The Buckeyes will look to avoid the same fate as the last two Boilermakers opponents ranked in the top five
Ohio State was well aware it had to take No. 19 Purdue seriously way before the College Football Playoff committee decided to let the Boilermakers join the top 25 party. Purdue has already knocked off two top-five teams this season, beating Iowa last month and Michigan State just this past weekend. And, who could forget what happened in 2018?
That was when a 7-0 Ohio State team ranked at No. 2 in the polls made a trip to West Lafayette, Indiana, to face a 3-3 Purdue squad for which nobody had any expectations. Purdue shocked the world and knocked off Ohio State 49-20 in a game that would keep the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff despite being 12-1 and winning the Big Ten. With one loss already this season against Oregon, the Buckeyes don’t want to let Purdue destroy another national title pursuit.
As for the Boilermakers, they’re still very much alive in the Big Ten title race themselves. They enter the weekend tied with Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa at 4-2 in first place in the West Division. Unfortunately, they’ve already lost to both Wisconsin and Minnesota, so they not only need to win out but need some help. Still, the only thing they can control is the winning, and Ohio State is far and away the biggest obstacle remaining in front of them.
Ohio State vs. Purdue: Need to know
The Boilermakers are giant-killers: Purdue has two wins over top-five teams this season, which is nothing new for this program. The wins over Iowa and Michigan State leave Purdue with 17 wins in program history over top-five teams when unranked — more than any other program in the history of the sport. Of course, three of the top-five teams in this stat are Big Ten schools, and that’s a result of Big Ten teams being ranked so highly throughout most of the 20th century. Not that Purdue is looking to give any of them back. We must wonder, though: now that Purdue is ranked, does it lose its magical upset powers?
Ohio State needs to run the ball more in the red zone: A lot has been made of Ohio State’s red zone struggles this week following a narrow victory over Nebraska, and for good reason. It’s been a legitimate problem for the Buckeyes all season, as a team with the amount of talent it has should not rank 42nd nationally with a red zone touchdown rate of 65.8%. In my opinion, the biggest problem Ohio State faces in the red zone isn’t personnel but play-calling. The Buckeyes run the ball only 58.7% of the time in the red zone, and while that’s much higher than their overall rate, it ranks 81st nationally for offenses in the red zone. The Buckeyes might be better served to hand the ball off more and let their offensive line and talented running backs get to work near the goal line.
Aidan O’Connell has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s better QBs: The Boilermakers were playing musical chairs with their quarterbacks earlier in the season, but O’Connell has settled into the role of being the No. 1 guy over the last month, and it’s been a great decision for this offense. Over the last four games, O’Connell has completed 74.9% of his passes and averaged 7.9 yards per attempt. His touchdown rate is a respectable 4.7%, but more importantly, his interception rate has dropped to 1.8%. It’s brought a consistency to the Purdue offense that has helped it thrive against tough teams. Of course, O’Connell would be the first person to tell you that having a receiver like David Bell around helps a lot too.
It’s hard for me to trust the Buckeyes to cover spreads this large. If we look at Ohio State’s eight wins this season, it’s managed to blow out teams like Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana. Those teams don’t have the defense that Purdue does, however. Formidable defenses have slowed the Buckeyes down, and Purdue has been an excellent defensive team all season long. I believe the Buckeyes win this game and avoid the upset, but it’s not going to be an easy victory by any stretch. Prediction: Purdue (+20)