This week, the Purdue Boilermakers come to Columbus in a game that is key for OSU's Big Ten and postseason hopes. The Buckeyes come in at 5-3, and if they win this game, they will be at the six-win mark for the year, making them bowl-eligible. Purdue comes in at 5-2 and 3-2 in the Big Ten, but unlike Ohio State, the Boilermakers are coming off a blowout loss at home to Illinois. Reports out of West Lafayette indicate that the team might not have the best chemistry right now after that loss as some fingers were pointed, and a team meeting was called Monday to iron out some of the issues.
The Boilermakers are known for their wide-open offense, but make no mistake -- the days of Drew Brees are over. This Purdue team is last in the Big Ten in total offense, and quarterback Brandon Hance (above, AllSport photo) has not been able to move the ball through the air as effectively as Brees did. As a matter of fact, Hance's numbers look a bit similar to OSU's much-maligned man behind center:
Hance (through seven games): 119 for 224, 1342 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs, 53.1 Comp Pct, 109 rating
Bellisari (through eight games): 84 for 165, 1336 yards, 5 TDs, 6 INTs, 50.3 Comp Pct, 121.2 rating
Both quarterbacks like to run with the football, and Hance has the edge there, with 217 yards rushing as opposed to Bellisari's 83. So these two have some things in common, but most importantly for Purdue, Hance has not been able to do it like Drew Brees.
Purdue has not produced much on the ground either. Montrell Lowe leads with 380 yards, with Hance behind him, and then the speedier Joey Harris. The Boilermakers are 10th in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. The receivers are familiar faces as Buckeye fans are familiar with John Standeford, Seth Morales, and TE Tim Stratton, but the leader in receiving yards is Taylor Stubblefield with 470. Purdue had a fine offensive line last year, but they had to replace many of those players for this year's team. They have given up 21 sacks this year, and the loss of guard Rob Turner to a broken leg won't help.
Defense, uncharacteristically, is Purdue's strength. They are led by standout sophomore safety Stuart Schweigert, who has five interceptions on the year and is three away from the all-time Purdue record. He also leads the team in tackles with 60. Akin Ayodele is back at DE, and he is leading the Boilers with 6 sacks. Also watch for DE Shaun Phillips, DT Matt Mitrione, and LB Joe Odom. Overall, Purdue is third in the Big Ten in total defense (331.3 yards a game; 119.3 rushing, 212 passing). The Purdue D isn't overwhelming, but this team won't be quite as easy to move the ball on as Minnesota was, and this could arguably be the best defense OSU has faced since UCLA.
These two teams appear to be pretty closely matched. Even though the Purdue offense isn't as potent as they were with Drew Brees, they are still a concern, and the defense needs to step up. If the OSU defense does not do the job a bit better this week, it will be tough for OSU to win because offensive success against Purdue isn't as likely as it has been in previous years. One other area to keep in mind is special teams; OSU's kickers have struggled while Travis Dorsch is 14-18 this year in the field goal department and has not missed this year from 49 yards or less. Dorsch is also leading the conference in punting with a 50.4 average, so he and Andy Groom should have a neat little battle going. The Buckeyes do have some other factors in their favor; the home crowd will help, and the Buckeye team chemistry seems to be better than Purdue's right now.
The last two seasons, Purdue and Ohio State have played games that have been very, very exciting. This game could continue that trend. This should be a hard-fought game that could go down to the wire once again, but this year, I like the Buckeyes to come out on top. They wouldn't lose on the same day they retire Eddie's number, would they? Naw. Pick: OSU 24, Purdue 21.