The latter is especially true on offense, where Darrell Hazell has some pieces to build around but I think has aimed a bit too high in year one. The Boilermakers seem to be trying to do a lot of different things on offense, and I think that has helped them sink from mediocre to awful. It remains to be seen if a two-back, power offense can work anymore at a place like Purdue, where local recruits are not plentiful and will always be more likely to end up at Notre Dame or somewhere else in the Big Ten. But at the same time, the pioneers of the passing spread clearly fell behind in the revolution that came in the middle of the last decade, so something new was needed.
Is Danny Etling the next Drew Brees? Doubtful, but he can spin it nicely and has the potential to be a really good player. As we saw with Terrelle Pryor in his sophomore (perhaps nowhere more than at Purdue, ironically), the worst thing for a young quarterback is young receivers, and that is what Hazell has right now.
At any rate, I think they might have been better off delaying the full-on move to power football because right now they look stuck in between the spread (where the athletes they have, such as the very talented Akeem Hunt, have a little more room to operate and make a play here or there) and the I-formation.
For its part, the Ohio State defensive coaches seemed to use this game as a chance to play around with some new things. The front was very active with a notable number of blitzes and a new, no-down-lineman look on a couple of third-and-longs. I would say returns were mostly good as they pressured the hapless Boilermakers all afternoon. It will be interesting to see if that rehearsal leads to more of the same in the future against better opponents.
Purdue opened in the same formation OSU got a lot from Iowa with three tight ends and one back. Penn State also used this look but the wing was a receiver, not a TE. They motioned the second TE to boundary and ran zone that way. Noah Spence got handled but Ryan Shazier did a nice job coming off a block and making the tackle without giving up ground. Still a five-yard gain, though, and that was not the only time Purdue found a fair amount of room to run.
The run defense overall on the season has very good numbers, but the last three weeks give me reason to wonder about it. This might be nit-picking, but when a team is trying to jump from great to legendary, I think that's fair to do from time to time.
Iowa is obviously a good running team, and they had to know Iowa was going to be coming at them, but the Hawkeyes were able to push them around some. The last two weeks they have played most of the game with a lead, and they were probably more geared to stop the passing game of Penn State and content to allow some yards on the ground, but it's something to keep an eye on.
They shut down Wisconsin when they had a full week knowing that was what they had to do, and Wisconsin was not a threat to hurt them anywhere else (though they then ended up doing just that). Purdue and Penn State both had small, shifty backs running behind so-so offensive lines and against those teams Curtis Grant's play I would define as mild or underwhelming though not necessarily bad. That is after he was fantastic against the Badgers. Shazier has demonstrated he can diagnose a play, scrape and get off blocks with his hands, and safety C.J. Barnett has been really excellent in providing run support, but is that opening up something else?
As for the Ohio State offense, there is not much else to say.
The No. 1 takeaway from watching the game again was how often Braxton Miller went to his second, third or even fourth read. He really looked comfortable reading the defense and executing throws deep into his progressions. The opening touchdown pass was just the beginning as he found Jeff Heuerman on the outside when his initial read was down the middle, appeared to adjust on a check down for a nice gain to Evan Spencer and found Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott on check downs after setting up shop in the backfield for a nice amount of time.
He was able to do that without losing some of the play-ground fun that really makes him special, as evidenced by his flip to Philly Brown for a touchdown. That's a fine line to walk, but he stayed on the right side of it in West Lafayette.
Other observations and play notes:
You couldn't really see the designs on the Purdue helmets, but after seeing them on TV I'd say this is yet another design that falls into the category of interesting ideas that didn't work in practice. The rails looked like a zipper, making the helmet look like something from a straight-to-VHS horror flick.
While I'd like to see Curtis Grant make more plays at or near the line of scrimmage rather than five yards down field, Joshua Perry continues to develop in all facets of his game. He can set the edge, run through blockers and make a big hit and hold up OK in pass coverage. He even stopped a bubble screen when he came off a block and made a tackle at the line of scrimmage.
They didn't have a lot of opportunities, but I thought Purdue's Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt both showed some nice running ability. Linebacker Sean Robinson was a standout on defense for Purdue.
- The Ohio State defense certainly came out with a killer instinct in the second half as Shazier sacked Etling twice on blitzes.