COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State just cracked the top four of the College Football Playoff poll, but there’s no time for the Buckeyes to celebrate with Purdue looking to play spoiler at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Boilermakers have beaten two teams ranked in the top five of Associated Press poll, including last week’s 40-29 upset over previously unbeaten Michigan State.
The Spartans dropped from No. 3 to No. 7 in the player poll, and Purdue would love to hand OSU its second loss of the season and crush its playoff dreams.
Here are three things to watch for during this week’s game at Ohio Stadium:
No Big Ten team has thrown the ball this year more than Purdue (404 passes). And no Big Ten team has run the ball less than Purdue (289 attempts). If the Boilermakers are going to beat you, it’s going to be through the air.
Ohio State’s secondary, and entire defense, is much improved from earlier in the season. But this will be the true test as to whether the Buckeyes have fixed their pass defense flaws, particularly in the middle of the field. The Buckeyes rank 95th in the country in passing yards allowed per game (247.2) but have only allowed two passing touchdowns the last two weeks.
The Boilermakers rely on junior wide receiver David Bell, who ranks first in the Big Ten and seventh in the country in total receiving yards (1,003). Bell also ranks fourth nationally in yards per game (125.4). Ohio State will match him up with freshman sensation Denzel Burke, but Bell has a knack for finding holes in opposing defenses and making contested catches.
“Who’s going to lock him up? The defense is going to lock him up,” cornerback Sevyn Banks said. “We’re going to do our best to stop him. He’s a good player.”
Purdue is going to get its passing yards, likely more than 300. And Bell is going to get his as well. But the test will be how Ohio State defends near, and inside, the red zone and whether it can continue to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Buckeyes have recorded four straight games with at least four sacks, and in all of those games, no one player has gotten more than one sack.
‘It’s not just one guy getting all the sacks as it might’ve been in the past. It’s spreading it around, which means we’re all playing at an elite level,” defensive end Zach Harrison said. “We’ve definitely got to affect the game up front.”
Ohio State will have its chances because the more a team passes, the more opportunities there are to bring Purdue quarterback Aiden O’Connell to the ground.
Can Ohio State run?
Ohio State was kept under 100 yards rushing in a 26-17 win at Nebraska. The last time the Buckeyes failed to eclipse 100 yards was Oct. 20, 2018, when the Buckeyes lost to Purdue 49-20.
“We did meet as a group this week, the coaches, the players; we all took accountability that we’ve got to get it better. We’ve got to be cleaner,” OSU coach Ryan Day said.
Ohio State averages 5.7 yards per carry, the sixth-best in the country. But the Buckeyes were below that average in their last two games against Nebraska (3.0 per carry) and Penn State (4.7 per carry).
“I think it needs to be better,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “The last two weeks, with the defenses we’ve played, we’ve not done as good as we need to. It’ll be a challenge this week cause Purdue’s strength is their front, their d-line … so we’ve got to do a better job.”
Wilson said that starts with getting a better vertical push, something he doesn’t think the Buckeyes have done well the last two weeks.
The Buckeyes will continue to rely on true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson, who had back-to-back weeks of more than 20 carries, something he’d only done once previously this season. Henderson ranks 13th in the country in rushing yards (930) and fourth in yards per carry (7.32).
Henderson excels in the second level, so it’s up to the offensive line to get a better push and play more disciplined after several costly false start penalties the last two weeks.
“I know that we’re struggling but we don’t try to look at it like that,” offensive tackle Dawand Jones said. “We just need to get back to the drawing board. … There’s no need to panic right now, I’d say.”
This week will be a good chance to bounce back since Purdue allows 144.3 yards per game (60th nationally).