10 Things We Learned Another Tough Loss at Purdue
By Brandon Castel
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — These players were warned, but sometimes young kids have to experience heartbreak for themselves.
Suspensions and defections meant there weren’t as many Buckeyes who remembered the 2009 trip to West Lafayette, but they all relived it Saturday as Purdue topped the Buckeyes 26-23 in overtime.
It was the fourth win in the last six meetings at Ross-Ade Stadium for the Boilermakers, who blocked the game-winning extra point in the final minute of the game after Braxton Miller threw what looked liked the winning touchdown to Jordan Hall.
Here is a look at the 10 things we learned from another loss at Purdue.
1. Purdue expected to win this game. Forget the fact they beat Ohio State here just two short years ago, this Purdue team expected to win again Saturday. They knew they played well at home and with a fast start, they felt like Ohio State was very vulnerable early in the game. They were right. Just like they did against Indiana, the Buckeyes fell behind 10-0 and trailed 17-7 at the half. They battled back to tie the game, but the Boilermakers never stopped believing. They kept attacking. It cost them at the end of regulation, because Robert Marve was intercepted by Orhian Johnson, but it definitely paid off in overtime. There is nobody who is afraid of this OSU team the way they were in years past. They are no longer the bully on the block, and teams like Purdue are rising up to get their revenge for seven years of dominance by the Buckeyes.
2. This is a very average Ohio State defense. It seems very unfair to put this on the defense, especially considering the fact they held Purdue to just three points in the second half, but this is not the typical OSU defense. They don’t seem to play their best with their backs against the wall. They don’t make the big play exactly when this team needs it most. In fact, they do the opposite. They blew double-digit fourth quarter leads against Nebraska and Wisconsin and gave up a pretty ugly 3rd-and-12 conversion in overtime that cost them this game. Forget all that for a moment. The worst thing they have done is put this offense in a 10-0 hole the last two weeks. As Luke Fickell so aptly said after the game, this is not an offense that is built to play from behind. They need the lead so they can grind it out on the ground. This defense isn’t terrible by any means. They still have a pretty good defensive front, but they aren’t the kind of defense that can go out and win a game for Ohio State the way most of Jim Heacock’s defenses have since he took over as defensive coordinator in 2005.
3. The offense wishes it could be called average. Don’t think for one second that the offense was going to get a free pass for this mess. If they had any semblance of a normal offense, the defense wouldn’t have to play lights out every week. They are the most one-dimensional offense Ohio State has had in years—even mores o than Pryor’s freshman year because this team doesn’t have the receivers. They cannot get DeVier Posey back soon enough, especially considering the latest injury to Corey Brown—but even that may not be enough. This team—meaning the coaches—thought it could just run the ball over anyone, regardless of how many people they put in the box. Unfortunately, football doesn’t work like that. Purdue took a page out of Michigan State’s book Saturday and the Buckeyes had no answer. Their only prayer was that Braxton could connect on some deep balls with the wind at his back. When that didn’t work, they just had him scramble on every big play. There wasn’t really one coherent attempt to attack Purdue with anything that might have worked in this game.
4. Braxton has the heart of a champion. That’s not a bad idea entirely because Miller can do some special things with his legs. There was one play where he put Purdue linebacker Joe Holland flat on his back with a juke move in the open field. Miller didn’t have a great day throwing the ball—although his 132 yards were the most since the season-opener against Akron. He also threw a pair of touchdown pass to Jordan Hall, but it was the guts Miller showed in the fourth quarter that really stood out in this game. Despite the fact he was vomiting on the sideline, Miller stepped up when the game was on the line. He refused to lose, and reached deep within himself to find the winning effort. What more could you want from a young quarterback? It paid off, as Miller led what should have been the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. His 13-yard pass to Hall on 4th down was just another example of how Braxton seizes the big moment.
5. Not sure about the rest of these guys. I’m not sure you can say the same about many of Miller’s teammates. Give T.Y. Williams credit for making a few nice catches down the stretch, but it just doesn’t seem like the rest of these guys have a lot of fire, or a lot of heart. How else do we explain the fact they came out flat for the second week in a row, even though they knew what this team was capable of at home? Where was the energy? Where was the passion? Certainly that starts with the coaches, but this team just doesn’t have the type of leadership it had in the past with guys like Cam Heyward, Kurt Coleman, James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins. Those guys showed up to play every single week and they made sure everyone around them was ready to play. With the exception of Braxton and Carlos Hyde, these guys seem to be getting comfortable with losing. Jordan Hall was even smiling at the podium after the game. He earned that right with a big game, but I’m not sure anyone should be smiling after this team fell to 6-4 on the season.
6. Don’t give the coaches a pass. There is an obvious void of leadership for this group, but these coaches have not done a good job getting them ready to play. They don’t put them in a position to be successful either, especially on offense. Running toss plays to Carlos Hyde and iso plays up the middle with Jordan Hall. It’s like they don’t even know the strengths of their own players. Tight end Jake Stoneburner had four touchdown catches the first two weeks of the season and a total of four catches since. Are defenses really scheming him that well? That doesn’t even seem possible, and he’s about the only guy they have right now who can catch the football. But this staff continues to show a stubbornness to do anything different until they are absolutely backed into a corner. The reality is, the entire staff has been in a corner all season, they just haven’t shown the type of urgency that comes with it. Some of it is the fact they have a young football team, but it’s clear that Braxton is a playmaker and it’s clear that there are other ways to get guys like Hall and Boom Herron in space. Just look at how Purdue uses their guys, or Indiana for that matter. Are their guys that much better than the ones Ohio State is putting out there? If so, then what is the point of even writing this column. The fact is, Ohio State still has as much more talent than any of these teams. It’s just not quite as lopsided as it was in the past, which means the coaches actually have to do a little coaching.
7. Never underestimate special teams. Even after all that, the Buckeyes should be talking about another last-minute victory. After all, Miller threw a touchdown pass with 55 seconds on the clock to tie the game. An extra point—often considered a formality—is all that stood between Ohio State and sweet victory. But extra points should never be considered a formality. Nothing on special teams should be anymore. It is every bit as important as offense and defense. If you don’t believe that, just look back at the last two seasons for Ohio State. How many times have special teams played a critical role in the outcome of the game? This was just the latest example and it prevented the Buckeyes from stealing a game they probably didn’t deserve to win.
8. Shazier is as good as advertised. One of the few bright spots for the Buckeyes Saturday was the play of Ryan Shazier. The young freshman linebacker stepped in after Andrew Sweat was lost to a concussion and he actually outshined his senior counterpart. What’s not to love about Shazier? He flies around the field and he loves to hit people. It cost him one time Saturday on a late hit against the quarterback, but there is no way to fault this kid for being aggressive. He has great speed and seems to have the kind of motor coaches only dream of in a guy this talented. It will be fun to watch him develop over the next three years, but Shazier may have come along quicker than expected. If Sweat has to miss any time, Shazier immediately becomes a mainstay on the defense. He probably should be anyway.
9. Underwood wasn’t ready for all this. On the other side of the ball, it was a rough day for Antonio Underwood. The freshman out of Shaker Heights was making his first start at right tackle in place of the injured J.B. Shugarts (knee) and he really looked out of place. It’s unfair to pass sweeping judgments on the youngster just yet, but he was completely overmatched in the first half. His pass blocking nearly got Braxton killed once or twice and often times he was forced to grab his man to keep him from getting through into the backfield. It really threw off the rhythm of this offensive line, so much so that they made a change a the end of the half, moving Jack Mewhort out to right tackle and putting Corey Linsley at guard. That seemed to work wonders for the Buckeyes, and Linsley had a great game opening holes for the running backs. Michael Brewster even said after the game that they probably should have gone to that look earlier.
10. This team has some soul-searching to do. The good news—or bad news, depending on how you want to look at it—is that the season is not over, not by a long shot. The Buckeyes are probably out of the Big Ten title race—they would need to win out plus a Wisconsin loss at Illinois and a Wisconsin win vs. Penn State to have a shot. That doesn’t mean they should turn out the lights at Ohio Stadium until next year. The Buckeyes still have two big games left against Penn State and Michigan. If they can win those two games, they would be 8-4 and probably looking at a pretty decent bowl game. It’s not what Ohio State fans are accustomed to, but what did you expect after this team lost Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor? The players themselves have some soul-searching to do if that’s to happen. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines are better than any team OSU has beaten this year save for their last-minute upset of Wisconsin.
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