In reaching the midpoint of the season, we learned multiple things.
No. 1: Purdue is not ready for primetime. The Boilermakers hinted at such things even before the opening kickoff.
The Purdue band and its fans jumped around to the "tune" of some ubiquitous techno/dance song, one I've heard many times but the name of which I don't care to learn, as if a basketball game were about to break out (In fact, I believe it was the same song Ohio State plays at the Schottenstein Center between the time the players take the court and the TV broadcast comes back from one last pregame commercial.)
Then the Boilermaker football team took the field and played about as physically as Matt Painter's cagers could have been expected to.
Neither line was up to the task of taking on Ohio State, and Curtis Painter failed miserably to live up to the hype he brought into the game. He got rattled early and never found a rhythm. What had also been a group of strong special teams units largely let down Joe Tiller's crew as well...
No. 2: The air is not the place to attack Ohio State.
This is not to say the Buckeyes can be run on, but it is becoming quickly apparent that this secondary can play with any group of receivers in the country.
No one has tried to commit to the run - and with the way the OSU linebackers are playing, that could be suicide - but Purdue certainly wanted to live by the pass and could not do it.
All three corners - Malcolm Jenkins, Chimdi Chekwa and Donald Washington - are big, physical and tackle well. Jenkins has been very good in his new role as a part-time safety, as well, and Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman are playmakers able to do things all over the field, both against the run and the pass.
One of the favorite chants in college crowds these days is "overrated," and while Ohio State avoided having to hear those taunts by going into Ross-Ade Stadium and squashing the home team from the start, it should be noted the Boilermakers' offense does not fit that description.
Granted it might not be one of the 10 best in college football (as its numbers indicated before last Saturday night), but that unit is good, especially at wide receiver.
Ohio State simply was better.
Give an assist to a front seven that gets good pressure if not a lot of sacks.
Now if those OSU DBs could just catch...
No. 3: If the idea that Jim Tressel would rather run the ball on every play really described his offensive mindset, he would have to be pretty happy with the production he is getting from the offensive line, fullbacks and tight ends. The whole group is doing a phenomenal job making sure there are places for the Buckeye ball carriers to run. That much was proven by Maurice Wells' 74-yard day. Not blessed with the size to break many tackles nor great speed, the smaller of the Wells boys does have the vision to make something out of decent holes (not always true of previous running backs under this regime), and he has proven it over the past couple of weeks. Chris
Wells is looking confident in his cuts when he isn't being tended to on the sideline, and Brandon Saine's return should be nothing but encouraging.
Of course, the Buckeyes want to be a balanced outfit, which leads us to the next assignment.
What we look to learn this week:
With the defense, running game and wide receivers falling into place, the second half of this season figures to be about Todd Boeckman. His first six games as a starting collegiate quarterback have been filled with ups and downs, a fact that should come as no surprise given the nature of the position.
Now let's see how he adjusts to what defenses will do to him as they get a better idea of what he can and can't do, not to mention as the talent of the opposition figures to be on the rise.
He's mostly shown fantastic touch on the deep ball, but Boeckman went to the well at least once too often against the Boilermakers. Twice the free safety was able to get over in time to pick off one of his passes, something that should not happen if Boeckman is using his eyes to keep the defenders off balance. He also underthrew a deep ball that was intercepted.
Great quarterbacks dictate to secondaries while others take way they are given. Boeckman was good at the latter during most of the first half of the season. If Ohio State wants to stay in the national title picture and - perhaps more importantly - make a better showing should they return to the BCS championship game, he will need to reach that level by November.
All-Buckeye Beater nominees:
A trio of Boilers could show up on the team comprised of those who played the best against the Buckeyes at the end of the year.
Offensively, tight end Dustin Keller has eye-opening talent. What little bit of good the Purdue offense could do against Ohio State came mostly from Keller. Not only was he the Boilermakers' leading receiver with 101 yards on seven catches, he also had their longest play from scrimmage, a 27-yarder on Purdue's first drive of the third quarter.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue's beleaguered defense actually played relatively well after the first-quarter haymakers that put them behind 14-0. Linebacker Anthony Heygood is an easy choice. He was credited with a game-high 11 tackles, including three for loss. Among those stops was a fourth-down play in which he dropped Chris Wells for a 3-yard loss. Heygood also sacked Boeckman for an 11-yard loss late in the second quarter to assure the Buckeyes would not take any last shots at the end zone before the half.
Cornerback David Pender did not have a perfect day, but he held his own against Ohio State's talented wideouts, including the breaking up of one jump ball with Brian Robiskie and an acrobatic interception when locked up one-on-one with Brian Hartline.
Fit for DVR This Week:
Seasons like this one are what make DVR great: We need the ability to record one game while watching another because no one can predict which powerful team we'll be suddenly compelled to watch struggle this week.
As far as the Big Ten is concerned, it seems certain the conference race will be a wild one with surprises coming every week.
A great example of the topsy-turvy nature of this season will air on ESPN2 at noon EST Saturday when No. 18 Illinois (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) travels to downtrodden Iowa (2-4, 0-3). Those who correctly projected which team would be ranked and which would have four of the five combined losses in this game get gold stars. With three losses in the conference, Iowa is out of the race, and with Michigan and Ohio State absent from the Hawkeye schedule and having already lost to the other two teams to start the race above .500, this is actually Iowa's last chance to play spoiler.
At the same time, Purdue must regroup and head to Ann Arbor for a game that will be the best barometer yet for that Michigan defense since it was massacred by Oregon. Have the Wolverines figured out the spread? On the other side, how will Painter rebound? Perhaps a chance for OSU fans to scout their rivals with this common foe. Look for PU running back Kory Sheets to bounce back with a much better performance this week. He could turn the game around with a big run against a spread-out U-M front seven.
From a national perspective, Buckeye fans can watch the two teams ahead of theirs in the polls back-to-back after Ohio State entertains Kent State. No. 1 LSU travels to No. 17 Kentucky at 3:30 and No. 2 Cal plays host to Oregon State at 7.
CUS WORDS BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Ohio State (If there is a concern this month, it's health.)
2. Illinois (Confidence could mean Illini keep getting better – this year. Boy, can they run it.)
3. Purdue (Like most, Boilers are better than they looked against Buckeyes. Honest.)
4. Wisconsin (Offense is hot but defense M.I.A. Who-da thunk it?)
5. Indiana (With Boilers licking wounds, IU could have the conference's best offense. Defense is opportunistic but overall the Hoosiers are untested.)
6. Michigan (Scuffled with a MAC team at home…but 2-0 in conference.)
7. Michigan State (Defense having collapsed, reality could be setting in after 4-0 start.)
8. Penn State (Iowa: A temporary cure for most ills, as it turns out.)
9. Northwestern (Gained only about 500 more yards against Mark Dantonio's current team than against his old one.)
10. Minnesota (At least the Gophers can put points on the board.)
11. Iowa (Already knew the offense was bad, then defense gave up nearly 500 yards to putrid Penn State O.)