The Buckeye offense was stuck in neutral – if not reverse – for much of the day Saturday as Purdue, previously 1-5, upset the seventh-ranked Buckeyes 26-18 in Ross-Ade Stadium.
The OSU attackers finally did get going in the fourth quarter, but the first three were cringe-worthy for Buckeye fans. Ohio State lost five turnovers in the opening trio of stanzas and put just seven points on the board as the Boilermakers build a 23-7 lead. Two more of the team's 11 drives in the initial trio of quarters went backwards.
On the heels of having only 40 plays and putting 10 points on the board as an offense during a defense- and special-teams-led win against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes might want to find a different drawing board to go back to this week.
"It hurts," center Michael Brewster said. "It's frustrating but you can't let yourself get down. It hurts right now and it hurts real bad. We'll be all right."
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor said midweek he felt that the offense could light up the scoreboard, but the predicted offensive explosion was more of a spontaneous combustion. For the second week in a row, he and the offensive line seemed to struggle getting untracked – facts that would seem to be related.
Pryor was under constant pressure from the first drive, when Ryan Kerrigan got by tight end Jake Ballard and into the backfield to strip the quarterback. Defensive tackle Mike Neal recovered, setting the stage for a field goal that gave the Boilermakers an early 3-0 lead.
By the time the game was over, Purdue had notched five sacks, three of which went to Kerrigan as the All-Big Ten candidate bolstered his résumé by spending most of the day in the Buckeye backfield.
"They brought pressure to a whole different type of level," Pryor said afterward. "I've never seen anything like it on the film. I think they had a pretty good game plan on us, and they had a lineman jumping a couple of times. That pressure they were bringing, it was something different, man. I want to go check it out in the film room because I'm sure Minnesota, who we're playing next week, will bring blitzes like that."
The Buckeye front seemed overwhelmed at times. Purdue finished with five sacks – the same number Florida had in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game – and eight total tackles for loss. Ohio State – which starts three sophomores on its offensive line in center Michael Brewster and tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts – was unable to handle the pressure.
"They were running a lot of blitzes and twists and sometimes when you have a young line it's hard to pick up," Brewster said. "We expect better than that from ourselves. Everyone is going to start doing that now."
That much seems true – Wisconsin instead of blitzing stacked the line of scrimmage with eight men in the box a week ago – but the question now becomes how Ohio State will respond.
On this day, the Buckeye running game couldn't get it going early as Purdue swarmed the line of scrimmage. Ohio State had just 36 net yards of rushing on 15 carries in the first half, 20 of which came on one run to Brandon Saine, and the tailback had a 14-yard touchdown run called back because of a holding call on Bryant Browning.
The Buckeyes trailed 16-7 when they took the ball for the first time in the second half, but at that point OSU chose to go to the air, giving Saine a total of one carry in the latter stanza. At that point, the Purdue line pinned its ears back – the Boilers had three sacks in the second half and pressured Pryor numerous times while the Buckeyes committed three false-start penalties in the half.
"We just lost some poise there, had some false starts when they shifted around, and once the crowd got into it we started to miss some communications," said senior lineman Jim Cordle, who returned from injury to play one series.
Still, head coach Jim Tressel thought the pass protection was better as the game went on. Pryor did complete 12 passes as Ohio State rallied with a field goal and touchdown drive to get to 287 total yards, but it wasn't enough.
"I think as the game went on we got a little bit better, not that there was no pressure," he said. "Early in the game there's no doubt about it. We've said many times: Football is a game of pressure. You're either applying it to them or they're applying it you. I thought their defense did a good job of applying pressure, and early on we didn't do a good job offensively applying pressure on them. I think as time went on later we did a little bit better job, but not enough."