Opinions Differ On Showdown

Jim Tressel would have none of it. The Ohio State head coach refused to treat the looming matchup between his celebrated defense and Purdue's highly rated offense any differently than he would any other sixth week matchup. On the other hand, his defensive players seemed to be looking forward to testing themselves against the Boilermakers' weapons.

Football players and coaches appreciate the game, so one might think that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel might look at Saturday's matchup between his vaunted defense and Purdue's offense, ranked in the top 10 nationally in both scoring and yardage, with a bit of curiosity.

But for Tressel, a noted student and aficionado of the game, the upcoming meeting of the top scoring and yardage offense in the Big Ten and a defense ranked similarly has the seventh-year head coach saying he is no more interested in its development than he would be for any other matchup.

"I'm always interested to see how our defense can deal with their defense and their defense can deal with our offense and each of those special team plays," Tressel said, "but again, I don't know that you're far enough into the year to start talking about particular units."

Yet it's hard to argue that this game will bring together two of the more heavily touted units in the conference, if not the nation. Through four games, Ohio State is allowing 197.6 yards per game, good for second in the country. Through the air, the Buckeyes are allowing 142.6 yards per game, sixth in the nation. Two of OSU's five opponents have thrown for less than 100 yards.

On the other side is Purdue. The Boilermakers spread offense has piled up 495.8 yards per game, good for 10th in the nation, and 45.4 points (eighth). Head coach Joe Tiller, who is not afraid to pass, pilots an offense that has thrown for 309.8 yards per game, 308.4 of those from junior quarterback Curtis Painter.

The Boilermakers have not been kept to less than 240 yards through the air in any game, and their lowest output of 244 yards against Toledo is more than OSU has allowed in any game.

If ESPN wanted to come up with one of its silly monikers for this game, "Showdown Saturday" would be a pretty apt description in this case.

"It's a game to see how good you really are," OSU linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "They have a great offense. Their stats say that, and watching on film they do. I'd say we have a pretty good defense. It's going to be a good matchup to see how good we really are."

That point – just how good Ohio State's stop troops really are – has been in question, even through five dominating defensive performances. Of the four Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-AA) teams Ohio State has faced, only Minnesota boasted an offense ranked in the top half of the nation in yardage, and the Golden Gophers did not exactly built that résumé against the LSUs of the world.

Purdue's offense, which has faced Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Minnesota and woeful Notre Dame, is in the same boat. Perhaps because of that, the reserved Tressel wasn't about to put more emphasis on the matchup than the coach felt he had to.

"Most of us have played one or two conference games throughout the nation, until you've had to weather your conference, you don't know who you are," he said.

Still, his players seemed to grasp the gravity of the matter at hand. Shutting down Purdue will a stiffer effort than stopping, say, Akron, which has the 116th-ranked offense in terms of yardage in the nation, and nobody has ever accused the Buckeyes of backing down from a challenge.

"It's a great challenge," tackle Doug Worthington said. "Purdue is a great offense. We're a great defense. We have to do what we have to do and try to do what our coaches have planned for us. I think this is a great challenge and we're all up for it. We're all ready for it and we're excited."

The biggest key will be shutting down Painter, who threw for more yards last season than any other quarterback in Big Ten history. This season, the junior has thrown for 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He has an excellent supporting cast in tailback Kory Sheets, receivers Dorien Bryant, Greg Orton and Selwyn Lymon and a pass-catching tight end in Dustin Keller.

"I think we have to feel confident, especially after this week of practice," Freeman said. "We're going to have to go out there and feel confidence and feel like we can stop their offense. That's something that we're going to work on all week."


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