Shutting Down Purdue No Easy Task

The statistics are imposing. The unit is among the best in the country. The squad's playmakers can change a game. Are we talking about Ohio State's defense or Purdue's offense? Both, really, and that's what makes Saturday's matchup so intriguing. Buckeye coaches and players spent time this week discussing what they can do to win that chess match.

Think it will be easy for Ohio State's vaunted defense to show down Purdue? Think the Boilermakers will struggle to move the ball on Jim Tressel defense, much as they have in their four previous meetings with the Buckeye head coach in which they have averaged just 13 points per game? Think any chance that Curtis Painter could be mentioned for a Heisman Trophy will disappear shortly after Saturday night's 8 p.m. kickoff?

Well, Tressel has news: It's not going to be as easy as it was in years past to slow down Purdue.

"There were years when you said, ‘OK, they're going to get it to (Taylor) Stubblefield, so if you can limit Taylor Stubblefield you can limit them,' or, ‘They're going to get it to (John) Standeford,'" Tressel said. "They'd been a feature guy thing. Right now, I think you better cover every receiver and – by the way – stop the run. I think their diversity of who can strike for them is the best it's been."

By now, the names should be familiar: there's wideout Dorien Bryant, who is both talented and experienced at the receiver spot; there are his tall bookends out wide in Greg Orton and Selwyn Lymon; there's pass-catching tight end Dustin Keller; and then there's tailback Kory Sheets, who is averaging more than 100 yards per game on the ground and pitches in as a sure-handed outlet receiver.

Leading the circus is Painter, the quarterback who threw for more yards in Big Ten history last year than anyone else ever had. Add it all up, throw in the offensive mind of head coach Joe Tiller, and it's no wonder the Boilermakers are averaging more than 45 points per game.

So what can the Buckeyes do to slow down such a versatile attack? It helps to have good players, which Ohio State certainly has. The Buckeyes combination of excellent cover men in the secondary and linebackers who can stop the run and cover the pass will help, although in an ideal world OSU would have last year's defensive line, a unit that was more adept at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks without having to bring a blitz than this year's.

Personnel-wise, Ohio State matches up fairly well with what Purdue brings to the table. But what can the Buckeye coaching staff do mentally and schematically to trouble Painter and his explosive attack? We'll let the coaches, led by safeties coach Paul Haynes, who met with the media as the defensive expert on Purdue, and players themselves take over from here.

1. Be Masters Of Disguise
No, the Buckeyes won't come out in oddly colored jerseys in an effort to look different, much as Minnesota did a week ago with its dreadful all-gold ensemble. What the stop troops will do occasionally is show Painter and the Boilermaker offense a different look before the snap than what they will actually play.

"I think a big way (to keep Purdue off balance) is disguising and not letting them know before the snap exactly what defense you're playing," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "I think you show one coverage and play another, maybe show a blitz and play back, and sometimes play back and actually blitz."

The key, Haynes said, is not to get so crazy that you confuse yourself.

"The golden rule of all secondary guys is that you never sacrifice coverage for disguise," Haynes said. "You never want to just be running around trying to disguise. You always want to have a reason to what you're doing and what you're showing."

The logic is simple but the results can be excellent if Ohio State does it correctly.

"We emphasize moving around," Haynes said. "I think it's easier for him if he knows exactly what he's getting."

And remember, Ohio State's defense has never wanted to make it easy on any opposition.

2. Don't Sleep On Painter's Mobility
Painter is not like Jake Locker, C.J. Bacher or Adam Weber: he will not beat a team with his feet. The junior has just 12 rushes for 8 yards on the season. However, his numbers are affected by sacks; on his five carries that have gained yards, Painter has 46 yards and three first downs.

"He's probably not going to go 80 yards – I hope not – but he can really hurt you and get those 12- to 15-yard runs when you're least expecting them," Tressel said.

Another key will be staying on Purdue's talented wideouts if Painter does begin to scramble. Haynes said that the quarterback's eyes always stay downfield even when flushed from the pocket.

"You have to stay over the top and things like that," Haynes said. "The thing that he does very well, he does scan the field very, very well, even when he's in the pocket. You see a lot of quarterbacks, they look and they will throw, but he does a great job of scanning the whole field and finding the open guy. And with the receivers that he's got, he's got a lot of targets."

3. Choose The Right Formation
Purdue has started all five games thus far with three wideouts, so on first glance the Buckeyes might expect to spend much of the game in nickel. After all, in that formation, linebacker James Laurinaitis has long proven he can play both the pass and run, while Marcus Freeman's pass defense skills have been complemented of late by improved tackling in the run game.

However, Haynes said Purdue's improved running game could make a nickel-heavy defense not the right choice.

"You have to kind of see how the game is going," Haynes said. "I would say that if they were throwing it all over the place, I would say yes, but again, they are running the football very well. You have to be careful with having all those small bodies in there. You have to take care of the run first and foremost and have some base in there."

Haynes echoed Tressel's thoughts that Purdue's running game has given it its offense an extra dimension.

"They believe that they can win running the football and they believe they can win throwing the football," Haynes said.

4. Don't Get Discouraged
Purdue is averaging 495.8 yards per game, while Ohio State allows just 197.6, good for second in the nation. It might be a safe bet the Boilermakers will end up somewhere in between on Saturday.

That would mean that the Buckeyes will have allowed more yards than their average. Should Purdue move the ball a little easier than a team like Akron or Youngstown State, Haynes said it will be important for the youthful Buckeye defense not to panic.

"The big thing you can't do is you can't worry about yardage that much or stopping them under these yardages and things like that," Haynes said. "You just have to control them and worry about not giving up points.

"You just have to stay poised and you have to deal with some adversity."


Buckeye Sports Top Stories