Playing on the road against Purdue has not been an easy task for the Ohio State football team in recent years. Purdue has won three of the last four games between the two at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., including the teams’ two most recent meetings there, in 2011 and 2009.
OSU is heavily favored to reverse that trend with a win when the Buckeyes play the Boilermakers Saturday.
While OSU (8-0, 4-0) has not lost a game since the final game of the 2011 season, Purdue (1-6, 0-3) has not won a game yet this season against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
The Boilermakers have lost five straight games since defeating Indiana State, a Football Championship Subdivision program, Sept. 7 by a score of 20-14.
Even with its struggles so far this season, Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said he has been “very pleased” with his team’s effort.
“Obviously we’re not where we want to be on the win-loss column, but I’m not disgruntled with our football team on how they’ve prepared and how they’ve stayed together,” Hazell said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of teams that will go in different directions at this point in time and that has not happened with us.”
Hazell is in his first year as Purdue’s coach, but he is not new to the matchup or the challenges OSU has faced in beating Purdue on the road. During his years as an assistant coach at OSU from 2004-10, OSU only won one of its three games played in West Lafayette.
While Hazell said he has not ignored Purdue’s recent success at home against OSU in preparation for Saturday’s game, he said it has not changed the way he looks at this year’s contest.
“Every team has its own separate identity,” Hazell said. “It’s about this year, this team and our preparation here.”
Hazell is not the only coach on Purdue’s staff with OSU ties. Marcus Freeman, who played linebacker for the Buckeyes from 2004-08 and was a graduate assistant at OSU in 2010, said he expects Saturday to be a “little bit different” coaching against his former team.
“I love everything about Ohio State, but on Saturday, it’s about doing what it takes to compete to win,” Freeman said. “It’s not fair for me as a coach to not have my guys as prepared as they can to be successful on Saturday.”
If Purdue is going to find a way to end their five-game losing skid and OSU’s 20-game winning streak, preparation and execution will be key, Freeman said.
“You can’t do the same things you’ve done for the first six or seven weeks and think the results are going to change,” Freeman said. “So we’ve been on (the players) hard, they got to work harder and then on Saturday, you got to go out and execute. You have to execute the game plan and you have to do your job every single time you’re in the game, and that’s how you become successful.”
Purdue has made a number of changes in its effort to turn around. One of those changes came Oct. 2, when freshman quarterback Danny Etling was named starting quarterback.
Etling said it is important for the Boilermakers to make a “big step forward” this week.
“This is a big week for us,” Etling said. “I think every week’s a big week, but we really need to go out there and play well, and we just need to keep getting better each week.”
Etling said it has been a challenge to prepare for the OSU defense because it does a good job of masking its play call.
“They really do a great job of hiding what they’re going to be doing until the last possible second,” Etling said. “They’re a very well-coached defense, that’s the best way I can put it. We’re going to have a tough matchup with them but I think that we’re getting coached really well and we have a great gameplan.”
After allowing 40 or more points in four of its seven games this season, Purdue has also been making changes on the defensive side of the ball. The Boilermakers switched from a 4-3 defense at the beginning of the season to a 3-4 alignment prior to their Oct. 12 game against Nebraska, Meyer said, which makes the Purdue defense a difficult one to prepare for.
“I see a team that’s kind of searching for an identity, and I think they’ve kind of found it on defense,” Meyer said Monday. “They’re all over the place, blitz-a-thon, they weren’t that way the first five games.”
Purdue’s new-look defense will be tasked with attempting to slow down an OSU offense that ranks fifth nationally in scoring offense.
Hazell said OSU has “four major weapons” on its offense: junior quarterback Braxton Miller, senior running back Carlos Hyde, senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown and junior wide receiver Devin Smith.
“Their offense stretches the field both horizontally and vertically,” Hazell said.
Brown, who worked with Hazell when he was OSU’s wide receivers coach in 2010, said he respects the job Hazell has done so far.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around,” Brown said Wednesday. “Obviously you can’t turn a program around in one year. So it’ll take him a couple years, and I think they’ll be back.”
Freeman said the OSU offense is “really hard to stop.”
“The more you watch it, the more you aggravated at it and frustrated and you get mad as a coach,” Freeman said. “It makes you think exactly how you’re going to try to stop all these guys, ‘cause they have many threats and when you stop one thing, I think they got another thing that comes open. It’s going to be a huge task for our defense.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for noon.