio State to win games. If the defensive line plays as it did in last year's game Purdue has an excellent chance.
I am astounded that our run defense can play so poorly against bad running teams (Minnesota, Notre Dame) yet they stop Ohio State's good running game. Pryor had 779 yards rushing and seven scores, yet we stopped him. Saine ran for 739 yards and four scores, but he did little against us. Dan Herron finished with 600 yards and seven scores as well. Compared to our previous opponent in Minnesota, the numbers are more than twice as much, yet we gave up 200 yards rushing to the Golden Gophers and only 35 against Ohio State. By the way, the games were played in consecutive weeks. I would call it an isolated incident but Chris Wells and Pryor combined for only 121 yards against us in 2008. I pray that our run defense keeps playing this well, because you beat Ohio State by stopping the run and forcing Pryor to throw while running. Saine and Herron will be in the backfield, but four-star recruits Carlos Hyde and Roderick Smith (from Ft. Wayne) could provide a boost.
Posey returns as Pryor's top target with 60 catches for 828 yards and 8 touchdowns. He is a nice deep threat that will challenge our young secondary. Dane Sanzenbacher (36-570-6) is an experienced receiver at the #2 spot. Ohio State always has great pass catching tight ends and Jake Stoneburner, after only two catches as a freshman, could be next. The passing game didn't do a lot last year. Posey and Sanzenbacher were the only players with more than 17 catches. They are experienced guys though that can bail Pryor out if he is in trouble.
It is safe to say that Ohio State's offensive line has something to prove after getting abused by us last year. Junior tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts must contain Kerrigan and Gooden off the ends. Kevin Pamphile is the leader to replace Mike Neal, but he and Short must also get interior pressure against Bryant Browning, Justin Boren, and Michael Brewster. Boren and Browning are senior guards that protected Pryor well for most of the season last year. As a unit they gave up 24 sacks, but you didn't know that at Ross-Ade.
There is little question that Terrelle Pryor doesn't remember this game with happiness.
Ohio State Defense
Perhaps the most shocking thing about last year's game was the way Purdue marched the length of the field twice in the third quarter for touchdowns. By comparison, we had not scored a meaningful touchdown against the Buckeyes since Dustin Keller's game-winning score in 2004. Our defense didn't play poorly in 2007 and 2008, but our offense managed a 53-yard field goal in 2008 and a touchdown on the game's final play in 2007. It is very easy to win when you're defense does that.
Ohio State doesn't have a fantastic rush end like many schools in the Big Ten but Cameron Heyward (6.5 sacks, 10 TFL's) is pretty good. The senior is paired on the other end with Dexter Larimore. Tackles Nathan Williams and John Simon are the typical big, strong Ohio State tackles. Even in last year's upset we did not get much going on the ground, so don't expect the Carlos/Al-Terek McBurse/Ralph Bolden combo to do much. We live and die by the short pass against Ohio State, making their linebackers a key component.
Middle linebacker Ross Homan had 105 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten during his junior season. With Brian Rolle and Etienne Sabino on the outside spots there is more than enough room for him to do his thing. Rolle had 95 tackles last year, while Sabino had only six in a reserve role. Keith smith and Aaron Valentin found room against them last year using screen routes. Smith was unmatched over the middle, while Valentin was great after the catch. If someone like Cortez Smith, Xavier Reese, Gary Bush, or O.J. Ross can duplicate Valentin's effort I like our chances.
The secondary faces a Boilermaker killer in Chimdi Chekwa. He has had dominant games against us since 2007. He and Devon Torrence are senior cornerbacks that will need to lock down our passing game. Safety Orhian Johnson is a first time starter as a sophomore, but he will have help with senior Jermale Hines. Ohio State must replace Kurt Coleman, however, who was a fantastic safety with five interceptions last year. If we can get past the linebackers the secondary should be slightly vulnerable.
Ohio State Special Teams
Special Teams were a huge factor in last year's game. The game turned on a fumbled punt by Ray Small, while Carson Wiggs' 55-yard bomb of a field goal right before halftime turned things around. Posey and Herron will pull double duty as punt and kick returners, respectively as Small graduated.
Devin Barclay was 7 of 10 on field goals last year, but Aaron Pettrey took most kicks. Barclay's longest was only 39 yards. Ben Buchannon also some action in preparation for taking over as a sophomore punting. He had an excellent 42.8 yard per punt average on four kicks.
Because Ohio State recruits such great talent they can have fantastic players on Special Teams. They give up less than five yards per kick on punts and only 21 on kickoffs. This is a defense that really does make every yard tough.
I think Purdue has more confidence facing Ohio State than any other Big Ten team. I can't explain it, but we just play them tough regardless of the talent gap. We really shouldn't either. How else can you explain a team on a five game losing streak dominating the team that has won or shared each of the last five conference championships? They were on a historic road winning streak before last season's loss, showing they played with confidence in every venue. With Purdue likely to be a better overall team this year how can you count us out.
On the other side you have Ohio Stadium, home of our longest active road drought against regular opponents. We haven't won there since 1988, but there have been close calls (2003 for one). The Buckeyes are a team that will be motivated to avenge their one conference blemish last year. They are also better than us at nearly every position.
I don't think this game will be the cakewalk people expect. All Purdue needs is for its offensive line to give Robert Marve time to throw and for its defensive line to dominate like it did last year. If Purdue forces Pryor to scramble, yet contains him, it pretty much handcuffs the Buckeye offense. The longer Ohio State has to play from behind, the better. That rarely happened last year. Purdue was about the only team that made them play from behind and they did not look comfortable in doing so.
I like Ohio State in this one. Any sane thinking person would. I am not writing Purdue off though. I think we have a strong chance at coming into this game at 6-0 with the only real tough games coming at Notre Dame and Northwestern. Even a loss to the Fighting Irish isn't devastating (except for hearing about their return to glory). A 5-1 Purdue team not only has a chance to do serious damage to Ohio State's chances, it can take control of the Big Ten race with no Iowa or Penn State on the schedule and Wisconsin coming to West Lafayette.
Predicition: I think Ohio State has its revenge, but it is a much closer game than people expect as the Buckeyes still have no answer for Kerrigan. Ohio State 16, Purdue 13.