Halfway through what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, Ohio State may find itself no worse than the No. 3 team in the nation when the latest national rankings are revealed.
While the Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) were throttling previously unbeaten Purdue by a 23-7 score in West Lafayette on Saturday night, one of the top two rated teams in the nation went down at home and the other survived a king-sized scare. No. 2 USC was shocked 24-23 by Stanford, while top-ranked LSU hung on in Baton Rouge for a 28-24 win over defending national champion Florida.
That left idle No. 3 California and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes in position to move squarely into the national championship picture.
It was another virtuoso performance by the OSU defense, which limited the Boilermakers to only 272 total yards and a meaningless touchdown with just 10 seconds left in the game. Purdue had entered the game as the Big Ten leader in scoring offense, averaging 45.4 points per contest, and also led the conference in total offense at just under 500 yards per game.
Eighty-eight of Purdue's yards came on the final drive of the game after the outcome had long been decided. The Boilermakers didn't get inside the Ohio State 40-yard line until the 1:15 mark of the fourth quarter, and didn't get a first down rushing until the final minute of the game. They faced more than a dozen third-down situations of 6 yards or more, including six of at least 10 yards or more, and finished 6 for 20 on third downs.
Things could have been worse – much worse. The Buckeyes dropped at least six potential interceptions. Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter threw 60 pass attempts in the contest, completing 31 for 268 yards. The Boilermakers had minus net yards rushing until the final drive and wound up with a total of plus-4 for the game.
Additionally, Purdue star receiver Dorien Bryant was completely shut down by the OSU defense. Bryant caught only two passes for minus-4 yards and ran once for minus-2. He also fumbled away a kickoff in the second quarter.
Ohio State didn't have its best performance on offense, but it was efficient enough to generate 20 first downs and 381 total yards. QB Todd Boeckman completed 17 of 29 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw a career-high three interceptions although none of them were harmful to the Buckeyes. The picks were made at the Purdue 28-, 2- and 2-yard line.
Chris and Maurice Wells proved to be an excellent one-two rushing attack, combining for 159 yards on 33 carries. Beanie Wells led all rushers with 18 carries for 85 yards before sitting out most of the fourth quarter after tweaking his left ankle injury. Mo Wells spelled him well throughout the game, going for 74 yards on 15 carries.
In the receiving department, sophomore Ray Small gathered in a career-high seven receptions for 70 yards and one TD. Brian Robiskie added six catches for 64 yards, and Brian Hartline had four receptions for 61 yards and a score.
Ohio State led on defense by redshirt freshman defensive back Chimdi Chekwa, who had a career-high 10 tackles (all solos.) Junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins added nine stops (eight solos) while junior linebacker Marcus Freeman totaled seven tackles (six solos).
Also, the Buckeyes forced Purdue to punt 12 times in the game, matching a school record first set in 1970. Earlier this season, OSU forced Akron to punt a school-record 14 times.
The Buckeyes got on the board first at the 8:04 mark of the opening quarter when Boeckman connected with Small on a 26-yard pass. They doubled it when Hartline snagged a 6-yard touchdown pass from Boeckman with 4:48 remaining in the first quarter.
That was more than Ohio State needed although they tacked on three field goals by Ryan Pretorius, who knocked through three-pointers in each of the second, third and fourth quarters. Pretorius' kicks came from 44, 39 and 23 yards.
Purdue finally scored when Painter completed a 1-yard pass to converted linebacker Jeff Lindsay.
The Buckeyes will return home next Saturday to take on Kent State. Kickoff is at 12 noon Eastern in Ohio Stadium.
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