In what was supposed to be a hostile environment at Ross-Ade Stadium, Ohio State felt right at home in a 23-7 victory at Purdue.
Boilermaker fans were encouraged to wear black clothing in an effort to “black out the Buckeyes” in a primetime, nationally-televised game. However, approximately one-third of the crowd were dressed in scarlet and gray, and by the midway point of the third quarter, fans could be heard spelling out O-H-I-O like they do at Ohio Stadium.
“I don’t know if it was a blackout,” junior quarterback Todd Boeckman said. “More like a red-and-blackout or something.”
Ohio State was in command from the start, racing out to a 14-0 lead just more than 10 minutes into the first quarter. Purdue won the opening coin toss and elected to receive, but the Buckeyes forced a punt on the Boilermakers’ opening drive. The Buckeyes took over on their own 13-yard line and marched 87 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 26-yard touchdown reception by Ray Small. After a Purdue three-and-out, OSU added to its lead five plays later on a 6-yard scoring strike to Brian Hartline.
That silenced the black-clad crowd, which was never a factor after the Buckeyes built their early lead.
“To have 20, 25,000 people away from home, that’s probably a third of the people,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “It’s incredible. It was that way in Washington. It’ll be that way, I don’t know where we go next but it’ll be that way. The only place it won’t be is Penn State and Michigan because we can’t get the tickets.”
Purdue’s vaunted offense never got going against OSU’s defense. The Boilermakers’ running game had minus net years rushing, forcing quarterback Curtis Painter to throw the ball 60 times. He completed 31 passes for 268 yards but rarely found top target Dorien Bryant. Ohio State’s secondary held the receiver to only two receptions for minus-4 yards. Bryant entered the game as the Big Ten’s top receiver and the leader in all-purpose yardage.
Freshman defensive back Chimdi Chekwa led the defense with a career-high 10 tackles (all solos). Jenkins added nine stops, eight of which were unassisted, while junior linebacker Marcus Freeman recorded seven tackles, including six solos. Forty-four of OSU’s 52 tackles were solo stops.
While the Buckeye defense starred under the lights, Ohio State’s offense suffered from consistency problems. Boeckman entered the contest at the Big Ten’s passing leader, but the junior threw a season-high three interceptions against the Boilermakers to go with 200 yards and two touchdowns. Each of Boeckman’s interceptions came deep in Purdue territory - at the Boilermaker 28-, 2- and 2-yard lines - and prevented the score from becoming even more lopsided.
Chris and Maurice Wells led the OSU rushing attack with a combined 159 yards on 33 carries. Chris Wells led all rushers with 85 yards on 18 carries before sitting out the fourth quarter after tweaking a left ankle injury. Maurice Wells ran the ball 15 times for 74 yards.
Small had a career night for Ohio State, hauling in six passes for 70 yards - both career highs - with one touchdown. Brian Robiksie added six catches for 64 yards, and Hartline netted four receptions for 61 yards and a TD.
Junior kicker Ryan Pretorius connected on three field goals for the Buckeyes on kicks of 44, 39 and 21 yards.
Purdue avoided the shutout when Painter threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jeff Lindsay with 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, Ohio State stymied a Purdue offense that was ranked No. 10 in the nation coming into the game.
The victory improved Ohio State’s record to 6-0 at the midway point of the season - one that was supposed to be a rebuilding campaign. The Buckeyes moved up to No. 3 in the both Top 25 polls following the win, thanks in part to Stanford’s upset win over No. 2 USC that night.
“Coming in, we knew we had a young team,” Freeman said. “We were ranked, what, 20-something? Fifteenth? We didn’t know we were going to be that high quite this fast, but we’re going in expecting to win every game and we’re on our path to do that.”