The Buckeyes' trip to Purdue was a disaster similar in scale to anything that could be found in the National Lampoon series. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor was sacked five times, fumbling twice, and was under constant pressure as Purdue came up with the 26-18 upset win on Oct. 17 against OSU in West Lafayette.
Afterward, the Buckeye offensive line admitted that hearing the snap count and being on the same page in a suddenly lively Ross-Ade Stadium was a real problem.
"It was a big issue," said tight end Jake Ballard. "We didn't know when (center) Mike (Brewster) was snapping the ball or making calls. Sometimes a couple guys on the line would be late, including myself. We have to beat the defense off the ball so we can get to them before they get to us. When we're not doing that, it's in their favor."
After two straight games inside the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium, the No. 15 Buckeyes' rebuilt offensive line will get its latest – and biggest – test Saturday when traveling to Happy Valley to take on No. 11 Penn State.
Not only do the Nittany Lions have the best defense statistically in the Big Ten, they lead the league with 3.6 sacks per game. Combine that with the 109,000-plus screaming fans who will populate Beaver Stadium during Saturday's late afternoon, and the struggles the Buckeyes had dealing with the atmosphere at Purdue might be mere child's play.
As a result, the Buckeyes will go into the game with a silent snap count in order to mitigate the effect of the rabid PSU faithful, new left tackle Jim Cordle said after practice yesterday.
"Everything we did today was silent," said Cordle, a former center who replaced the injured Mike Adams in the starting lineup after the Purdue game. "In '07 when we played Penn State, I came up with some hand signals. It's all nonverbal communication this week. It's all silent counts. We have to watch the ball.
"You'd rather not do (a silent count), but you have to do it there. I mean, why do we talk? Because we can, right? It's a lot easier than doing sign language, I guess. That's why we don't do it when we don't have to, but when we have to we're doing it."
One should consider Ohio State lucky that it has a week to work on the signals before traveling to Penn State. Switching on the fly apparently wasn't an option at Purdue for a variety of reasons.
"We started getting down, people started jumping offsides and people were getting mad at each other when we just needed to calm down," Ballard said. "It can definitely be adjusted in the game, but it's unfortunate that it took us losing a game to learn that."
Adding to the confusion for the Ohio State offensive line was the fact that the Boilermaker defensive front had picked up on Brewster's pre-snap routine of lifting his head before a shotgun snap. As a result, the Purdue defenders were able to time the snap, and many times, the defensive line shifted at Brewster's nod to provide a different look.
That sudden movement would either render Brewster's original line call largely ineffective or cause the fidgety OSU line to move. Ohio State committed three false start penalties in the second half.
"It was (a problem) because when he would pick his head up, now they're shifting and we were on the road and it was loud," Cordle said. "Now when guys shift, they're expecting the count too. When he picks his head up they know there's a certain amount of time before he snaps the ball so then when he made calls after they moved, they're jumping on that. We've definitely done some things to address that like double-pumping the head and changing the snap count."
A week after the Purdue loss, Brewster took some responsibility for some of the struggles, saying, "I felt like the line wasn't on the same page and we put Terrelle in some bad situations."
Since then, Ohio State has committed three false starts – though one came on a fourth down late in the fourth quarter against New Mexico State – and allowed two sacks in two games, marked improvements from the Purdue contest. In addition, the line has paved the way for two consecutive rushing performance of more than 250 yards.
Cordle said that Brewster had the communication down for the contest at Penn State, and the line is ready to deal with the challenge provided by the unique atmosphere in Happy Valley.
"Obviously, it's all geared toward not letting what happened at Purdue happen this week with the noise because it's a lot louder at Penn State," Cordle said. "Two more days of practice we should be ready to go."