Ohio State plays a Purdue team that is fresh off of two huge upsets.
In the last four weeks, Purdue has knocked off #2 Iowa and #3 Michigan State. Next up on the Boilermakers’ schedule is #6 Ohio State (#4 in the CFP rankings).
Many remember an unranked Purdue upsetting a top-five Ohio State in 2018. Back when Ryan Day was the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator, the Buckeyes left West Lafayette on the wrong side of a 29-point upset.
Ohio State is 39-15-2 all-time against Purdue. The game this week is in Columbus, which is a favorable location for Ohio State. Purdue hasn’t won in Ohio Stadium since 1988, even though they have won home games since then.
Jeff Brohm is looking to become the first Purdue head coach to beat Ohio State twice since Jack Mollenkopf won his second against the Buckeyes in 1967.
Even though Ohio State is ranked fourth by the College Football Playoff Committee, if they lose they are out of the playoff. The Buckeyes desperately need a win to stay in the race.
So how does Ohio State avoid being the next Iowa or Michigan State?
How Ohio State Can Prevent a Purdue Upset
Get To The Quarterback
Purdue’s offensive line didn’t exactly help keep Aidan O’Connell clean, but he seemed to get better under pressure.
O’Connell has 17 starts under his belt over the last three years, so he has experience in tight pocket. He is comfortable to just sit back and wait for his top receiver to come open. Iowa and Michigan State got in the pocket, but only took O’Connell down three times between those two games.
Ohio State had five sacks against Nebraska last week, and they will need to continue that energy against Purdue. Iowa and Michigan State failed to bring O’Connell down, and he was able to throw for over 900 yards and five touchdowns in those two games.
Ohio State Needs To Contain David Bell
Purdue wide receiver David Bell is arguably the best receiver in the Big Ten outside of Columbus.
Bell already has 64 receptions for 1,003 yards and five touchdowns. In Purdue’s two big upsets alone, Bell has 22 receptions for 437 yards and two touchdowns. He has almost half of his receiving yards this season from two games, against the two best teams he has played.
Bell is an exceptional athlete who can play all over the field. O’Connell likes to throw it to Bell short, and have Bell get yards after the catch. Almost every time Bell has the ball in space, he makes the first defender miss.
But Ohio State should also be aware the Bell can beat the defense deep.
Wherever he is on the field, he’s usually open.
Milton Wright is second on the team in receiving yards, with only 368 yards. Bell is by far Purdue’s most dangerous weapon on offense, and he is their favorite to use.
Win At The Line Of Scrimmage
Purdue’s plan to beat Iowa was to put the quarterback under pressure and clog the running lanes. That plan worked wonders against Iowa, and while it didn’t turn out as well against Michigan State, it definitely made life tough for Payton Thorne.
The worst game of the year for Ohio State’s offensive line was last week. Dawand Jones woke up feeling unwell, and it ended in four quarters of turbulence for the front five. Ohio State wants everyone to be healthy so the offensive line can protect C.J. Stroud.
Win Special Teams
Purdue nearly let Iowa back in the game thanks to some long returns on special teams. Iowa averaged 41 yards per kick return against he Boilermakers, including one 67-yarder. The Hawkeyes also had a 41-yard punt return against Purdue.
We know now that none of those special teams plays actually helped Iowa, as their offense turned the ball over after the long kick return and the long punt return. So if Ohio State is going to win these hidden yards, they will need to capitalize in the red zone.
Emeka Egbuka leads the Big Ten in yards per kick return, and ranks sixth in that category nationally. While he hasn’t made the impact on offense that he hoped he would, he can still tilt the game on kick return duty.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba return punts for the first time this season against Nebraska. While he has a historic day receiving the ball, he also averaged 15.5 yards per punt return. There’s advantage for Ohio State that can help manipulate the outcome.