By Michael Marot
INDIANAPOLIS: Urban Meyer doesn’t need any reminders about what it feels like to lose.
He also has no intention of discussing it with his players. At this point, there’s really no need.
The Buckeyes head to Purdue today with a 20-game winning streak. Meyer hasn’t lost in 35 months, the Buckeyes haven’t lost in almost 22 months and Ohio State won’t face another team with a winning record until traveling to Michigan at the end of November.
That doesn’t mean Meyer or his players can take anything for granted this weekend — certainly not if they want to continue building their case to play for a national title.
“We coach very hard, and Lou Holtz said it best: ‘You coach hard when you win.’ When you lose, it’s very fragile and we’re coaching you to come out to practice and you are like, my gosh, you act like the offense is the worst in the country, especially on Tuesdays,” Meyer said. “They’re Bloody Tuesdays around here for a reason.”
The only thing getting bloody lately, though, is Buckeyes’ opponents.
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) has appeared to be on cruise control, leading the Big Ten in scoring (47.2 points), sacks (20) and turnover margin (plus-8) as it drives toward a second consecutive perfect season.
Purdue (1-6, 0-3) is on a five-game losing streak and ranked 119th out of 123 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring (13.7). Plus, the Boilermakers are allowing the second-most points in the conference (34.4).
But Meyer knows there’s no reason to overlook a team that has beaten the Buckeyes three of the past four times these teams have met at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The message is clear.
“Going into Purdue is — I was there my freshman year and it didn’t turn out how we wanted it to,” tight end Jeff Heuerman said. “There’s a lot of guys on this team who remember that, in my class. This week is a big week for us. We’ve got something to prove going back to Purdue.”
That’s not good news for a reeling team that has already made a midseason quarterback change and a midseason change from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.
Here are five things to watch today:
Meyer’s 20-0 start is the best in college football since Larry Coker opened his career at Miami with 24 consecutive victories — a number he could potentially match in the regular-season finale at Ann Arbor. Meyer hasn’t lost since Nov. 27, 2010, against Florida State, and the Buckeyes haven’t lost since January 2012 against Florida.
This is not how Purdue quarterback Danny Etling envisioned starting his career — replacing Rob Henry in a loss to Northern Illinois, getting blown out 44-7 against Nebraska and shut out at Michigan State. Now, after a second bye week, Etling has a chance to show what’s improved. The problem: Purdue’s true freshman is about to face the Big Ten’s best team behind an unproven offensive line.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the most dynamic players in college football. Today, Miller will have a chance to show just how versatile he is. The weary Boilermakers’ defense is allowing 192.7 yards rushing per game and has the third-worst pass efficiency defense in the Big Ten. That makes Miller a true double threat.
In this era of high-scoring offenses, Purdue is actually going the opposite direction. The Boilermakers haven’t produced more than 24 points in a game this season. Since hitting the 24-point mark for the second time, in last month’s blowout loss to Northern Illinois, Purdue has seen its point total drop from 24 to seven to zero. It can’t get any worse than that against Ohio State. But the Boilers need dozens of points this weekend to have any chance of upsetting the Buckeyes.
Before taking the Kent State job, Darrell Hazell spent his final six years as an assistant coach at Ohio State. Though he often credits former coach Jim Tressel and Ohio State for molding him into the coach he is today, Hazell will spend today trying to beat his former team. Strangely, his tenure at KSU started the same way — with a 1-6 mark. He followed that by winning 15 of his last 19 games. He’ll need a win today to duplicate that turnaround.