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Ohio State vs. Purdue: 2021 game preview and prediction

The Buckeyes will be trying to avoid being Purdue’s latest upset victim when they host the Boilermakers on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Currently, Ohio State sits in a College Football Playoff spot. For the Buckeyes to stay on the inside track to the CFP bracket, they’ll have to handle their business against Purdue on Saturday in Columbus.

The Buckeyes are coming off a 26-17 win over Nebraska last week. While the victory was the biggest loss the Cornhuskers were handed this year, Ohio State didn’t exactly impress all that much. Just a few hours before the game, the Buckeyes were dealt a blow when it was announced Garrett Wilson wouldn’t play due to being in concussion protocol. With Wilson out of the lineup, Ohio State’s offense wasn’t quite as crisp as normal, despite all of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s heroics.


Battling the Boilermakers

The victory over Nebraska was Ohio State’s 24th consecutive Big Ten win. The last time the Buckeyes were defeated in a conference game was back in 2018 when Purdue humbled Ohio State 49-20 in West Lafayette. The win by the Boilermakers snapped their 12-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. Purdue’s last trip to Columbus came back in 2012, when Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to a 29-22 victory in overtime after Braxton Miller left the game due to injury. Ohio State is 39-15-2 all-time against the Boilermakers.


Necessary Noah

If Ohio State is going to be a serious threat in the College Football Playoff, they’ll need to clean up their performance in the red zone. Over the last two weeks, the Buckeyes have scored touchdowns in just two trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line. Thankfully, Noah Ruggles has salvaged some points, becoming the first Ohio State kicker to hit four field goals in back-to-back games. The North Carolina transfer has not only hit all 15 of his field goal attempts this year, he hit his last two attempts last year with the Tar Heels to give him 17-straight makes.


The good & the bad

Even though C.J. Stroud put up some big numbers against Nebraska, it wasn’t one of the redshirt freshman’s best performances of the year. Stroud threw for 406 yards against the Cornhuskers, marking the third time this season that he has topped 400 yards through the air.

To get to that mark, Stroud had to throw 54 passes, which was the second time this year he has thrown at least 50 passes, and the fourth time in school history that a Buckeye quarterback has tossed at least 50 passes. Ohio State quarterbacks are now 1-3 when they attempt at least 50 passes in a game. One of those occurrences came in the 2018 loss to Purdue, when Dwayne Haskins threw a school record 73 passes.

While the stats are big for Stroud, some of his decision making has come into question. For the first time since the Tulsa game, Stroud was picked off, throwing two interceptions against the Cornhuskers. Stroud also passed up numerous opportunities to pick up large chunks of yards with his legs. After the game, Stroud said his job wasn’t to run the football.

Even though nobody expects Stroud to run the football like Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett, there are times when he is going to have to pull the football down and run to pick up some critical yardage. If Stroud doesn’t learn to take what the defense gives him on the ground, it could be the difference in a close game this year.


Need more Tre

One of the reasons Stroud had to throw the football so much was because the running game was pretty much non-existent. The Buckeyes ran for just 90 yards last week, which was their lowest total since 2018 against Purdue. Still, TreVeyon Henderson is nearing 1,000 yards rushing on the season.

We could see Henderson get back on track this week, as the Boilermakers not only gave up 290 yards rushing to Wisconsin earlier this year, they also saw Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III rush for 136 yards last week. Through nine games this year, the Boilermakers are allowing opponents to rush for 144 yards per game.


Rewriting the record books

With Garrett Wilson not available on Saturday, Ohio State needed a receiver to step up. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was more than up to the task. Smith-Njigba caught 15 passes for 240 yards against Nebraska. The 15 receptions set a school record, breaking the mark set by David Boston against Penn State, while the 240 yards fell 13 yards short of tying Terry Glenn’s total of 253 yards against Pitt in 1995.

While Smith-Njigba got all the headlines, Chris Olave made some history as well. Olave became just the second Ohio State wide receiver with at least 10 receiving touchdowns in two different seasons. The senior wide receiver now has 32 career touchdown receptions, which is second in school history — just two away from tying David Boston.


A performance to forget

A big reason for some of Ohio State’s offensive struggles last week was because of the subpar offensive line play. Things got off to a rough start when Dawand Jones didn’t start due to illness, forcing some shuffling on the offensive line. The big uglies were never in sync in Lincoln. Paris Johnson Jr. had an especially rough game, committing a number of penalties before getting pulled. The Buckeyes will have to fix some of the issues they had on Saturday, or they are going to be more pretender than contender for the College Football Playoff.


Sack party

Ohio State’s offensive line might be struggling, but the same can’t be said about the defensive line. After starting the season with just four sacks in the first three games, the Buckeyes are now tied for the national lead with 34 sacks. Unlike in past years where defensive linemen like Chase Young and the Bosa brothers dominated, the pressure this year is coming from pretty much everyone. Currently, 16 Buckeyes have registered at least half a sack.

The hottest defensive lineman of late has been Tyreke Smith, who has recorded a sack in each of the last three games. Zach Harrison, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Jack Sawyer have all also been extremely active of late. When those four, along with Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent, are on top of their game, there’s not many offensive lines around the country that can slow Ohio State’s defensive line down.

The Buckeye defense has really rebounded after a tough start to the season. After the first two games where they gave up a combined 499 yards rushing to Minnesota and Oregon, Ohio State’s rush defense is now 15th in the country, giving up just 107.6 yards per game. As a whole, the Buckeye defense is allowing just 354.8 yards per game.


Steele trap

Ohio State’s linebackers have made great strides this season, which is a major reason why the defense has improved. Not only are guys like Cody Simon and Tommy Eichenberg playing a lot better than they did at the beginning of the season, the unit has received a huge boost with the addition of Steele Chambers.

In last week’s victory over Nebraska, Chambers sealed the game with his first career interception. The former running back was credited with six tackles, which was just one off his career high. The total was even more impressive considering he missed the first half of the game after being called for targeting in the second half against Penn State. Chambers now has 29 tackles this season, which is tied with Eichenberg for fifth-most on the team.


Rocketman & his fleet

Ronnie Hickman continues to live around the football. “Rocket” is on his way to recording 100 tackles this season, currently leading the Buckeyes with 74 stops. After registering a career-high 14 tackles against Penn State, Hickman followed that up by recording his first career sack last week against Nebraska. While other players in the secondary might get more headlines with flashier plays, Hickman is the glue that keeps the unit together.

One of the players in the secondary that is getting more and more headlines is Denzel Burke. The freshman is already looking like one of the best cornerbacks in the country despite having less than 10 games under his belt. The emergence of Burke has been even more important, since Sevyn Banks hasn’t played anywhere close to the level that was expected coming into the season. Burke has an interception and seven passes broken up, while Cam Brown has added five PBUs this season.


Big game Boilers

Purdue has been a giant slayer this year. Not only did the Boilermakers go into Iowa City and take down Iowa when then Hawkeyes were ranked second in the country earlier in the year, they just took down Michigan State, who was ranked third in the College Football Playoff rankings last week. Even though the Boilermakers have three losses on the season, the CFP committee recognized how dangerous a team they are, slotting them at 19th in the most recent rankings.


A year to remember

With one more win this year, Purdue will reach seven wins for just the third time in the last 10 years. The last time the Boilermakers reached eight wins was under Joe Tiller in 2007, and they have only made it to 10 wins once in school history. While it’s going to be tough for Purdue to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game without a win on Saturday, they are likely positioning themselves for a spot in one of the Big Ten’s better bowl games this year.


Air Aidan

Ohio State will be tasked with trying to slow down Purdue’s pass happy offense. Pulling the trigger for the Boilermakers will be Aidan O’Connell, who just threw for 536 yards and three touchdowns in the upset of Michigan State last week. O’Connell didn’t really start taking over as the starter for Purdue until the Minnesota game.

Jack Plummer was the primary quarterback for the Boilermakers to start the season, and didn’t play all that bad, tossing seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Plummer just doesn’t quite have the ability to push the field that O’Connell does, as the senior quarterback has thrown for at least 370 yards in three of the last five games.


No ground game

The Buckeyes won’t really have to worry about Purdue trying to run the football, since the Boilermakers are pretty much allergic to handoffs. Aside from King Doerue, who has a team-high 105 carries, only two other Purdue running backs have at least 40 carries. Doerue leads the team with 395 yards this year, gaining 3.8 yards per carry. All together, the Boilermakers have rushed for 694 yards this year, with that total including yardage lost from quarterback sacks.


Ring the Bell

Last time the Buckeyes and Boilers met, Rondale Moore destroyed the Ohio State secondary. Now, Ohio State fans are hoping that David Bell doesn’t do the same on Saturday. Bell has been one of the most impressive wide receivers in college football this year, already grabbing 64 passes for 1,003 yards and five touchdowns.

Bell does his best work under the brightest spotlights. Not only did Bell tear Iowa’s vaunted defense apart, catching 11 passes for 240 yards last month, he followed it up by hauling in 11 passes for 217 yards last week against Michigan State. While Moore was more of a speed receiver, Bell has size that causes defensive backs problems. If Bell gets going early, it could be a long afternoon for the Ohio State secondary.

The Buckeyes can’t focus all their attention on Bell though, since Purdue has a number of other receivers that can hurt them. Milton Wright and tight end Payne Durham each have 36 catches this year, while Jackson Anthrop sits just behind them with 34 receptions. Anthrop has been targeted more of late, grabbing six passes in each of the last two games.


Purdue’s protection

Even though Ohio State’s defensive line has been a force of late, they might have a problem putting pressure on O’Connell. With the way Purdue’s offense operates, the quarterback doesn’t have the football in his hands all that long, which doesn’t give opponents much time to get into the backfield. Through nine games this season, Purdue’s opponents have only registered 18 sacks.


Curious George

While Ohio State’s defensive line might not get into the backfield much, the same can be said about Purdue’s defensive line. Even though they have one of the best defensive ends in the conference in George Karlaftis, the Boilermakers have just 10 sacks this season. Many people had penciled Karlaftis in as a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate before the season, but he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.


Jaylan & Jenkins

Leading Purdue in sacks this year is linebacker Kydran Jenkins, who has three sacks this year. While Jenkins brings the heat from the linebacker position, the Boilermaker linebacker that makes the most stops is Jaylan Alexander, who leads the team with 68 tackles. With 15 tackles in the Wisconsin game, Alexander became just the fifth Purdue linebacker since 2000 to record at least 15 tackles in a game. One of those linebackers that recently reached that mark was Markus Bailey in the 2018 contest against Ohio State.


Boiler ballhawks

Even though C.J. Stroud has been good with the football for most of the season, throwing just five interceptions, he’ll have to be careful against a Purdue defense that has been picking off a lot of passes lately. Against Iowa and Nebraska, the Boilers nabbed four interceptions in each game. Prior to this season, the last time Purdue had recorded a four-interception game was back in 2018.

Leading the way for Purdue’s pick party is safety Cam Allen, with the junior grabbing four interceptions so far this season. Cornerback Dedrick Mackey and versatile defender Jalen Graham have added two interceptions each. As a team, the Boilermakers have 11 interceptions and 33 pass breakups. Against an Ohio State team that has relied heavily on the pass this year, the Purdue secondary will have plenty of chances to add to that total.


Summary

This game has a lot of Ohio State fans on edge after what happened in West Lafayette in 2018. It’s hard to believe that Purdue is going to sneak up on the Buckeyes this year, especially after the Boilermakers recently beat both Iowa and Michigan State, both of whom were in the top-five when they took on Jeff Brohm’s team.

Ohio State will also have the luxury of not playing up to their standards against Nebraska. While to some that might seem like a weird way to look at this game, the coaching staff has to have been especially tough on the Buckeyes this week. Ryan Day and the rest of the coaches know that performances like they had against Nebraska isn’t going to get Ohio State to their ultimate goal, which is a national title.

What the Buckeyes are going to have to do this week is mix up the offense a little. It’s never a good sign when your quarterback attempts over 50 passes in a game. There’s no excuse to not get a talent like TreVeyon Henderson more involved in the offensive game plan. Against Nebraska, it felt like Henderson was an after thought. The Buckeyes are at their best when they have a balanced offense. A realistic goal should to be throw for 250 yards and rush for 250 yards.

The Buckeyes should also be in better shape this week since Garrett Wilson will likely be back in the lineup, even though it was great to see Jaxon Smith-Njigba step up and put the rest of the nation on notice as Ohio State’s wide receiver of the future. It’s a lot easier to slow down Ohio State’s receivers when you don’t have one of the three-headed monster in the lineup. While it’s still incredible tough to slow down Smith-Njigba and Olave, the problem for opposing defensive coordinators goes to a whole different level with Wilson in the mix.

The 20-point spread may be a little tough for the Buckeyes to cover this week, but they should be able to at least score a solid win. Ohio State will get to bolster their case for a CFP spot with a win over a ranked team, as well as games against Michigan State and Michigan on deck. Purdue has been a great story this year with a couple huge upsets, they just won’t be able to score a third against a Buckeye squad that will be focused to add to their seven-game winning streak.

LGHL Prediction: Ohio State 38, Purdue 24