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Ohio State vs. Purdue: 2018 game preview and prediction

Before getting a much needed week off, Ohio State must first travel to West Lafayette to take on Purdue on Saturday night.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but Ohio State remained undefeated after beating Minnesota 30-14 in Columbus last Saturday. The win, compounded with Georgia’s loss to LSU, moved the Buckeyes up a spot to second in the AP rankings, with the Buckeyes now only sitting behind Alabama. After two-straight home games, Ohio State will hit the road to take on Purdue under the lights on Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Dwayne doin’ his thang

While Ohio State struggled in many aspects in Saturday’s victory over Minnesota, the bright spot for the Buckeyes, as it has been all season, was quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The sophomore QB threw for 412 yards against the Golden Gophers, marking the second-straight game in which he has thrown for over 400 yards. This is the first time an Ohio State quarterback has thrown for 400 yards in two games in a career. In fact, Haskins now has two of the three 400-yard passing games in OSU history.

Each week Haskins bolsters his case as a Heisman Trophy candidate. With the three touchdowns Haskins threw on Saturday against Minnesota, he now leads the country with 28 passing TDs so far this season. Haskins also has now thrown for 2,331 yards this season, which is third in the country. Add in the 565 yards Haskins passed for in limited duty last season, and now he has passed for 2,896 yards in his brief career, ranking 14th in school history.

As if those lofty numbers weren’t impressive enough, Haskins tied Ohio State’s single-game record for the second week in a row with 33 completions. In each of his seven starts this year, Haskins has completed at least 20 passes. The sensational sophomore is now completing 72.3 percent of his passes, which ranks third among FBS quarterbacks.

A big performance

The main recipient of Haskins’ throws on Saturday was K.J. Hill, who caught nine passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Hill has been consistent all year, catching at least four passes in each of the previous six games, but Saturday’s performance was the first time that the junior from Arkansas cracked the 100-yard barrier this season. Hill’s 187 receiving yards were the most by a Buckeye receiver since Santonio Holmes racked up 224 yards against Marshall in 2004.

He might have not put up numbers quite like he did against Tulane or Indiana, but Parris Campbell was still very active last week as well, catching eight passes for 56 yards against Minnesota. Campbell’s effort brought his totals over the past four games to 32 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns. With four receptions on Saturday night, Campbell will have caught 100 passes in his Ohio State career.

Rush to judgement

Ohio State has proven that they can win without much of a running game, but the Buckeyes will have to get their ground attack going at some point if they want to keep opposing defenses honest. It isn’t like the Buckeyes aren’t trying to run the football, as evidenced by their 32 rushing attempts last week, but they just weren’t effective on the ground, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. The Buckeyes now have failed to rush for at 200 yards in each of the last five games, something that is unheard of during the Urban Meyer era.

The last Ohio State running back to rush for over 100 yards in a game was J.K. Dobbins, who rushed for 121 yards against TCU. Since then the closest Ohio State has come to having a running back crack the century mark was when Dobbins rushed for 82 yards against Indiana. If Dobbins can hit 100 yards on Saturday night against the Boilermakers, he’ll join Mike Weber in the 2,000 yard club, giving the Buckeyes their first pair of running backs on the same team who have rushed for 2,000 yards during their careers.

While the running game is a concern, as long as Dwayne Haskins can keep shredding defenses like he currently is it isn’t as big of a problem as some are making it out to be. The problem could come if Haskins starts to struggle as the weather turns in November, as it inevitably will. With games against tough defenses like Michigan State and Michigan still ahead of them, the Ohio State running game needs to work out its kinks and start showing some progress if the Buckeyes have any designs on making the College Football Playoff.

Low pressure

Earlier this week it was announced that defensive end Nick Bosa wouldn’t return to school, electing to focus on recovering from surgery last month, and preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft. Since losing Bosa in the second half against TCU, the Buckeyes have largely done a good job in creating pressure on opposing offenses, but it’s obvious that it isn’t quite the same as when Bosa was available.

The Buckeyes currently rank 10th in the country with 55 tackles for loss, but the numbers have been dwindling over the past few weeks. After recording 11 tackles for loss in the victory over Penn State, Ohio State has recorded just 11 TFLs in the two games since. Last week defensive end Jonathon Cooper and linebacker Malik Harrison weren’t available due to injury, but they should be back against Purdue. Ohio State is going to need Dre’Mont Jones, Chase Young, and the rest of the front seven to start getting to the quarterback more to take some of the pressure off of a secondary and linebacking corps that have been playing poorly for most of the season.

Secondary concerns

What was extremely frustrating about Ohio State’s defensive performance last week against Minnesota was its inability to stop the slant. The Golden Gophers continually were able to complete slant passes against the Buckeyes, leaving many to wonder if Ohio State’s defensive philosophy of playing press man coverage was the right strategy given this season’s specific talent.

If Ohio State isn’t able to quickly make adjustments against a team like the Golden Gophers, who are rather limited offensively, what will happen when they play a team who has more of a pulse on offense; like the Boilermakers on Saturday?

Two bright spots

One of the few bright spots of Ohio State’s defense on Saturday against Minnesota was the performance of safety Isaiah Pryor, who looks to be getting a better feel for the game recently. After recording five tackles in the second half against Indiana, Pryor not only picked up five more against Minnesota, but he also recorded his first career interception. If Pryor continues his development, the combination of Pryor and Jordan Fuller could pick up some of the slack in a struggling secondary.

Speaking of Fuller, the junior safety continued his strong play, recording a career-high 12 tackles against Minnesota. Fuller now has a team-high 39 this year, despite missing the season opener against Oregon State. Fuller has also broken up three passes and recovered a fumble. Had it not been for the steadying influence of Fuller at Ohio State’s last line of defense, the poor performance from the Buckeye secondary could have been a lot worse than it has been.

Blakeup kicker

A big surprise from Saturday’s victory against Minnesota was the performance of kicker Blake Haubeil. While Haubeil had been handling Ohio State’s kickoff duties so far this year, he was forced into action for field goals when Sean Nuernberger suffered a minor strain before the game. Haubeil hit all three field goals attempted, including a 47-yard field goal, which was longer than all but one of the 36 career field goals Nuernberger has hit. Urban Meyer has already announced that Haubeil will again handle placekicking duties this week.

A big rebound

To head into their bye week undefeated, Ohio State will take on a Purdue team that is one of the hotter teams in the country. After starting the season 0-3, with those three losses by a combined eight points, Purdue has won their last three games. The first victory during their current win streak came against Boston College, who was ranked at the time, giving the Boilermakers their first win over a ranked team since 2011.

Recent series history

The Buckeyes will take on Purdue for the first time since 2013, when Ohio State shutout the Boilermakers 56-0. The win over Purdue brought Ohio State’s all-time record to 39-14-2 in the series. Purdue has given Ohio State fits in West Lafayette since 2000, winning four of six meetings since the turn of the century. Ohio State will be the highest ranked team to visit West Lafayette since Penn State came to town in 1999.

Last week in Boilerland

Last week, Purdue traveled to Champaign to take on Illinois, and had little trouble dispatching the Fighting Illini. Illinois jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but the Boilermakers scored 46 unanswered points. The 39-point win was Purdue’s fourth-largest Big Ten road win in the last 50 years.

The Brohmening

Purdue comes into Saturday’s game riding a three-game winning streak, which is their second three-game winning streak under Jeff Brohm. After moving from Western Kentucky to Purdue following the 2016 season, Brohm has posted a 10-9 record so far in West Lafayette, and led the Boilermakers to their first bowl bid since 2012.

Big bad Blough

The Boilermakers started off the season with a platoon at quarterback, with both Elijah Sindelar and David Blough taking snaps, but Blough has taken a firm hold on the job. Blough’s breakout performance came in the loss to Missouri, where he threw for 572 yards. The senior quarterback has been outstanding since, throwing for at least 296 yards in each of the last three games.

What has helped Purdue find success on offense is Blough’s ability to take care of the football. In the four games since taking over as the starting quarterback, Blough has thrown 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. If Ohio State isn’t able to rattle Blough with pressure, it could be another long night for the Buckeye pass defense.

Big play Boilers

Giving up big plays has been Ohio State’s Achilles heel all year long, and it isn’t likely to get any better against a Purdue offense that feasts on big plays. In six games this year, Purdue has recorded 24 plays of at least 30 yards, which is tied for sixth-most in the country, and is best in the Big Ten.

Moore and company

The main concern when it comes to big plays for Ohio State should be stopping Rondale Moore. The freshman wide receiver had offers from pretty much all the big programs around the country, including Ohio State, but decided to join the Boilermakers. Moore is living up to the hype so far, rolling up 1,007 all-purpose yards so far this year. Not only do the Buckeyes have to account for Moore in the passing game, but he is also a dangerous returner.

Complimenting Moore in the passing game is wide receiver Issac Zico and tight end Brycen Hopkins. Zico has found his stride with the change at quarterback for Purdue, hauling in 18 catches for 382 yards and two touchdowns over the past four games. The senior wide receiver had the best game of his career last week against Illinois with a career-high 127 receiving yards.

Hopkins has given Purdue their biggest threat at tight end in over a decade, With 103 yards receiving against Nebraska, Hopkins registered his second 100-yard receiving game of the season, which was the first time a Purdue tight end had accomplished that feat since Dustin Keller did it three times in 2007.

Purdefense

It isn’t much of a surprise at how effective Purdue has been on offense under Brohm, but what has raised eyebrows the most about the Boilermakers this years is their defense. Purdue has put up some big numbers so far this year, with 17 sacks, 36 tackles for loss, eight interceptions, and 20 pass breakups through six games.

Terrific tackling trio

The biggest strength of Purdue’s defense is with their linebacking corps, which has three players with at least 40 tackles so far this year. The linebacker who has created the most disruption so far this year is Cornel Jones. The sophomore has recorded 11 tackles for loss, with 3.5 of those being credited as sacks, and the season.

Junior linebacker Markus Bailey is the elder statesman of the corps. The junior has 43 tackles so far this year, which is second-most on the team, and he has matched Jones with a team-high 3.5 sacks. Derrick Barnes rounds out the key LBs, sitting just behind Bailey with 42 tackles and three sacks.

Brothers in arms

Purdue’s secondary is certainly going to get a workout trying to slow down the prolific Ohio State passing game, but they do have some talented defenders to try and get the job done. Much like how Ohio State has Jordan Fuller leading their secondary, Purdue has Jacob Thineneman. The fifth-year senior leads Purdue with 45 tackles this season. He isn’t the only Thineneman in the secondary either, as younger brother Brennan is also a safety.

Major impact

While Purdue has senior experience at safety, their best cornerback this year is a redshirt freshman. Kenneth Major leads the team with three interceptions. Major will be tested with the quality wide receivers that Ohio State will throw at him on Saturday night, but if he can hold his own he can put himself into the conversation as one of the best young cornerbacks in the country.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 39, Purdue 29

Win Probability: Ohio State 71.9%

39 seems to be a popular number for Ohio State, as the F/+ numbers have projected the Buckeyes to score 39 points in each of the last three weeks. Ohio State wound up with 49 points against Indiana, followed by 30 points last week against Minnesota last week. Third time is a charm, right?

Indiana and Minnesota both caused Ohio State problems at time over the past two weeks, but Purdue looks like the team who could cause the Buckeyes problems consistently throughout the whole game. The Boilermakers can sling the pigskin with David Blough at quarterback, and if the combination of Blough and Rondale Moore gets going, it could be a long night for the Ohio State secondary.

Going on the road is never easy, especially in the Big Ten. The troubles the Buckeyes have had in West Lafayette have been well documented, but due to being in opposite divisions, the teams don’t see each other with as much frequency as they used to. Ohio State is road tested, and even though the Boilermakers could give them a scare, with Dwayne Haskins at the helm, the Buckeyes should be able to navigate a tough road contest before a bye week.