The Ohio State Buckeyes' place atop the college football world was short lived as they suffered their first loss of the season last week at Wisconsin, but coach Jim Tressel's club knows the Big Ten title and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game is still a possibility so there is no time to waste as they turn their attention to the Purdue Boilermakers who pay a visit to the Horseshoe in Columbus this Saturday.
Purdue has won its last two games after splitting its first four, and at 2-0 in conference, the Boilermakers are just a game behind first-place Michigan State heading into the weekend. Despite their favorable record, the jury is still out on whether the Boilermakers have what it takes to challenge for the top spot in the Big Ten as their wins have come over the likes of Western Illinois, Ball State, Northwestern and Minnesota.
Head coach Danny Hope had nothing but praise for his team after last week's win over the Golden Gophers, "We thought we'd be 6-0 and ranked high. That was our goal but I'm very excited about where we stand currently. There are only two or three undefeated teams in the Big Ten and the Purdue Boilermakers are one of them."
Purdue hasn't won three straight Big Ten bouts since 2006, and hasn't started 3-0 in conference since 2003.
Ohio State opened the year with six consecutive victories and was ranked No. 1 in the nation last week, but a 31-18 loss to Wisconsin dropped the Buckeyes all the way down to 11th. Coach Tressel's teams have done well over the years following a loss, going 19-2, 12-1 in such games played at Ohio Stadium.
OSU has won 39 of its last 44 Big Ten bouts, and the Buckeyes are one of only three FBS teams to record at least 10 wins in each of the past five seasons.
Ohio State owns a 37-13-2 lead in the all-time series with Purdue, but the Boilermakers won last year's meeting in West Lafayette.
Despite being devastated by injuries, the Purdue offense has performed admirably this season with QB Rob Henry leading the way both with his arm and his legs. Henry, a redshirt freshman, has rushed for 356 yards this season and in last week's win over Minnesota, threw for 163 yards and a TD while rushing for 57 yards and three scores.
RB Dan Dierking isn't far off Henry's pace, having churned out 353 yards and four TDs, and he too had a solid outing against the Golden Gophers, producing 126 yards on the day. Purdue wound up rushing for 230 yards, marking the fifth straight game the team had churned out at least 200 yards on the ground -- its longest streak since 1973.
Defensively, the Boilermakers are led by All-Big Ten lineman Ryan Kerrigan, who has a club-best 28 tackles thus far. Kerrigan, who has 5.5 sacks and has caused three fumbles already this season, leads the conference and ranks second nationally in TFLs with 14.
Purdue has had its difficulty against the pass this season, yielding 220.8 ypg, while its effort against the run has been better with foes averaging 123.5 ypg. Minnesota gained just 65 net rushing yards last week.
Ohio State averages more than 443 yards and 39 points per contest this season. The Buckeyes are led by Terrelle Pryor, who is a mere 90 passing yards shy of 5,000 for his career and 247 yards away from becoming the program's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks. Pryor, 25-4 as the Buckeyes' starter, is coming off a game in which he rushed for 56 yards and threw for 156 yards with an INT. He was sacked three times.
RB Dan Herron scored both of OSU's TDs, finishing with 91 rushing yards on 19 carries, and he has now scored a TD in six straight games. WR Dane Sanzenbacher had six catches for 94 yards.
Tressel, while obviously disappointed with the outcome of last week's game, liked the fight he saw in his team, "I was proud of the way our kids fought back. A lesser bunch in an environment like that may have folded their tents. But to Wisconsin's credit, they stepped up and kept that 10-point cushion and came up with the win."
Wisconsin's John Clay became the first running back in 29 games to rush for 100 yards against the Buckeyes, netting 104 yards and two TDs. Jermale Hines was the only OSU defender to reach double digits in tackles (10) against the Badgers.
Despite the recent setback, the Buckeyes are allowing just 16.0 ppg while yielding a Big Ten-low 251.1 total ypg -- of which only 93.7 ypg come on the ground. They lead also the Big Ten in turnover margin (+1.43).
Expect an ornery Ohio State bunch to put an end to Purdue's perfect run in conference, dominating both sides of the ball in what should be a comfortable victory in front of the hometown faithful.