Road trips to Purdue have been less than kind to the Ohio State football team in recent years — losses to the Boilermakers in both 2011 and 2009 led junior tight end Jeff Heuerman to call West Lafayette, Ind., a “gray city.”
“It’s not quite Ohio State,” Heuerman said Oct. 28. “It’s kind of a gray city. It’s not the most beautiful city in the country.”
Saturday, though, Ross-Ade Stadium looked just fine for the Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0), as they steamrolled the Boilermakers, 56-0, to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 21 games.
Heuerman played a big role in the win, snagging five passes from junior quarterback Braxton Miller for a team-leading and career-high 116 yards and a 40-yard touchdown — the longest catch of his career — and quite literally attempting to leap over the opposition at one point.
Heuerman became the first Buckeye tight end to record at least 100 yards receiving in a game since Rickey Dudley tallied 106 against Tennessee in the 1996 Citrus Bowl. His success, Heuerman said, was because of the things his teammates brought to the table.
“I’ve said before, having a running back like (senior) Carlos Hyde and a quarterback like Braxton Miller and some of our offensive weapons — (freshman running back) Dontre Wilson, (junior wide receivers) Devin (Smith) and Evan (Spencer), (senior wide receiver Corey) ‘Philly’ Brown — the defenses, they’ve gotta respect all of them,” Heuerman said after the win. “It puts them in a bind sometimes and our offensive coaches do a great job of getting great play calls. Having all those guys being so productive, it puts me in a position where I can make my block easier sometimes. It makes my route easier.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer and tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton have said they would like to see Heuerman and redshirt-sophomore Nick Vannett get more involved in the offense catching the ball. That happened Saturday as both paid a trip to the end zone.
“It wasn’t dictating to (Heuerman). A lot of those, if you really watch the play, it’s just the defense is dictating,” Meyer said. “Heuerman’s an excellent player. We wish he had more touchdowns, more catches, but … the defense dictates where the ball is thrown.”
Miller agreed with his coach, calling what Purdue (1-7, 0-4) was doing on defense “perfect” for the tight ends to get the ball.
“You gotta reward big guys (like Heuerman) like that all the time. They do a hell of a job blocking for the running backs and me as well,” Miller said. “It was a perfect defense for Jeff to get open like that.”
On one of Heuerman’s five catches, instead of running through a Purdue defender, he chose instead to try and leap his 6-foot-6-inch, 252-pound frame over the would-be tackler. It worked, but Heuerman was taken down by another defender shortly after coming to the ground. His quarterback shook his head in dismay when asked about the play after the game.
“I gotta tell the guys to stop doing that,” Miller said with a chuckle. “He’s too big to do that.”
Heuerman thought otherwise, and said his attempt at hurdling the defender was for the betterment of the team.
“(Strength and conditioning) coach Mick (Marotti) told me I looked athletic,” Heuerman said with a laugh. “But I mean, I knew we had to get that third down (conversion) and it was a play where I knew where I was … a lot of guys were coming after my legs and I tried to do a little jump.”
That “little jump” was only a part of his big day in West Lafayette, and Heuerman said he was glad to leave the city with a victory after his team fell there his freshman year.
“Since I’ve been here, the last two years, playing Purdue, neither one of them were real pretty. We were here my freshman year and I remember that, and we knew we had to come in and make a statement with our win,” Heuerman said. “Its a big thing we talked about all week. We got a really focused team right now. It’s really special.”
OSU is off next week, but is scheduled for another Big Ten road game Nov. 16 against Illinois (3-5, 0-4).