Ohio State enters the Purdue game ranked first in the Big Ten and fifth nationally in total defense (267.8 yards per game).
The Buckeyes lead the nation in rushing defense (45.0) and are seventh in the conference and 65th nationally in passing defense (222.8).
This week, slowing down the Boilermakers' intermediate passing game will be a big key.
As great as Mark Dantonio's defense has been over the last two years, its one weakness has been the short passing game. Teams have been effective at times moving the ball between the 20's. It's a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that leaves some fans scratching their heads. With athletes like Will Smith, A.J. Hawk and Chris Gamble, why not be aggressive all the time? Why not blitz even more? Play bump and run?
It's something fans might ponder, but you can't argue with the results.
That being said, against Purdue, controlling the underneath routes will be paramount.
The last thing the Buckeyes need is for the Boilermakers to get an early lead and control the clock with a dink-and-dunk passing game.
Purdue's rushing attack has been effective this season, but like every other team that faces the Bucks, the Boilers will morph into a one-dimensional offense this week. It's quarterback Kyle Orton and the passing game that will decide things.
And nothing slows down a passing game more than a strong pass rush.
"We definitely have to get after Orton," OSU nose guard Tim Anderson said. "They're a good passing team and a very good running team too. But, when they pass the ball, up front, we've got to do a great job of getting pressure and that's where it's going to start. If we can do that consistently, things will work out for us."
End Simon Fraser agreed.
"If we can get pressure on the quarterback, everything else falls into place for us," he said.
The onus might be on Fraser himself to make sure that happens. With more and more teams concentrating on Smith, it's time for Fraser to step up. He had 1.5 sacks in the opener against Washington and none since.
"Oh yeah, I'd like to think so," Fraser said, when asked if it's time for a breakout game. "I've been trying to come out and work hard and all I can do is just go out there and keep running around and eventually it will come to me, so I've just got to keep working hard. I haven't had one since the first game, but I just need to do my job in this defense and those things will come."
Where Fraser has lacked in sacks, Smith has excelled. He's second in the conference with 9.5 and is also second in tackles-for-loss with 17.5.
"Will's having a great year," Fraser said. "He's not surprising anyone around here with what he's doing."
The one downside on the D-line this year has been the ankle injury to Darrion Scott. He was poised for a huge year until the ankle got rolled against Bowling Green. Let's not forget that Scott, not Smith, led the 2002 national champion Bucks in sacks with 8.5.
Scott is just now getting back to where he needs to be to be effective, but he still doesn't look 100 percent. However, that didn't prevent him from making some noise last week against Michigan State.
"Defensively, Darrion Scott probably had his finest game since North Carolina State," head coach Jim Tressel said. "If you remember the North Carolina State game, he had big numbers and tackles and tackles for loss and quarterback hurries and those types of things. And he had the same type of game this past weekend."
If Scott is able to stay healthy, it will give even more firepower to arguably the best defensive line in the country.
Anderson was asked to pinpoint why the D-line has been so good and he cited experience.
"I think just the fact that we've all played together the last three years," he said. "Simon's been in there the last couple years and we have a pretty good feel for what each other's doing and we don't have to worry about the other guy. I know that Will is going to do his job, I know Darrion is going to do his job, I know Simon's going to do his job and they know I'm going to do mine. That's a good comfortable feeling when you're up front like that."
At linebacker, Hawk continues to lead the team in tackles (84), Rob Reynolds continues to play solid and Bobby Carpenter continues to play nowhere near as much as he should.
Tressel singled out Reynolds this week, naming him "attack force" player of the week (which is basically anyone who moves around, blitzes, etc…).
"Rob played a number of different linebacker positions in our schemes," Tressel said. "We had some guys in and out with injuries and Rob was a guy that had to fill in at various spots and had an out outstanding game and came up with a number of tackles (10)."
Reserve 'backer Mike D'Andrea will most likely miss the next two games with a shoulder injury. With the depth at LB it's not a huge concern, but D'Andrea had been playing pretty well in a limited role.
"It means you'll have to be a little more flexible," Tressel said. "We feel as if Fred Pagac and Robert Reynolds can both play Mike and Jason Bond is an emergency guy at Sam, Mike, and Will. He knows them all. A.J. and Bobby and Thomas Matthews can play the Will and Jason is the emergency guy there. Rob, Bobby and Jason can all play the Sam. So we're just one less in the depth."
In the secondary, strong safety Will Allen is second on the team in tackles (59) and free safety Nate Salley is third (58), forming one of the better tandems in the conference.
Allen has been impressed with what he's seen from Purdue's offense on film and says that being assignment-sound will be a big key.
"They're a lot more balanced than usual, which makes a defense have more men in the box and more one-on-one situations," Allen said. "So, we have to have great coverage and be disciplined. We just have to be on our P's and Q's and play disciplined ball and just try and stop what they do. But don't play into the game that they have, make them play into our game."
Cornerbacks Gamble and Dustin Fox will be under the gun this week. It's trendy to say that Purdue is balanced offensively, but the truth is that we are going to see something very similar as Michigan State last week: a ton of passes.
The question is: Will the Buckeyes play a lot of bump-and-run against the Purdue receivers, as Michigan did? It sure worked for the Wolverines, but it's not Dantonio's style.
However, no one is better at making adjustments, so maybe we will see some press coverage this week.
One thing we will definitely see is a lot of nickel and dime coverages from the Buckeyes. The revolving door at nickel back is still spinning. Brandon Mitchell was the man early in the season, then it was Donte Whitner and now Tyler Everett is coming on. All three of them will likely see the field Saturday.
"Tyler's been coming on all along," Tressel said. "And he's a smart player. He's where he's supposed to be. He was in our dime package (against MSU), and we used that, I don't know, I can't remember exactly, 40 plays maybe. And they were getting tested. And Tyler graded a winning performance."
Cornerback E.J. Underwood will not be a help this week or next.
"The last thing I heard on E.J. is he could start practicing football Dec. 5," Tressel said. "That was from his doctors – the latest doctor's report. I think we'll have him back this season."