Purdue has played every other team in the Big Ten at least once since our last game against Ohio State. When we last saw the Buckeyes they were unleashing an unmerciful 56-0 beatdown on Darrell Hazell’s first team in 2013 that wasn’t even that competitive. Still, we remamber Purdue Harbor. We always hope for Purdue Harbor. that’s why I spoke with Land-Grant Holyland’s Matt Tamanini about the Buckeyes:
(Ed. Note: I got all of these answers BEFORE the mess with Urban Meyer went down, so none of these reflect hte current state of hte coaching staff).
T-Mill: As we like to remind Michigan fans, Purdue has more wins over Ohio State than Michigan does this century. Take a moment to either lament that or rub some salt in the wounds of Wolverine fans.
Matt: Look, I grew up during the John Cooper era in Columbus, so there is no amount of running it up (literally or figuratively) on Michigan that I have a problem with. The real questions is, when does it become too much for the Michigan fans and administration. When Jim Harbaugh was brought back to Ann Arbor, the expectations were sky-high. However, he has lost three times to OSU and twice to Michigan State, and never finished better than third in the Big Ten East. While the addition of Shea Patterson will certainly improve their odds this fall, if they are unable to beat their rivals this year, you’d have to imagine that the seat underneath Harbaugh’s khakis will get hot pretty quickly; if it isn’t already.
T-Mill: Seriously though, Purdue has (for the most part) played Ohio State really tough in their meetings since 2000. Why is this?
Matt: I was in Ross-Ade Stadium in 2002 for the “Holy Buckeye” game, so you will never have to try and convince me that Purdue is a worthy opponent. But, over the past couple decades, we’ve seen a number of Big Ten teams consistently play well against Ohio State, even if they weren’t regularly competing for the conference title. Purdue often plays OSU well; Indiana often plays OSU well, Illinois often plays OSU well.
I think a lot of that has to do with how solid the conference has been from top to bottom, despite the national narrative to the contrary at times. I also think a lot of that is thanks to a pernicious dedication to “three yards in a cloud of dust–” from both Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer– that has handcuffed the Ohio State offense at times, no matter how much talent they’ve had.
Dating back to the Joe Tiller days (with a few obvious exceptions; I’m looking at you 2010 and 2013) the Boilermakers have had offenses capable of putting up points, and defenses that, while not great, were solid and sturdy. Couple that with a pair of coaches who had conservative streaks that kept a lot of games closer than Buckeye fans would like, it makes sense that Purdue has played well against the Buckeyes this millennium.
T-Mill: The Buckeyes are obviously loaded defensively. How do they stack up against a Purdue offense that should be better this year?
Matt: The key for the Ohio State defense over the last few years has been how well they are able to replace their top-line talent that departs for the NFL. With Denzel Ward, Tyquan Lewis, Jerome Baker, Sam Hubbard, and Jalyn Holmes all now gone from that side of the ball, there will be a lot of pressure on players like Nick Bosa, Dre’mont Jones, Jordan Fuller, Jeffrey Okudah, Chase Young, Kendall Sheffield, and more, to pick up the slack.
Fortunately, OSU’s defensive staff believes in rotating players early and often in their careers, so all of these players will have plenty of experience to draw upon when their number is called.
However, there’s no doubt in my mind that Jeff Brohm is moving the Boilers in the right direction. What will obviously be important is how he chooses to handle the quarterback job. The situation with Elijah Singular and David Blough is not completely dissimilar from what OSU saw with J.T. Barrett and Cradle Jones, where one takes the job, but gets injured, only for the other to shine in the latter part of the season.
The old cliche is that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. But, having seen both perform last year, and having a tremendous amount of respect for Brohm, I feel confident that whatever he decides to do with the position will work out.
T-Mill: How will the Ohio State offense look under Dwayne Haskins?
Matt: The main difference will be in how the quarterback position is used. The base offense for the Buckeyes will remain unchanged. It will still be a run-first spread; especially with both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in the backfield. However, you likely won’t see nearly as much of the zone-read as you did when J.T. Barrett was running the offense. There will likely be a switch to more run-pass options under Haskins, who has proven that he has the ability to to make just about any throw on the tree.
The problem that we’ve seen from Haskins in his admittedly limited opportunities is that while he can make every throw, he is not always able to make them every time. Now, that formula worked well for Caradle Jones in the 2014 postseason, so it will be incumbent on the wide receivers to be able to go up and get the ball, especially downfield.
OSU has a ton of skill position talent that has to be salivating at the opportunity to work with a quarterback with Haskins’ skill set. I don’t think that the recent tumult in the wide receiver room, will lead to any significant changes in the offense, but I would expect to see the unit much more involved this year than in seasons past.
T-Mill: Does Ohio State have anything close to a weakness?
Matt: Oh, sure. In recent years, I would have said offensively that much of the passing game was a weakness. Despite the gaudy numbers that Barrett put up over his career, the Buckeyes were never much of a threat through the air. The question will be whether or not that will change with Haskins under center, but more on that later.
In addition, I think that the new players in the defensive line, and in the defensive secondary will be more than up to the challenge of replacing their now-pro predecessors. However, I am less confident in the team’s linebacking corps. The unit, under former NFL defensive coordinator Bill Davis, was pretty suspect last year, and that was before Baker and Chris Worley departed for the NFL. Another issue is that Tuf Borland, who was expected to start at middle linebacker, will likely miss the start of the season following an Achilles injury.
That will mean that a fairly inexperienced crop of Buckeyes will be put to the test against TCU and Penn State, amongst others, in the first month of the season. How they are able to coalesce will go a long way in determining how far OSU will be able to do this season.
Finally, last year, the kick-off unit for the Buckeyes was bad, at best, and disastrous, at worst. It remains to be seen how the new rules implemented for this season will impact that, but it is certainly a major question mark going into the season.
T-Mill: What, in your opinion, would it take for another Purdue Harbor to happen since the Bucks should rightfully be a strong favorite here?
Matt: As I alluded to before, I think that for any team to beat Ohio State this year, they will need to find a way to limit their ability to pick up chunks of yardage on the ground, forcing Haskins to make big throws repeatedly. Dobbins and Weber are different, but equally dynamic runners. If a defensive line can occupy the OSU offensive line, allowing linebackers to come up in support, that will mean that Haskins will have to shoulder the weight of converting on third down for more than three or four yards at a time.
I think Haskins will be able to do that more often than not, but, he likely won’t show the ability to pick up first downs with his legs like Barrett. So, forcing him to throw the ball down field in crucial situations will be key to stopping the Buckeyes this year.