The Purdue Defense
This week's contest will be no walk in the park for The Ohio State Buckeye offense. After facing Indiana, Penn State, and Michigan State in succeeding weeks (who are #11, #6, and #7 respectively), this week they will face a much tougher challenge. On Saturday the Buckeyes will be trying to move the ball on a defense that is right up there with that of Iowa in most categories, and if you check the box score, OSU didn't exactly light up the Hawkeyes.
Speaking of the Hawkeyes, Purdue faced them last weekend. Joe Tiller's group built a 13 point lead at the half and never looked back, winning 27-13. Defensively, they shut Fred Russell down, limiting him to just 35 yards on 18 carries. As a team, Iowa managed just 2.7 yards per carry and 98 yards total on the day. Only the return of Maurice Brown (who did not play against Ohio State) kept the Hawkeyes in the game with his 8 receptions for 126 yards.
"It's going to be two great football teams going at it," noted Craig Krenzel. "Two of the best defenses in the Big Ten, two of the best defenses in the country, and it's going to be interesting. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us offensively on Saturday to come out and try and put some points on the board."
Purdue's defensive style is particularly effective against what Ohio State likes to do according to Adrien Clarke.
"Their defensive scheme is probably one of the best we have gone up against," Clarke said. "They like to walk up #16 which is the SAM ‘backer outside as well bring up the strong side safety so they have three people outside in their slant on the boundary, but that causes us a lot of problems because we run off tackle, and we run the power a lot. So, pretty much we just have to pick it up and beat them at the blitz and take one to the house."
As the Buckeyes discovered last year, that is easier said than done.
The Personnel for the Boilermakers…
Like Ohio State, the strength of Purdue's defense is found in its front seven. If statistics (and results) are to be believed, Adrien Clarke is correct when he states, "This is probably the best front we have seen up until now, so we have to step up to the challenge and get the job done."
The defensive line is the starting point for the mayhem they will seek to cause against Ohio State. Three of its starting four along the line (Shaun Phillips, Craig Terrell, and Kevin Nesfield) are actually fifth-year seniors. They have given opposing teams fits this season, and Phillips has twice been honored as the Big Ten player of the week this season. He and Terrell have 21 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, an interception, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 recovered fumbles between them. Toss in Kevin Nesfield and redshirt sophomore Brent Glover, and you can add another 7 tackles for loss, 1 ½ sacks, and 4 passes broken up.
"Their defensive end, #15, Shaun Phillips I believe is his name is a tremendous football player (that) reminds me a lot of Will Smith. You watch him on tape and you see what Will does to us on tape in practice – great quickness, strong kid, big kid – you know, he's caused havoc in the backfield of every team they have played thus far. You know, their whole defensive front for that matter is extremely talented. They are fast, strong. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us.""
Then it's time to toss in the Boilermaker linebackers. All three of them (Landon Johnson, Niko Koutouvides, and Gilbert Gardner) are seniors, and they are playing like it. Looking at the defensive leaders for Purdue, they place Koutouvides (1), Johnson (2), and Gardner (3) on the team in tackles. As a group, they have 18.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, and 4 fumble recoveries. Gardner has a real nose for the football with 4 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, and 2 interceptions.
In short, these gentlemen are going to bring their hard hats to the stadium on Saturday, and the Buckeyes better be ready.
Nor have we discussed the Purdue secondary. Leading that unit will be All American and three time Thorpe semifinalist, Stuart Schweigert. Krenzel will be mindful of him given his abilities and career production.
"Stuart Schweigert is a guy who has been there, a four year starter, lot of experience," he said. "Experience is something you can't replace. He's a great athlete, smart kid, great knack for the football, great knack for the game, and in my opinion it looks like he's the glue of their defense. He is the guy that gets them lined up, he's the guy that calls the shots, he's the leader on the field, and he's a tremendous football player."
At the cornerback position will be a redshirt junior in Antwaun Rogers and a senior in Jacques Reeves. Both have great size, measuring 6'1" and 6'2", and this will allow them to match up physically with the larger Ohio State receivers. Finally, starting at strong safety will be Bernard Pollard. Pollard is the only freshman starting for Purdue this season, but don't get the impression that means he is easy pickins'. He is anything but that as he currently is right up there among their statistical leaders.
After looking at their personnel, Craig Krenzel summed it up best by simply stating, "I think that they have a tremendous, tremendous defense – solid all across the board."
How it will play out…
Purdue does not fear this Ohio State offense. They have faced it before. In fact, they faced the National Champion Buckeyes in 2002 and held them to just three points for over 58 minutes. Only a near miraculous connection between Michael Jenkins and Craig Krenzel kept them from a victory. Purdue had more yards, more first downs, more time of possession, fewer turnovers… They did everything but win that game.
Expect Purdue to come out trying to stop the run. As Clarke said, they will creep up help to create a situation that favors their defense up front. Their scheme will allow them to have as many as nine in the box at times, and they will dare the Buckeyes to throw the ball over their heads.
How can they do that knowing the kinds of weapons that Krenzel has in Holmes and Jenkins? It's simple really. Krenzel will have just seconds to find a receiver and get rid of the football. Unlike Indiana, he will not have all day because the Boilermakers will be bringing the house.
Watch for the line play early in the game. If Ohio State can regularly rush for more than three yards pick up the pressure and consistently give their quarterback four seconds or more to find his receivers, then this will be a long afternoon for Purdue. If not, this could very well be a dogfight determined by which offense turns the football over fewer times and whose field goal kicker makes the most of his chances.
Ohio State 34 – Purdue 16