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Know Thy Opponent 2021: Ohio State Buckeyes

It’s hard to take a Purdue Harbor on the road.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We all remember October 20, 2018. That was one of the most fun nights in the history of Purdue football as the Boilers came out and beat the absolute brakes off of No. 2 ranked Ohio State. It wasn’t your usual unranked-over-top-5 upset, where the underdog may get out to a lead and has to hold on for dear life until the end. This was complete domination, and it looked like the turning point for Purdue football.

In retrospect, that night looks even more shocking today. Since that upset Purdue is only 8-16, beating Iowa twice, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, and Nebraska. Only both Iowa teams would even finish with a winning record. Yes, 8 of those losses were by a touchdown or less, but they are still losses.

Ohio State, in the meantime, has not lost a Big Ten game (22 straight) since then, has only lost to Clemson and Alabama in each of the last two CFB playoffs, and is generally regarded as the third best team behind those two powerhouses. One of the most bizarre things in all of college football is the hex Purdue has over the Buckeyes in West Lafayette this century (5-3 since the start of the 2000 season and one play from 6-2). I have no rational explanation for it, especially when Purdue has denied the Buckeyes of at least one national title shot, possibly two depending on what you think of the 2009 Purdue Harboring.

This year’s game is not in West Lafayette though. There is no Ross-Ade magic. There is no Rondale Moore. Purdue must go into the Horseshoe, where it has lost nine straight and has its longest active drought in Big Ten play without a win (1988).

I would be absolutely shocked if Purdue won this game.

Ohio St. Buckeyes

2020 Record: 7-1

Bowl Result: Won Sugar Bowl 49-28 vs. Clemson, lost CFP Playoff Final 52-24 vs. Alabama

Blog Representation: Land-Grant Holyland, 11 Warriors

Series with Purdue: Ohio State leads 39-15-2

Last Purdue win: 49-20 at Purdue on 10/20/2018

Last Ohio State win: 56-0 at Purdue on 11/2/2013

Head Coach: Ryan Day (23-2 in third year at Ohio State)

Did Ohio State deserve to play in last year’s Big Ten championship game? We all know the only reason the conference violated its six game rule was because OHIO STATE would be a victim. At the same time, I don’t think any of us wanted to deal with Indiana beating Northwestern and “winning” the Big Ten, so it was a wash. There is little question Ohio State was far away the best team in the conference though. Only Indiana came within a touchdown of them before Alabama, and it was a game where Ohio State was still firmly in control throughout. Losing to an all-timer of an Alabama team is not a demerit in any way.

This year’s game with Purdue is like the opposite of Purdue’s game with Michigan State. The Boilermakers are headed to Columbus for the first time since 2012, where the long winless streak nearly ended. The Buckeyes won 29-22 in overtime to keep their undefeated season alive thanks to the heroics of Kenny Guiton and the old aphorism of “missed extra points always haunt”. Purdue had a first quarter extra point get blocked. If that sails through the uprights the Boilers are leading by nine late in regulation, not eight, and Ohio State’s touchdown with 3 seconds left means nothing.

So it is possible Purdue can shock people here. The nine game losing streak has seen a pair of overtime losses (2003 and 2012), a 3-point loss on a blocked field goal in 1999, and a “well, it wasn’t that bad” 16-3 loss in 2008. Purdue will still need a nearly perfect game on both sides of the ball to win this.

Ohio State Offense

In consecutive weeks Purdue will get the Big Ten’s worst offense in 2020 followed by its best offense. The Buckeyes bludgeoned their opponents last year to the tune of 41 points per game. Even when Northwestern, the league’s best defense, slowed them down in the Big Ten title game they still scored enough and had a good enough defense to give them a 22-10 win. Justin Fields, the main reason for that offense, is off to the NFL to be the next great Bears quarterback, but this is Ohio State. They’ll reload.

It looks like three freshmen will vie for the job. C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller III both redshirted last year, but did not attempt a pass. Kyle McCord is a five-star true freshman that could also start immediately. Whoever wins the job will have a great line in front of him with Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere protecting the edges and Paris Johnson Jr. in the middle.

Master Teague III is the top returning running back after rushing for 514 yards and 8 TDs last year in a backup role to Trey Sermon. There are also an astounding number of great receivers such as Chris Olave (50-729-7), Garrett Wilson (43-723-6), Julian Fleming (7-74-0), Jaxon Smith-Njigba (10-49-1), and freshman Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of Colts legend Marvin Harrison.

Basically, Ohio State just needs someone to be serviceable at quarterback. There is more than enough talent around whoever wins the job that as long as they are not an absolute disaster the Buckeyes will be fine. Even then, they are choosing between three high quality quarterbacks. One has to be good.

Ohio State Defense

The Buckeyes haven’t exactly been the brick wall winning games 16-13 we have seen in the past. They can be passed on. The defense gave up 25.8 points per game last year (yes, that is tilted by Alabama going thermonuclear on them), but they were vulnerable against the pass. They finished dead last in the conference at 304 yards per game given up through the air. Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. threw for 491 yards and 5 TDs against them with Ty Fryfogle catching 7 passes for 218 yards and 3 scores. That tells me David Bell could have a big day.

The most proven player up front is Haskell Garrett, who had 20 tackles, 4 for loss, and 2 sacks as a defensive tackle. He needs some edge rushers to go with him, however. Zach Harrison had two sacks last year and is one of the top candidates there.

The Buckeyes must replace all three linebackers. K’Vaughan Pope, Dallas Grant, and Teradja Mitchell are the leading candidates to start there, but they combined for only 23 tackles last season. They will need to be ready immediately if the Buckeye defense wants to continue giving up less than 100 yards per game.

It is only a one game sample with an all-timer in Rondale Moore, but we have seen Jeff Brohm absolutely flummox an Ohio State secondary before. The key to any upset will be doing it again. Sevyn Banks is probably going to draw the assignment on Bell on the corner. Cameron Brown will be on the other side with Josh Proctor and Marcus Williamson as the safeties. Banks had a very rough time against Alabama, but that can be forgiven because it was Alabama.

Ohio State Special Teams

When needed, Ohio State had a great punter in Drue Chrisman, who averaged 45 yards per kick, but he is now replaced by Jesse Mirco. Jake Seibert was 16 of 16 on extra points last year and 1 of 2 on field goals as the backup to the now departed Jake Haubell. TreVeyon Henderson, a true freshman speed running back, might get a look as a returner.

Game Outlook

This is probably the toughest game on Purdue’s schedule. Ohio State has an offense that can just replace parts with ease now and still score 45 per game. Their lowest output of the last three seasons was the Purdue game in 2018, where Markus Bailey was great and Antonio Blackmon played out of his damn mind. Keeping them under 40 will be a significant challenge even with a vastly improved (we hope) Purdue defense.

Purdue’s best shot is probably to get into a shootout with them like Indiana did last year. As someone mentioned in the profile on Zander Horvath yesterday, Purdue needs to find a way to get at least 100 yards per game every game on the ground, or it won’t be successful. Yes, David Blough bombed away last time, but DJ Knox going for 120 yards and 3 TDs was just as big, if not bigger.

The only way Purdue wins is a career day from Jack Plummer, David Bell channeling Rondale, a decent running game, and by getting multiple red zone stops like it did in 2018. Capture all that magic again and yeah, Purdue has a shot.

Way-too-early Prediction

There are two games where I would be absolutely stunned by a Purdue win: at Notre Dame and at Ohio State. If Purdue wins either of those games it should contend to win the Big Ten. If it wins both then something has clearly happened to alter the entire universe and we’re contending to go to the playoff. I don’t think we’re getting either. Ohio State 49, Purdue 24