Game Preview: Purdue

No. 12 Ohio State continues its 2008 football season Saturday by returning home to face stumbling Purdue at 3:30. BuckeyeSports.com previews the game with key players to watch and a breakdown of the Boilermakers' offensive and defensive units.

Purdue (2-3, 0-1)
Saturday, Oct. 11, 3:30 p.m.
Ohio Stadium (102,329)
TV: ABC Regional/ESPN
2007 Record: 8-5, 3-5 Big Ten Conference
Head Coach: Joe Tiller, 85-57 at Purdue (12th season)

Series Top OSU Performers This, of course, will be Terrelle Pryor's first game against the Boilermakers. His backup, Todd Boeckman, completed 17 of 29 passes last year for 200 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

In the running game, Chris Wells has carried 18 times against Purdue for 85 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Maurice Wells has 17 tries for 74 yards, while Brandon Saine has six rushes for 20 yards. None have had a touchdown. Ray Small is the leading receiver with six catches for 70 yards and a score, while Brian Hartline has a touchdown among his four catches for 61 yards. Brian Robiskie has caught six passes for 64 yards.

Defensively, Ohio State is led against Purdue by Chimdi Chekwa, who has 10 tackles. Anderson Russell is the leader with two sacks for a loss of 18 yards. Malcolm Jenkins has nine tackles including one for a loss, while Marcus Freeman has added a tackle for loss among his seven stops.

A.J. Trapasso has five punts for an average of 45.8 yards, including a 61-yarder. In the return game, Hartline and Small have combined for 68 yards on eight returns.

Boilermaker Players To Know QB Curtis Painter: The senior is the face of Purdue's offense and thus must bear the brunt of criticism when things are going poorly, as they are right now. Painter was benched during the second half of his team's 20-6 loss to Penn State last Saturday after throwing a poor interception following his compilation of just 112 yards and no points.

Painter has taken his fair share of criticism over the past week, but Tiller did have some good things to say about him during his press conference this week.

"I like the idea he's trying to be more of a leader," Tiller said. "He's a pretty quiet guy, pretty reserved guy. And I think he's made a conscious effort to be more of a leader. You know, I'll be curious. I'm like you guys; I want to see how he snaps back from this."

Painter is one of the more interesting figures in the Big Ten. He should pass 10,000 yards passing against Ohio State because he enters with 9,988 for his career, a total that puts him behind only Drew Brees (Purdue, 1997-00), Brett Basanez (Northwestern, 2002-05) and Chuck Long (Iowa, 1981-85). While he's been compiling those statistics, he's never beaten a ranked team.

RB Kory Sheets: Given Painter's struggles, the senior might be the best player on Purdue's offense. Sheets, who holds Purdue's all-time record for career rushing and total touchdowns, was expected to share carries with Jaycen Taylor but instead finds himself as the clear No. 1 option with Taylor out for the year with a knee injury.

Sheets has some power in his 6-0, 206-pound frame, but a lot of what he does includes explosion, shiftiness in his running style and great moves. Through five games behind a patchwork offensive line, he's rushed for 498 yards on 93 carries, an average of 5.4 per try, with eight touchdowns.

"I think he's playing exceptionally well," OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes said. "I think he's playing with a lot more confidence. He's making those big-time runs right now, and that's what I think has made their offense a little bit more of a threat, is him."

LB Anthony Heygood: Purdue has had trouble finding players at the linebacker spot because of a combination of injury and ineffectiveness, but they haven't had to worry about Heygood. He started as the team's strong-side linebacker but recently has moved to the middle. On the year he has 44 tackles – 26 of which are solos – an interception and a forced fumble.

Purdue's task has been to find a place he can call home.

"Moving Anthony around is probably hindering him some," Tiller said. "He's our best linebacker. He's really playing the best of any defensive player we have right now. It would be nice if we didn't have to move him around, but we're not in that situation right now.

Tiller added that they like him better on the outside, which could signal more playing time for freshman middle man Chris Carlino, who has seven tackles on the year.

DT Ryan Baker: Baker is a captain on the team and played well against Penn State, even blowing up one Nittany Lion short-yardage play behind the line of scrimmage. On the year, he has 13 stops, four for loss, and a half sack.

Game Breakdown When Ohio State has the ball: Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel had high praise for Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack Tuesday at his usual press conference.

"The thing about Brock Spack is he's seen everything and he'll have a plan and he'll have his people in place," Tressel said. "And if they'll execute their plan is a good one. It puts pressure on you. He's not afraid to apply that pressure and put the heat on the quarterback."

Unfortunately for Spack, that hasn't worked all that well so far this year. The Boilermakers sit in last place in the conference in rushing yards allowed (196.0 per game), passing yards allowed (239.8) and total yards (435.8).

Purdue has had its fair share of troubles stopping the run, considering Oregon topped 300 yards on the ground while both Notre Dame and Penn State went over the 200-yard mark. Not surprisingly, those are the three games Purdue has lost on the season.

The 4-3 Purdue runs has been a problem simply because the squad has had trouble finding the linebackers to match up. Heygood has put together a solid final year but there are issues at the other two linebacker spots with projected starter Jason Werner out and another possible starter, Kevin Green, with only five tackles on the year.

The two players the Boilermakers started against Penn State, Joe Holland and Nickcaro Golding, at the outside spots have been converted from other positions. Golding started camp as a defensive end while Holland is a safety who checks in at just 211 pounds.

"Yeah, I think we're playing hard on defense, and we're playing a little left-handed on defense with the linebacker situation the way it is," Tiller said.

Up front, Purdue has some players who can make plays but it doesn't appear there's a game-breaker there. In addition to Baker, tackle Mike Neal, who can bench 450 pounds, is fully healthy and has tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (four) and sacks (two). End Ryan Kerrigan has 21 tackles, while end Alex Magee has nine stops and two sacks.

Players like Keyon Brown (12 tackles) and Jermaine Guynn (11) add depth.

"I'm very impressed with their defensive line," Ohio State quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said. "I think they have some talent on their defensive line. They've got good size and they've got experience."

Looking at the back end, things are a little better than the last-place pass defense ranking would seem to show.

The team's first three opponents all threw more than 40 times, helping them pile up the gaudy yardage numbers that haunt the Boilermakers' defense at the moment. When it comes to passing efficiency defense, Purdue moves up to seventh in the Big Ten and 44th in the country.

"The interesting thing about their secondary is both corners are back but they play a lot of different people," Daniels said. "They're not afraid to go nickel at all when there's three receivers for example, and when they do that there's a lot of variations that they use as far as people are concerned."

Six of Purdue's top nine tacklers are listed as defensive backs.

When Purdue has the ball: By all outward appearances, Ohio State would seem to be in a good position to handle the Boilermakers' spread attack that is known for being able to produce offense at the drop of a hat.

Last year, Ohio State put the Purdue offense on lockdown. The Boilermakers didn't score until 10 seconds remained in what was a 23-7 win for Ohio State. Purdue was held to 272 total yards, including just 4 yards rushing. Painter completed 31 of 60 passes.

"When you look at last year, we jumped out on them, so that's what kind of got them to throwing 60 times," Haynes said. "I don't think they went into that gameplan wanting to throw the ball 60 times."

In addition, Painter has had his fair share of struggles this year. He was nearly benched against Central Michigan and then did find himself out of the game against Penn State because of his struggles.

The biggest problem, according to Tiller, is that Painter's accuracy throwing the football.

"We need to make throws and they need to be in an area where we can catch the football, not at the ankle level or behind or on a deep throw two yards over the top of his head," Tiller said. "I think our accuracy perhaps is the thing that right now is hurting us the most."

The way things are now right now, in fact, the way to stop Purdue might be to stop Sheets, as Penn State simply used four-down lineman 4-3 or nickel sets to attack Purdue's offense with good success.

"I would say probably," Tiller said when asked if people were attempting to take away the team's running game. "And the reason I say probably is because whenever you begin to defend anyone, I don't care who the team is, whether it's Purdue or some other program or style of play, you always attempt to make them one-dimensional, or I've used the term often times, force them to play left-handed.

"So to answer your question, they probably are saying, well, if we can really absolutely eliminate the running game, they would become one-dimensional, then we could put another guy on the field."

Purdue's has also been dealt a tough hand when it comes to the health of its offensive line. Projected starting tackle Sean Sester suffered a back injury before the season that has kept him out of the starting lineup, then projected guard Jared Zwilling went down right before the season.

The left side of the line also has taken some hits recently with an ankle injury to tackle Garret Miller and a knock suffered by guard Eric Hedstrom.

Out wide, the team likes the progress made. Greg Orton, from Dayton, leads the team with 30 grabs, while Desmond Tardy has 25 catches and two touchdowns as the inside receiver and Keith Smith, a big, physical target, has 19 grabs. Brandon Whittington, one of the team's best blockers out wide, has 10 catches.

The problem of late has been Painter's inability to get the ball to them. However, he's certainly able to do it in some games, as evidenced by his streaky nature. When he's on, Painter can light up opposing teams, throwing for a school-record 546 yards against Central Michigan in the bowl game last year, 431 against Northwestern in 2006 and 416 against Ball State that same year.

"I think it's just like any good quarterback," Haynes said of Painter's play when he's in a rhythm. "They're confident in throwing the football, they're finding the open guy, they're getting themselves out of bad plays and getting themselves into good plays. I think he has some range in what they call and checking and changing it to what he feels is good for those guys."

What the spread look will do is isolate players in one-on-one situations. The three-wide sets try to draw players out of the box, and the width of the field encourages plays like stop routes and bubble screens that get the ball quickly to the wide receivers, allowing them to attempt to make a play.

"That's just a spread offense," Haynes said. "The idea of the spread offense is to try to get some one-on-one matchups. Purdue has always been known for screen and nakeds and things like that."


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