The answer is quite simple, really. In this day and age of college football, the only goal to meet every single week is to win the game. In Ohio State's case, with an early loss to USC in the books, it's even more true.
While the 16-3 win over Purdue was certainly a snoozer in every sense of the word, the fact remains that the Buckeyes are still undefeated in the Big Ten and control their own destiny. With Penn State looking more and more like a true contender for the conference title, Ohio State must win each week before meeting the Nittany Lions in Columbus.
Obviously, the Buckeye defense was totally dominant against Purdue, allowing only three points and limiting the Boilermakers to only 298 yards. Sadly, that total yardage figure was 76 yards more than the Buckeyes amassed.
Once again, it was the dynamic duo of Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis leading the charge for the Buckeyes defensively. Jenkins was brilliant in coverage, and had the play of the game with a leaping interception of a Curtis Painter pass. Laurinaitis was all over the field, and was just as effective stopping the run as he was defending the pass. These two seniors have really been only a few of the 20 returning starters that can be listed as having performed better than they did in 2007.
Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock was brilliant in mixing coverages, and blitzing effectively throughout the game. Purdue basically had no chance offensively, and that fact allowed Jim Tressel to completely shut down his struggling offense.
What went wrong offensively? I would say that freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor struggled throwing the football for the second week in a row, and head coach Jim Tressel simply shut the offense down, not wanting to risk turning the ball over. Pryor doesn't appear to be playing relaxed and natural as he had in his first two starts, but it was not unexpected to see him struggle as teams are able to get more film on him. There is no reason to think he won't learn from his mistakes, and become a great quarterback in time, but for Ohio State, there is no margin for error.
In fairness to both Pryor and Tressel, this offense is being tweaked on the fly, shifting to accommodate Pryor's talents after being designed to feature the pocket passing of Todd Boeckman. Add in the appearance that Chris "Beanie" Wells was not as healthy as he was last week in Wisconsin, and Tressel decided early on to hand this game over to his defense.
What is apparent, and it's hard to know the reasons why, is that this offensive line has not performed up to the standards it set in 2007. It was reasonable to expect them to be much better in 2008, but they aren't even approaching last year's level, let alone surpassing it. The one bright spot has the been the continued development of freshman center Mike Brewster, who started his fourth straight game. Brewster is a player that gets better every week, and it's obvious he's a player that the Buckeyes will build around in the coming years. One can only hope that fellow freshmen Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts can adapt to the college game as quickly as Brewster has. Both Adams and Shugarts are battling injuries currently, or we might be seeing one, or both, on the field at this time. If one group can be blamed for the Buckeye offensive struggles, it is the offensive line. They must play better in the coming weeks for Ohio State to have any shot of keeping their Big Ten title hopes alive.
The Buckeyes face a must-win situation on the road this week, when they play Michigan State. The Spartans are led by former Buckeye assistant Mark Dantonio, and there's nothing Dantonio would love more than beating his former boss. The Spartans are playing well, and have the type of running game that has hurt the Buckeyes recently. If Ohio State can slow down the running of Javon Ringer and force quarterback Brian Hoyer into making mistakes with the football, the Buckeyes could find themselves leaving with a victory.
Both teams have great defenses and both want to run the football. The key to victory, for both teams, is getting the lead and making your opponent throw the football to get back into the game. This game will be similar to what Ohio State faced at Wisconsin, and the recipe for victory will remain the same. I will predict that the winning team on Saturday will win the turnover battle, and have more rushing yards than their opponent. This is the type of game that Jim Tressel has usually found a way to win in his Buckeye career. That magic must continue for Ohio State to keep title hopes alive.