Alrighty everyone, we are now one day closer to the dreaded clash in West Lafayette, Ind. Even though the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes are 7-0 this season, and are a nearly 14-point favorite in this weekend’s contest against Purdue, this game has the feeling of upset potential.
Yesterday, we looked at the player(s) to watch on the Boilermaker offense. Wide receiver Rondale Moore and quarterback David Blough are a dynamic duo that has energized the PU offense throughout the season— and I don’t see that changing on Saturday.
Now, let’s take a look at what the Boilermaker defense brings to the table, and who should be spotlighted. In order for Purdue to be successful on defense, I pinpointed two likely candidates for what it’ll take to accomplish the feat of stopping the Buckeyes: the defensive ends.
Getting pressure at the line will do a couple of things. One, it will limit the rushing game; and two, it will put pressure on QB Dwayne Haskins. The Buckeye signal-caller has lit up defenses in every game so far this season, with the last two contests being 400-plus yard performances. However, when he did struggle (noticeably against Indiana and Penn State), the reason, unsurprisingly, was because of pressure.
Purdue’s DEs of Kai Higgins and Giovanni Reviere will be the difference makers, if Purdue is to make this game competitive. Last week against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Buckeye offense had problems in both pass protection and run blocking. Haskins was sacked three times, and in short yardage runs, the Buckeyes either got just enough, or were stopped short. In one instance, a fourth-and-1 rush up the middle by J.K. Dobbins was stopped behind the line, leading to a 1-yard loss and a turnover on downs deep in Gopher territory.
If Ohio State is to have both the running and passing games flourish, they’ll need to have the offensive tackles do work. On Monday, head coach Urban Meyer said left tackle Thayer Munford was “probable” for Purdue. Unfortunately, even if he is able to go, this is likely a blow to the Buckeye offense.
If Munford plays, he may not be 100 percent— he’s dealing with a rolled ankle from last week’s game. If he doesn’t play, then Joshua Alabi will be thrust into the starting role without playing meaningful snaps in this season’s campaign. Using the belief that your best run and pass blockers are the offensive tackles, this becomes an issue for OSU. A weakened left tackle slot can weaken the pocket protection for Haskins, which in turn limits the time that he has to make throws. Mix in either Higgins or Reviere jumping through the line, and you have a whole new set of problems.
Both DEs have registered one sack apiece this season. On top of his sack, Higgins has two interceptions and a pass breakup. 247sports listed Higgins as a weak-side DE, which makes sense with the production he’s had. If Higgins is set to the left side of the offense, he’ll be on the side that doesn’t have that many receivers (the weak-side) and will also be on the blindside of the QB. This is important because if Haskins looks to throw quick, short passes to his left, Higgins will be in the general vicinity.
Ohio State’s offensive line struggles also carry over to the other end with Isaiah Prince. He’s made strides over the last couple of seasons, but had an frustrating performance against Minnesota.
Isaiah Prince allows Jerry Gibson's sack, proving costly in more ways than one. Dwayne Haskins goes down and into Thayer Munford, who tried to get up before falling back down. He walked off under his own power, went into the medical tent and is now heading to the locker room. pic.twitter.com/qU46a1q34J— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) October 13, 2018
A couple sacks were allowed under Prince’s watch, as well as a trio penalties. This is the kind of stuff that will be detrimental to the Buckeyes’ line protection. False start penalties are self-inflicted problems that happen, but can be solved. However, letting guys get around you— continuously— for sacks is a worse problem.
Reviere may not have the turnover production that Higgins has this season, but he does have more tackles than his teammate. Higgins only has eight total tacks, while Reviere has 14. Of those, 11 are unassisted. If Reviere gets past his blocker, especially on runs, he’s going to be there to tackle Dobbins or Mike Weber. Even though it takes two people to pull down either running back, you don’t want to be in a situation where Reviere (or Higgins) slows them down enough for help to arrive.
Haskins needs time to throw; that’s been a big reason why he’s been able to have these record-setting performances. Also, having a running game with a pulse spurs on the passing game. Balance on offense is not something that Ohio State has done well this season, so it’s a safe bet to say that this weekend will be more pass-happy. However, if Purdue’s DE combo of Higgins and Reviere push around the OSU tackles, things will get dicey.
All bets are off in road games— and that’s even more so in primetime road games. This could be the perfect storm of Purdue DEs playing inspired football under the lights, which gets the crowd going, and the momentum going in favor of the Boilermakers.
How goes the line, goes the game. Those words may be even truer after Saturday night.