About two years ago, neglecting my family's comments that I'd completely lost my mind, I booked and hopped on a last minute flight to Columbus, determined to see the Buckeyes in a victory. Upon landing, a friend and I almost immediately began our road trip to West Lafayette. As I'm sure you all know, and our guest this week will point out, "Purdue Harbor" will not go down as one of my finer road trips, or moments in general as an Ohio State enthusiast. It was most definitely one of the few events of my life I could simply define with a... "WTF?"
I'd have to say, the only thing more irritating to me at that moment, than my beloved 5-1 Buckeyes losing to a 1-5 Purdue team, was probably that choo-choo train noise they've got going over there. I'm pretty sure I asked out loud, several times... and out of extreme frustration, "IS THAT THING FOR REAL?!" It ranked right up there with Penn State's lion roar, on my list of things that were more fitting to Disneyland, than a college football stadium. And, it barely beat out the "I told you so"s I got from my mother upon returning to California.
I'd like to think that the 49-0 payback in Columbus the following season was a more memorable moment in OSU football, as I flew out for that game as well, but we all know that's not true. As we look forward to see how this year's game will play out, I got a chance to speak with Travis Miller, of Hammer and Rails, to get some insight on this Boilermakers squad. I'm just hoping not to hear that choo-choo so many times this Saturday... via the television.
Purdue is currently 4-5 this season. How does this compare to your preseason predictions for this team? What has been a key factor in any differential between your expectations, and reality?
A lot of people expected to be 4-5 right now, with Rice being a win and Illinois being a loss. Obviously, the Rice game hurts a lot, especially with Indiana sitting there at the end of the season looking like a victory and way to get bowl eligible. There was, and still is, no excuse to have lost that game. I think what hurts the most is that in the Notre Dame, Michigan, and Wisconsin games we looked so bad. Against Michigan I really feel two plays turned the whole timbre of the game (a safety and an interception on third down deep in their territory), but against Notre Dame and Wisconsin or defense simply rolled over.
The Penn State game is more of what I expected out of this team. In that game we played well enough to win, but mistakes killed us. We left five points on the field and gave up six more all on special teams mistakes. In a five point loss you can’t do that, but at least we were competitive. I’ll take that over what happened at Wisconsin.
Wisconsin, looking for a confidence boost after back to back, last minute losses, beat Purdue pretty handily, 62-17. What are some of the takeaways from that game that you'd like to see corrected by this Saturday?
You mean other than our defensive coordinator fired for having his unit quit for a second straight game?
Seriously though, I think most people knew Wisconsin was a terrible matchup for us. They’re big. They’re physical. They are as multi-dimensional as any team in the conference. While I was pleased the offense was able to stay with them early on, our defense got manhandled and we never had a chance because we couldn’t stop them. Ohio State is a little different. Aside from last year’s 49-0 blowout, we strangely play the Buckeyes well. We’ve won three of the last five in West Lafayette (2000, 2004, and 2009) and for some reason we play better against you. I can’t explain it.
To me, it is absolutely critical that we fix our issues against the run the last two weeks. No offense, but you guys are so one-dimensional I am comfortable with stacking the box and daring Miller to throw. Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are excellent corners. I trust them to cover your receivers and I don’t mind selling out to stop Hyde, Herron, and Miller on the ground because from what I have seen that is all you have offensively.
Who are some key players, on both sides of the ball, that OSU fans should look out for on Saturday?
Offensively we have been rather dry of late, but if we can get the ground game going we have several backs capable of making a difference. I think I would choose freshman Raheem Mostert here. He occasionally lines up at running back, but he is a speed merchant receiver that is averaging better than 31 yards per kick return. He had some big ones Saturday at Wisconsin that set up two of our scores. It’s not a matter of if he will break one for a TD, but when. He also has 12 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Ricardo Allen had a disastrous game against Notre Dame, but since then has been his expected all-Big Ten self. Just a true sophomore, he already has six career interceptions and has tied some guy named Rod Woodson (you may have heard of him) for the career record for interceptions returned for touchdowns with three. One of those came this year against Minnesota, but he is a next-level cornerback that only lacks size.
Purdue's rushing defense ranks 92nd in the country, do Braxton Miller and OSU's RBs make you nervous for that matchup? Are there any other weakness of Purdue's you are most hoping to not see exposed by the Buckeyes?
I am nervous in the sense that I don’t trust our coaching staff to prepare at all to stop the run, especially when your passing game is so little of a threat. The run defense hasn’t been that bad for most of the year, but the last two weeks it has been nothing short of awful. Against Illinois we held them to 121 yards on the ground.
Another thing is that I secretly do not trust out kickoff return coverage. We’re fine as long as Carson Wiggs is blasting it out of the end zone, but if we allow a return bad things happen. A big return given up against Penn State killed momentum after a touchdown and set up a field goal. We gave up one for a score against Minnesota too.
What are Purdue's biggest strengths that could give Ohio State trouble?
Conversely to the point above, it is Raheem Mostert on kick returns. He was brought in after taking more than 11 kicks back for scores in high school last year and has not disappointed since we put him back on returns. Sure, he won’t see work there unless you score, but he has the ability to break one and negate a given up score in one play.
Also, if we commit to the ground game (which we haven’t been smart enough to do yet) we can mix things up with multiple backs and looks. Ralph Bolden, Akeem Shavers, Reggie Pegram, Akeem Hunt, and Jared Crank are all dangerous backs and each bring something a little different to the table. In my mind we have to get them going even if all it does is keep you guys off the field offensively.
It's no secret that Ohio State has it's fair share of weaknesses this season. Would beating Ohio State this year still hold the same regard as it has in the past?
Absolutely. I don’t care how it happens, but we need to make a bowl game. To do so, we have to split these last two home games and beat Indiana. To be quite honest, I see Ohio State’s one-dimensional offense and I think they are an easier mark than Iowa. That doesn’t necessarily make it an easy win.
Your defense is still as stout as they come and I don’t trust us to slow down your running game, but at least on paper if we can stop the run, force Miller to pass, and make some headway of our own against your defense it is a simple equation.
What are your thoughts and predictions for the game?
I don’t trust our coaching staff. I expect Miller and Herron to run rampant and for us to refuse to make any adjustments to stop them. I also expect your defense to rule the day. It is frustrating because most people know exactly what we need to do to win this game, but we also do not trust our coaching staff to actually do it. Shoot, we can’t even pick a quarterback and stick with him right now.
Do you have any things to do, sights to see, or places to eat for our readers that will be making the trip to West Lafayette for the game?
That I do. I published this a few years ago, but here is my Gameday Guide to West Lafayette. It should have everything you need to know.
Big thanks to Travis for joining us, and sharing his expertise on Purdue and West Lafayette with us. You can read more from Travis and Hammer and Rails by checking out the links below.