Last week, the Buckeyes did something not seen in a while -- the Scarlet and Gray offense flat out won the football game. Trailing 19-17 late, starting quarterback Troy Smith hit a streaking Ted Ginn, Jr. for a slant across the middle of the field. Deceptively fast, Ginn found himself in the open field when the safety took a poor angle.
Seconds later, the Buckeyes led by a score of 25-19. When A.J. Hawk snagged an interception with only 45 seconds remaining, it looked like the clock might run out on the Spartans. However, John L. Smith used his timeouts well, and it looked as if Michigan State would get the ball back one last time with close to 30 seconds remaining. That's when Maurice Hall took the football around the corner on 3rd and five and raced to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown, the longest of his career and his first touchdown since 2003.
"It's exciting to see – to see them round that corner and you see them running and you're thinking, ‘Go! Go all the way," because that would be the best way to put an end to it," commented Buckeye offensive lineman Nick Mangold. "It was definitely exciting and put a smile on our face… Some of our defensive guys were pretty happy about it seeing that happen. It's kind of a proud moment for an offensive guy knowing that we put the nail in the coffin."
Given the nearly unending stream of criticism suffered by the Buckeye offense, the way they won last week gave them a serious boost.
"It's great being able to get that done – especially at the end and having that momentum," said Mangold. "It makes you realize if you keep doing things good and keep trying to do them to the best of your ability then things will come out fine. I think it showed at the end that we kept fighting, kept pushing, and we were able to get those last two scores that really put us up."
This week the offense will be trying to do the same to a very pesky Purdue bunch. Joe Tiller has a fantastic team this year. Never mind their 5-4 record with four straight losses. Playing Wisconsin, Michigan, at Northwestern, and at Iowa all in a row – they have dropped those contests by a combined 10 points. Give Tiller 14 points sprinkled across the schedule and they are probably the #3 team in the nation with a bang.
By way of contrast, the Buckeyes lost to three of those teams (not having played Michigan) by 43 and were humiliated at Iowa.
"You know they're a great team," said Mangold of Purdue. "It's going to be a grind out game and hopefully we'll come out on top."
If recent history is to be a reliable method of predicting future results, Mangold could not be more correct when he observed it would be a ‘grind out game.' Excluding 2001, in their last five matchups, Purdue and Ohio State have played to a virtual tie. Never mind that the Buckeyes have a 4-1 game advantage over that span. The total points scored add up to 78 for the Buckeyes and 72 for the Boilermakers for an average of 19.5-18.0. The last two contests have been particularly memorable for Ohio State fans and players (and painful for Purdue) with an overtime win in 2003 and the immortalized "Holy Buckeye" connection between Michael Jenkins and Craig Krenzel on 4th and 1 as part of their national championship run.
The current group of Buckeyes are well aware of the history between the two teams.
Maurice Hall noted, "This is definitely a big game. The last time we went on the road to Purdue it was a great game. We know they're going to play hard regardless of what their record is. They're going to come to play so it's up to us to show we're ready."
So what will the two teams try to do?
Ohio State for its part will try to run the ball with authority. Great Buckeye teams (and almost all great teams) run the football. Maurice Hall and Antonio Pittman are going to have to have their best games of the season. Lydell Ross, if he plays, must hang onto the football, and Troy Smith must continue to make great decisions when he scrambles. He must tuck the football and carry it securely when in the open field.
Yet, how ironic it is after all the heat Jim Tressel and his offensive staff have taken on the passing game that Purdue's greatest concern might be the Buckeye's beating them through the air? The passing game too must be superb, and the Buckeyes must find ways to get freshman phenom Ted Ginn, Jr. the football.
"He is a very, very valuable asset right now," said Smith. "Ted is able to do some things we need to open the offense up – to open the game up. His speed is something we really need. I'm looking forward to going out there and playing with him against Purdue."
Defensively, the Boilermakers don't figure to allow Troy Smith time to pass the football.
According to Hall, "Purdue runs a stack defense. They do a lot of blitzing. I think as long as we pick the blitzing up we should be able to throw it and run it also."
They have Troy Smith's attention as well.
"Purdue is physical," Smith said. "Purdue is one of the top four teams, I think, in the Big Ten as far as defense goes. They have some physical guys. They have some very athletic guys. Their safeties are good, and they have a real good sophomore defensive end."
Ohio State versus Purdue in West Lafayette - two teams with striking similarities but now going in two different directions. Both were ranked in the top ten early on only to see their hopes dashed by a close loss and then several more. Both lost their starting quarterbacks to injury. One has lost four – the other is on a three game winning streak, but neither one believes the season to have turned out they way they planned.
It should be a barnburner.
Ohio State is on a bit of a roll. Though their offense is not yet hitting on all cylinders and recent headlines cannot be helping their focus, look for a three headed monster of Troy Smith, Maurice Hall, and Antonio Pittman to move the ball just enough on the ground. Ted Ginn or the seemingly forgotten man, Santonio Holmes, will likely break a long touchdown by using their speed and taking advantage of Troy Smith avoiding a blitz. Special teams will play a role for Ohio State if they are to win; Hall or Holmes or Ginn will break off a long return either to score or to set up the offense.
For their part, the Purdue defense will play tough and their offense will score – just not quite enough. Orton, if back, will not likely be 100%, and that will probably hamper his effectiveness.
Purdue needs this win to become bowl eligible while Ohio State needs it to solidify their bowl standing.
Ohio State 29 – Purdue 26