They say that in every cloud, there is a silver lining, and this week the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cloud has been the announcement that All-American defensive end Nick Bosa will not be returning to the Ohio State football team this year, and instead will withdraw from school so that he can focus on rehabbing his core muscle injury and preparing for the NFL Draft.
The silver lining might be that the distraction of Bosa’s departure might have temporarily tamped down the nervousness surrounding this Saturday’s primetime matchup in West Lafayette, Ind. against the Purdue Boilermakers (3-3, 2-1). The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 4-0) will have their second-straight Big Ten West crossover matchup when they square off with Purdue at 7:30 p.m. ET in a game slated to be broadcast on ABC.
However, those nerves will likely begin to rise as kickoff approaches and the “shock” of the Bosa announcement subsides. As that happens, many of the fears are likely to return to Buckeye fans who are concerned about the team’s lackluster defense and offensive line.
To get an idea as to what exactly the Buckeyes are going to be up against in the Boilermakers on Saturday, we talked to Travis Miller— the founder and site manager for SB Nation’s Purdue blog Hammers and Rails— about what Ohio State fans should expect in West Lafayette on Saturday night.
LGHL: Ohio State fans are very much on upset-watch for the game in West Lafayette this weekend. Are Purdue fans as confident as Buckeye fans are concerned?
Travis Miller: I wouldn’t say “confident” as much as “cautiously optimistic.” I think it is much like last season when we hosted Michigan. We knew we were better than the Purdue of old. We knew we had a chance. We gave them a game for about three quarters before running out of gas and succumbing to their defense.
With Ohio State it is a little bit different. Your offense looks insanely good, but when you look at the numbers Purdue is not too far behind. Yours is the only offense better than ours in the conference and that is with a really bad game against Eastern Michigan weighing us down. I can see this being a shootout, but I know our defense can get burned. EMU threw for 300-plus yards on us in the rain. What is Haskins going to do? We’ve been playing much better of late and were dominant against a pretty good Boston College team, but Nebraska and Illinois are a pretty big step down from Ohio State.
LGHL: The Buckeyes have struggled tremendously this year in terms of giving up explosive plays. Purdue’s offense ranks in the top-10 in both IsoPPP (9th) and Marginal Explosiveness (6th). What is it about Jeff Brohm’s offense that allows it to be dynamic?
Travis Miller: I think Brohm does a very good job of getting everyone on the same page and mixing things up a bit. One thing that helped immensely was the return of Shane Evans at guard after missing the first two games due to injury. He moved to guard, Matt McCann shifted to right tackle and moved Eric Wingler to the bench, and suddenly our offense took off.
We also have a lot of contributors. Rondale Moore grabs all the headlines, but Jared Sparks, Terry Wright, and Isaac Zico have been solid at receiver. D.J. Knox and Markell Jones have done a great job as a 1-2 punch in the backfield. Brycen Hopkins is having a very quietly good season at tight end. Finally, David Blough is playing at an extremely high level. The senior is playing the best football of his career, has good blocking in front of him, and he is making few mistakes.
LGHL: Obviously he’s not the only weapon on the team, but Rondale Moore has been electric so far during his freshman season. Ohio State will certainly try to minimize his big-play ability. Have any teams provided glimpses of how defenses might be able to contain him?
Travis Miller: It is hard to say. Eastern Michigan held him to just 18 yards receiving but he still broke a jet sweep for 53 yards and would have scored if his own blocker had not gotten in his way. He has had at least one play of 40 yards in all six games this season. We also have him on punt returns and kick returns to maximize the chances of him doing something special with the ball in space.
To be honest, it has been a very long time since we have had one of those, “just how the hell do you stop THAT guy?” guys. It is a lot of fun to have him, too. He has been special to watch because he is so good at stutter-stepping and varying his speeds to keep tacklers off balance. He is also insanely strong as he went viral over the summer with a 600 pound squat.
Maybe we can move him over to basketball because he helped Indiana-mega-recruit Romeo Langford win a state title in basketball when both were sophomores.
LGHL: Despite the offensive success, the Boilers’ defense has struggled this season, especially against the pass. Through six games, they’ve given up 267.5 yards per game through the air, fourth worst in the Big Ten. For OSU, Dwayne Haskins is fourth best in the country averaging 333 ypg. What do you think that the Purdue defense will try to do to slow down the OSU passing attack? Are they more comfortable dropping back in coverage, or sending the house to apply pressure?
Travis Miller: We’ve done better trying to apply pressure. We kept Illinois and Nebraska off balance by doing so and linebackers Cornel Jones, Markus Bailey, and Derrick Barnes have more sacks than the defensive line. The EMU loss was a disaster in all phases, but the secondary had an especially rough day. We got burned for a 75-yard TD, had an EMU receiver drop another long TD in the end zone, and gave up a fourth-and-14 that would have clinched the game in the final minutes.
It’s going to be scary what Haskins can do to us. Kenneth Major has come on well of late and has three interceptions as a freshman corner, but the main players in our secondary consist of two redshirt freshmen (Major and Dedrick Mackey), three former walk-ons (Jacob Thieneman, his brother Brennan Thieneman, and Antonio Blackmon), a fifth-year senior that played sparingly in Tim Cason, and Navon Mosley.
They’ve been tested though. Drew Lock and Missouri put them through the wringer and Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez pushed them. They are slowly coming along, but Haskins is definitely going to be their largest challenge yet.
LGHL: Cornel Jones has been dominant for the Purdue defense, already accounting for 11 tackles for loss; which is tops in the B1G and puts him tied for 10th nationally. Ohio State’s offensive line has been incredibly inconsistent this year, which has led to a disappointing running game. How have the Purdue coaches used Jones this season to get him in position to disrupt offenses?
Travis Miller: It is a lot like last year in that we use all three linebackers to create pressure because our defensive line is inexperienced and struggles to create it themselves. All three ‘backers blitz at different times and defensive coordinator Nick Holt prefers to be aggressive as opposed to sit back. I think that is our best chance. We might as well go down swinging and see what happens. I think Jones has had a good year because people pay a lot of attention to Markus Bailey, who had a fantastic year last year. He is kind of the central player of the entire defense and seems to be everywhere.
LGHL: For any Ohio State fans heading to the game this weekend, do you have any suggestions on things they should do, places to eat and/or drink, etc.?
Travis Miller: Absolutely. Check out our Gameday Guide to West Lafayette. We regularly update it at the beginning of each season and it has everything you need to know.
You have your typical chains around Purdue, both big and small, but here are some unique places that you’ll find around campus. There’s also plenty of places to eat across the river in Lafayette, but for now we’ll focus on some of the highlights in West Lafayette.
Nine Irish Brothers: A great Irish pub located near the intersection of State and River Road. They’ll serve you the best pint of Guinness on this side of the pond. You can never go wrong with an order of the fish & chips and a pint of the black stuff. Whatever you do, do not pass up the pub chips.
Bruno’s: A great pizza place, also by 9 Irish. This place is loaded with Purdue memorabilia on every wall from floor to ceiling. Drew Brees even created a pizza that’s on the menu: the Drew Brees NO Cheese (Brees is lactose intolerant).
Stacked Pickle: While this is a small chain located throughout central Indiana and based out of Indy, we decided it was worth mentioning. It is owned by former Indianapolis Colt, Gary Brackett. Given its proximity to campus in the new Wang Hall, it has quickly become a fan favorite.
LGHL: What do you think happens on Saturday night?
Travis Miller: Ohio State is really good. I feel like Purdue is going to have to play its best game of the season to even have a chance at winning. I think we’ll move the ball and put up some points, but the Ohio State offense should have an advantage against our defense. I think the Bucks win something like 45-35 in an entertaining game.
The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET in a game to be broadcast on ABC. Land-Grant Holy Land and Hammer and Rails will have you covered from both sides of the primetime, marquee matchup as we head into the weekend.