It certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty but on a weekend when upsets once again littered the college football landscape, Ohio State gladly took the “W.”
While the offense sputtered along for most of the afternoon, the OSU defense limited high-powered Purdue to a single field goal and special teams accounted for the game’s only touchdown as the Buckeyes took a 16-3 victory Oct. 11 before 105,378 fans at Ohio Stadium.
The victory allowed OSU (6-1, 3-0) to keep pace in the Big Ten championship race with Michigan State, a 37-20 winner at previously undefeated Northwestern. Penn State was the other team with an undefeated conference record, and the Nittany Lions have an 8 p.m. date in Wisconsin tonight.
Ohio State entered the game 10th in the Big Ten in total offense and didn’t do itself any favors in the contest against the Boilermakers, who came into the game ranked dead last in the conference in total defense. The Buckeyes managed only 222 total yards against a team that had been giving up an average of 435.8 yards in five previous games. It was the second-lowest total offense figure of the season for OSU, which gained only 207 yards in a 35-3 loss at Southern Cal.
The Buckeyes struggled offensively in nearly every facet of the game. They rushed for only 125 yards – last week against Wisconsin, tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells had 168 all by himself – while throwing for a season-low 97.
Against the Boilermakers, Wells accounted for 94 yards on 22 carries and had a personal streak snapped of five consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more.
Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor had his most uneven performance since taking over under center. He managed to complete 10 of 14 passes, but only for those 97 yards, and he was sacked three times and had just 27 yards on 14 carries.
Moreover, the OSU offense seemed out of kilter most of the afternoon. It converted only 4 of 14 third-down opportunities and got into the Purdue red zone only twice during the entire game. On both occasions, the Buckeyes had first-and-goal inside the 10 and came away with only field goals.
OSU head coach Jim Tressel termed his team’s offensive performance as “hit and miss. There were probably moments when you looked good and moments when we weren’t so good. We were not consistent at all. It will be interesting to watch the film.”
Later, Tressel targeted the problem area as he saw it.
“We certainly didn’t control the line of scrimmage,” the coach said, “and that’s where it starts.”
The offense was limited to a trio of field goals – two from senior Ryan Pretorius and one by junior Aaron Pettrey – while special teams scored the game’s only touchdown. OSU cornerback Malcolm Jenkins blocked a punt early in the first quarter and freshman Etienne Sabino returned it 20 yards for the score.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue struggled against a bend-but-don’t-break Ohio State defense. The Boilermakers outgained the Buckeyes with 298 total yards, but never got close to the end zone. Their lone score was a school-record 53-yard field goal by freshman kicker Carson Wiggs.
Purdue QB Curtis Painter completed 23 of 51 pass attempts for 228 yards and an interception while running back Kory Sheets added 67 yards on 20 carries. But the closest the Boilers got to scoring a touchdown was on their final series. After getting to the OSU 26 in the final seconds, Painter misfired on a fourth-and-1 pass and Purdue turned the ball over on downs.
Senior linebacker James Laurinaitis led Ohio State in tackles with 10, and he also broke up two passes. Fellow linebacker Marcus Freeman added nine stops while defensive end Thaddeus Gibson had six stops, including two for loss, as well as a forced fumble. Jenkins also had a big day – in addition to his blocked punt, he had four solo tackles and the game’s only interception.
It was a picture-perfect afternoon in Columbus as the mercury hovered around the 80-degree mark at kickoff. And it looked as if Ohio State would mirror the sunny skies when Jenkins blew in on Purdue punter Chris Summers early in the first quarter and smothered his kick.
The football bounced neatly into the hands of Sabino, who rolled into the end zone untouched with a 20-yard touchdown. Pretorius added the extra point for a 7-0 Buckeye lead at the 11:41 mark of the opening period.
But points were tough to come by after that.
Pretorius added a 24-yard field goal with just 57 seconds to go in the first quarter and then Pettrey came on to boom a 49-yarder with 4:54 remaining in the second period to give the Buckeyes a 13-0 lead at halftime.
Wiggs came on for his 53-yard field goal to cut Purdue’s deficit to 13-3 with 11:03 left in the third quarter before Pretorius closed out the scoring, hitting a 22-yard chip shot at the 14:30 mark of the fourth period.
“Our defense fought all day long and made them take the long path to the goal line and kept them out of the end zone, so we were pleased with that,” Tressel said. “On offense, we didn’t get done nearly as much as we need to get done. But we didn’t turn it over. We all know we have a lot of work that needs to be done but we got the win – a Big Ten win.”
The Buckeyes travel to Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) next week. Game time in East Lansing is 3:30 p.m. Eastern.