Purdue-Ohio St. Preview
Unbeaten with a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate leading a high-powered offense, No. 7 Ohio State has appeared to re-establish itself as one of the nation's elite programs.
Coach Urban Meyer, though, isn't sold quite yet.
With the Buckeyes' defense struggling mightily, Saturday's matchup with a Purdue team that is scuffling offensively could help it get on track.
Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) hasn't had much trouble putting up points the last two weeks, beating then-No. 21 Nebraska 63-38 on Oct. 6 before a 52-49 win at Indiana last Saturday.
Braxton Miller, who has looked Heisman-worthy much of the season, rushed for 186 yards versus the Cornhuskers and against the Hoosiers, accounted for 360 yards of total offense - including a 67-yard touchdown run and TD passes of 60 and 46 yards to Devin Smith.
Miller enters the week, ranked seventh in the FBS in rushing yards per game at 130.3, and needs 88 yards to become the first Ohio State quarterback to rush for 1,000 in a season.
It's the defense, though, that has Meyer concerned.
In allowing Indiana to rack up its most points in the series, the Buckeyes nearly blew an 18-point lead in the final two minutes. They're giving up an average of 400 yards - 10th in the conference - and their 277.7 passing yards allowed ranks 107th in the nation entering Week 8.
Meyer said if Ohio State wants to be considered among the best teams in the nation, it must improve those numbers.
"The (teams) that get to where the errors are rare are real elite teams. At some point you have to play some really good defense, and they all do," Meyer said. "The top two (in the BCS standings) right now are Alabama and Florida, the two best defenses in America. And that's not by accident."
Missing starting linebacker Etienne Sabino for three more weeks due to a broken leg surely won't help matters, but Meyer isn't about to start making excuses. He vowed to become a bigger part of the defensive game planning, beginning with Monday's meeting with the defensive coaches.
"I have to get more involved and find out what the issues are,'' Meyer said. "I don't think you can pinpoint any one thing right now. I have got to find out. I am going to increase my involvement with the defense.''
It doesn't appear the Buckeyes will be challenged much by a Purdue offense that has sputtered in consecutive blowout defeats.
After averaging 463.5 yards while going 3-1 in non-conference play, the Boilermakers (3-3, 0-2) managed 213 in a 44-13 loss to Michigan on Oct. 6 and 252 while falling 38-14 to Wisconsin last Saturday.
Running back Akeem Shavers hasn't rushed for more than 74 yards in a game all season, and totaled only 19 carries in the last two contests.
"We've just got to come out and start running it better," Shavers said. "We have to have balance on offense. We can't have success if it's 70-30."
Purdue's defense hasn't exactly been great, either. It allowed 645 total yards against Wisconsin - its most since 2006 - and has given up an average of 529.3 yards over its last three games.
The Boilermakers were run over for 467 yards by the Badgers, who came into the game 90th in the nation in rushing. This doesn't bode well for facing an Ohio State team that ranks eighth in run yards at 263.6.
"The result was from our team not being fundamental," coach Danny Hope said after last week's loss. "We weren't able to wrap guys up and were diving at ankles too much. We needed to cover in the back half of the defense and cover better. We weren't able to stop their play action attack and they had guys wide open. That kind of thing is inexcusable."
The Buckeyes have won seven straight home matchups with Purdue, but they've split the last six overall meetings after the Boilermakers' 26-23 overtime win Nov. 12.