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Keys to the Game: Purdue vs. Ohio State

Another trip for a top 5 Ohio State to West Lafayette but do the Boilers have what it takes to beat the Buckeyes again?

Purdue v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The #3 Ohio State Buckeyes will visit Purdue for the first time since the Boilers defeated the #2 Buckeyes 49-20. The Boilers have defeated the Buckeyes more times over the last twenty years than any other program not named Michigan with Purdue holding five victories in fifteen games (Michigan also holds 5 victories in 22 games).

Ohio State has some of the best players at their positions across the country with WR Marvin Harrison Jr., WR Emeka Egbuka, DE JT Tuimoloau, CB Denzel Burke, FS Josh Proctor, and CB Davison Igbinosun. Purdue will find it difficult to get a victory over the visiting Buckeyes so let’s get into what the Boilers need to do to make it happen.

#1: Win The Turnover Battle by Two or More
This is a key factor for any underdog if they want to beat a heavily favored opponent. The issue for the Boilers though is that they currently are -.5 on the season whereas Ohio State +.8. The Boilers have had turnover issues this season with 12 through the first six games of the season while only generating 7 turnovers. In fact, in Purdue’s 4 losses this season they have lost 11 turnovers which is one of the main reasons for their struggles early on this season.

Ohio State, on the other hand, has only 3 turnovers so far this season on offense but their defense has not generated many outside of the Western Kentucky game. Ohio State has as explosive of an offense that Purdue will face all season but generating turnovers will be a major factor in this game. If Purdue can do that while limiting their own to gain extra possessions over the Buckeyes to keep that offense off the field, they have a chance. They’ll need to do that with a +2 or more to likely give themselves a chance.

#2: Don’t Let Kyle McCord Have Time in the Pocket
I don’t think anyone in the country outside of Michigan has the athletes to matchup with Ohio State’s receiving corps that likely features four or five NFL players on it. So what can a team like Purdue do instead? Pressure McCord and keep him uncomfortable by forcing him off his spots and sacking him multiple times.

Purdue’s best cover corner in Marquis Wilson missed the game against Iowa and Salim Turner-Muhammed is a player that would likely be playing major snaps right now if he were healthy. In fact, the defensive back position was so bare that coaches switched Zion Steptoe to corner once the season had started. Purdue does play a unique defensive scheme that may cause some problems for Ohio State but it will be a large task to hold the Buckeye offense in check.

Force McCord into poor decisions, limit the big plays, and grab at least two interceptions and Purdue has a chance to pull the upset.

#3: Keep Hudson Card Comfortable in the Pocket
On the flipside of getting Kyle McCord to feel uncomfortable is getting Hudson Card to feel comfortable while in the pocket. Iowa, who had generated almost no pressure all season, was able to generate 6 sacks. Many of those came from Card holding onto the ball too long but he was very clearly not comfortable on Saturday.

It was noted that Card was dealing with an upper chest/shoulder injury and it was very apparent that Card was not himself. Card needs to be more decisive with the ball and to make quicker reads to find open receivers. Oftentimes, Card was holding onto the ball and not throwing to open receivers early in their routes. For example, after the Thieneman interception Purdue had the ball 3rd and 3 from the 13 yard line. TJ Sheffield beat his many early in his quick slant along with Dixon-Veal and Miller both having separation on their stop routes for first downs. Card simply missed those receivers that would have extended a drive instead of leading to a missed field goal. That was a microcosm of Card’s day overall.

Purdue can’t afford to have Card chased around the pocket nor can it afford to give up 6 sacks again. If Purdue can keep Card relatively clean in the pocket and give up less than 3 sacks on the day, it would be a massive win in an offensive effort to beat the Buckeyes.

#4: Establish the Running Game to Shorten the Game
What is one way you can beat a team with an explosive offense? Keep it on the sideline as long as possible and Purdue is actually built relatively well to do that with Harrell’s offense. The question is, can they do it enough times throughout the game to shorten it up and keep the Boiler defense on the sidelines rested as well?

Purdue does have a trio of very capable running backs that each bring a little something different enough to cause a defense some problems. It will be interesting to see if Tyrone Tracy is able to play after he went out early with an injury against the Hawkeyes but Devin Mockobee looked more like the player from last year than he has all season. Purdue doesn’t need to have big, explosive plays in the running game but they need to be effective enough to get into manageable 2nd and 3rd downs. Purdue will get blown out if they are constantly in 3rd and 7+ yards to gain like they were against the Hawkeyes. Getting to an average of 5 yards per 3rd down conversion would be a massive win for the Boilers.

#5: Don’t Allow Explosive Plays
It should come as no surprise that Ohio State is one of the more explosive offensive teams in the country coming in at 20th averaging 6.6 yards per play from scrimmage (as a comparison, Purdue is 83rd averaging 5.2 yards per play). Where do those explosive plays come from though? That’s a relatively easy question to answer in all honesty: Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and tight end Cade Stover.

Marvin Harrison Jr. is averaging 20 yards per reception while Stover averages 16.1 yards. These two are able to work their way downfield off of play action and the quick passing game that forces defense to crowd the line of scrimmage. This is where Ryan Walters’ defense should come in handy though as the single high safety down the field should help keep those explosive plays to a minimum and it brings an extra defender into the box to help defend the run and the short passing game.

Last week at Iowa, the Boilers did a good job containing the running game outside of the long touchdown run by Kaleb Johnson that went for 67 yards and a 33 yard run in the 2nd quarter. Those are the explosive plays that can’t happen against the Buckeyes, especially when it will lead to a better play action passing game to isolate MHJ and Cade Stover down the field against Purdue’s defensive backs.

Important Names to Know:

Marvin Harrison Jr | Wide Receiver | 6’3 202lb | Junior
Likely the best wide receiver talent the B1G has seen since Charles Rogers at Michigan State, MHJ will be a top 5 pick in next year’s NFL draft. Has 25 receptions for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns through 5 games after posting 77 receptions for 1263 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2022.

Youngstown State v Ohio State Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

Cade Stover | Tight End | 6’4 255lb | Senior
One of the best tight ends in the country, Stover currently has 19 receptions for 306 yards and a touchdown. His big body is a force in the running game as well as he acts almost like another offensive tackle and can get to the second level to block linebackers.

Kyle McCord | Quarterback | 6’3 210lb | Junior
The 49th rated overall prospect in the 2021 class, McCord bought his time behind CJ Stroud before grabbing the starting position this season. Completed 65.5% of his passes (93/142) for 1375 yards with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. He is not a big threat in the running game as he has only 2 rushing attempts for 8 yards total.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Maryland at Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

JT Tuimoloau | Defensive End | 6’4 277lb | Junior
The 2nd rated player in his class (behind only Texas QB Quinn Ewers), Tuomoloau is an elite defensive end prospect who will likely forgo his final year of eligibility and end up a top 15 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Only has 1.5 sacks so far this season but that is mostly because of the attention he draws alone.

Ohio State v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Josh Proctor | Free Safety | 6’2 195lb | 6th Year Senior
An up and down career for Proctor due to injuries and playing behind other defensive backs has led the 6th year safety into his best season so far. With 23 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, Proctor is a threat at all levels of the defense to make a play. Proctor was with Ohio State the last time Purdue beat them at home in 2018.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 23 Ohio State at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tommy Eichenberg | Middle Linebacker | 6’2 235lb | Senior
Eichenberg may be the anchor of the Ohio State defense with an ability to play sideline to sideline. He leads the Buckeyes with 38 total tackles on the season.