Andy Gottesman / The Lantern
Ohio State’s season-long offensive struggles finally caught up with them Saturday in a 26-18 road loss to Purdue.
The defense kept the score within reach until late in the fourth quarter when a pass by quarterback Terrelle Pryor missed its target and OSU’s hopes for a win were all but gone.
After suffering the biggest upset loss of his nine-year career at OSU, coach Jim Tressel acknowledged offensive miscues were a major factor in the Buckeyes’ loss.
“Any time you don’t do what you hope to do for your group, which starts with not taking care of the ball, you’re very concerned,” he said. “You need to do whatever you can to seize the tempo of the game.”
Pryor credited the Boilermaker defense for much of the Buckeyes’ offensive ineptitude.
“Every week you got to fear the underdog, and the underdog took care of us today,” Pryor said. “They did a real good job hiding stuff that I didn’t see at all. My hat’s off to them. They played a great game, there’s not much to say.”
Turnovers plagued OSU from the very start. On the second play from scrimmage, Pryor was being dragged down in the backfield when the ball popped loose and Purdue picked it up, taking over inside the Buckeyes’ 20-yard line.
The team would respond, though.
After holding the Boilermakers to a field goal, the Buckeyes took the lead on a six-yard Pryor touchdown run. On Purdue’s next possession, the OSU defense forced and recovered a fumble of their own.
It would be the last time the Buckeyes would enjoy any sort of momentum.
Senior receiver Ray Small fumbled a punt that resulted in a Purdue field goal. Pryor lost 21 yards and the ball one play, after an OSU touchdown was called back due to holding. And Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs nailed a 55-yard field goal to end the half.
With that, OSU had lost the lead, and they would never get it back.
Junior linebacker Brian Rolle said that it was frustrating watching the offense struggle while the defense performed well early in the game.
“But we know that the offense isn’t always going to play well and the defense isn’t always going to play well,” Rolle continued.
After the game, his frustration was still evident.
“I haven’t felt like this in a long time, maybe since high school,” he said. “They came out here and they wanted it more than us.”
Things didn’t go any better for the Buckeyes in the third quarter. Two Pryor-thrown interceptions combined with two Joey Elliot-to-Aaron Valentin touchdowns for Purdue put the Buckeyes down 23-7 headed to the fourth.
A Pryor run took the ball to the one-yard line and it seemed as though OSU might have had a chance to cut the lead in half. But a goal-line stand by the Boilermaker defense, and a controversial decision by the OSU coaching staff, forced the Buckeyes to settle for only a field goal.
“We talked about [the decision to kick the field goal instead of go for the touchdown] a little bit,” Tressel said. “But you look at the percent chances of getting fourth a goal from the three and a half yard line versus adding some points and keeping the heat on. … There was plenty of time left.”
OSU was able to put the ball into the end zone midway through the fourth quarter on Pryor’s 25-yard pass to sophomore DeVier Posey. After a successful two-point conversion on a Pryor run and a defensive stop, the score was 26-18. Despite the five turnovers and four sacks, the Buckeyes had the ball, down only one possession, late in the game.
But after driving into Purdue territory, the fifth and final sack by the Purdue defense would prove to be costly as it pushed the offense into a fourth-and-long situation. Pryor’s final throw fell incomplete, sealing the Buckeyes fate.
While he threw for 221 yards and was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher, the stat which will stand out most in Pryor’s box score is the four turnovers. Right or wrong, the OSU quarterback shouldered the blame for the upset loss.
“I’m going to keep putting it on my back,” he said. “Some people made some mistakes but it still has to do with me communicating or something like that.”
Tressel insisted after the game that there was never any consideration of benching Pryor for backup Joe Bauserman.
Despite the disappointing loss, OSU does still have a chance to go to a BCS bowl game. If they win out they will, at worst, tie for the conference championship and would hold head-to-head wins over conference powers Penn State and Iowa.
“The true test of a team is how you handle difficult situations,” Tressel said. “We have no more margin for error if we want to be the champions.”
The Buckeyes will try and get back in the Big Ten hunt as they return home to face conference foe Minnesota next Saturday at noon.