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The Purdue Boilermakers knew they had a good game in them somewhere, and they found it for Ohio State, outplaying a stumbling, bumbling Buckeye team Saturday afternoon in West Lafayette, 26-18. OSU committed five turnovers, including two fumbles and two interceptions by Terrelle Pryor, and the Jim Tressel offensive scheme that sputtered a week ago in victory, bottomed out in a humbling defeat.
Purdue (2-5, 1-2) broke open a close game with two 3rd quarter touchdown drives after grabbing the momentum and a 9-7 lead with a field goal as the first half ended. The Buckeyes would not lead again, although their offense showed a brief 4th quarter spark. The faint hope of a game-tying TD and 2-point conversion ended...fittingly...on a penalty with less than two minutes remaining.
With their unbeaten Big Ten mark, their four game win streak, and their Big Ten road winning streak all history, Ohio State (5-2, 3-1) has bigger problems to contemplate. The Buckeye offense at the moment is beyond struggling. It is in shambles. And this was not Iowa or Penn State...it was Purdue.Plus...it turns out the defense can't score two touchdowns every week.
The Buckeyes didn't look like a top 20 team on this day, let alone top 10, and the second straight brutal outing by Pryor has Buckeye Nation starting to at least whisper the previously unspeakable....that in the end, the Terrelle Pryor project might not go out in glory and confetti and cut-glass footballs, as they had imagined.
Across the field, Purdue quarterback Joey Elliot was the clear MVP for the Boilers. The senior was just quick enough to avoid the Buckeye rush (one sack) and just accurate enough to move the chains when it counted. He finished 31 of 50 for 281 yards, with 2 TD's and 1 interception. Elliott led an 8-play, 67-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter, hitting Aaron Valentin with a 15-yard TD pass to give Purdue a 16-7 lead. And Buckeye turnovers made several other Purdue possessions a lot easier than that.
Giving it All Away
Pryor started the charity early. He was sacked on the game's second play, and fumbled the ball away to Purdue on the OSU 20. The play featured the first of many whiffs by Buckeye offensive tackles on Purdue pass rushers on this day. After the defense held Purdue to a field goal, the Bucks responded with their best offensive push of the day. Brandon Saine had a run of 20 yards and a pass reception for another 40, as OSU moved quickly to the Purdue 6-yard line. Pryor ran it in from there on one play, and it looked like he had put the fumble behind him.
While Purdue was spending the first half coming up with no points on their extended drives, the Buckeyes kept handing them field position. A muffed punt by Ray Small resulted in the second Purdue field goal, and it was 7-6 late in the second quarter. At that point it looked like an extremely ugly first half by Ohio State would at least result in a slim lead at halftime. But even that was not to be.
Taking over at their own 31 after a 25-second(that's right)OSU possession, with just 26 seconds left in the half, Elliott completed two quick throws and Carson Wiggs nailed a 55-yard field goal as the second quarter expired...and old "Mo" changed uniforms. Wiggs was 4 of 5 on field goals, missing only from 52 yards after an 11-play 1st quarter drive.
With Purdue holding a 16-7 lead after taking the second half kickoff and driving for a score, the teams exchanged punts, and then swapped interceptions. Pryor stepped up in the pocket and lofted a long throw that Brandon King picked off deep in Purdue territory, but OSU cornerback Devon Torrence picked off Elliott on the second Boilermaker play, and the Bucks were back in good shape at their own 39. Prosperity wouldn't last.
Without picking up a first down, Pryor gave the ball right back to Purdue, as King again jumped a quick sideline pattern, diving for his second interception, and this time Purdue would cash it in. Elliott drove them from the OSU 47 in for the decisive touchdown, an inside wide receiver screen that Valentin took in from 23 yards out.
Yes, the Buckeyes scored a late TD, and nearly got the ball back, down eight, with 1:53 on the clock, but for Doug Worthington snagging the face mask on a tackle that would have otherwise forced a Purdue punt. But this game was essentially over in the 3rd quarter with the Buckeyes down by three scores at 23-7, and without a clue on offense.
Making a Run
Pryor did get the 4th quarter started with two big plays, a 38-yard completion to Ray Small up the right sideline on a double move pattern, and then a 35 yard rush on an option down to the Purdue 3-yard line. But on three cracks at it from point blank range, two runs and an incompletion by Pryor came up short, and Tressel, down 16 points in the 4th quarter, opted for the field goal.
The points generated by that rather strange decision were negated almost immediately, when Purdue's Wiggs nailed a 49-yarder less than two minutes later, pushing the Boilermaker lead back out to 16 at 26-10. From that point, the hole the Buckeyes had put themselves in was to prove too deep.
Pryor (17 of 31, 221 yds, 2 int, 1 TD) got the short passing game going with DeVier Posey (9 catches, 97 yds, 1 TD) on a touchdown drive midway through the 4th quarter, and a successful two-point conversion got the Buckeyes within eight points at the 7:14 mark. But a 10-play drive by OSU ended on a Pryor incompletion on 4th and 14 at the Purdue 38 with 2:48 to play, and that was to be the last chance they'd have to tie the game.
Pryor's Progress and Tressel's Trouble
This effort by the Buckeyes was miserable on lots of levels, and numerous OSU players had tough days, notably the young offensive tackles, who made life stressful for Pryor, harassed as he was all day by a blitzing, hard rushing Boilermaker defense. It should also be said that Purdue played an inspired and hustling game throughout, and should be congratulated for a great effort and a great win.
But there can be no sugar-coating the hard fact. Pryor looked awful.
He did have a couple of the customary gliding, striding runs that have become his signature contributions to the offense. There was even a good throw or two in there somewhere. But it would be a major understatement to say that the sophomore's development as a quarterback hasn't gone as well as the OSU coaches, and of course their fans, had hoped. And that lack of development is a failure of coaching as much or more than it is an individual failing by Pryor.
For the last two games at least, opposing defensive coordinators have shut down Jim Tressel's offensive scheme...and make no mistake, Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel are joined at the hip where this OSU team's offensive fortunes are concerned...and the signal-caller is far from the only issue. I got no sense watching this OSU offense play their last two games that a change at the quarterback position would make everything all right.
It's a moot point anyway, because there is no young stud quarterback waiting in the wings to be the next option. Joe Bauserman is a good guy and a capable backup, but Tressel cast his lot with Pryor for three years, and let QB recruiting lapse somewhat in the last two classes in anticipation of the Pryor Era. So TP's the man for at least another year and a half, for better or for worse.
And the systemic problems with the Ohio State offense aren't going anywhere either. Tressel is thede factooffensive coordinator, and he'll be at Ohio State as long as he wants to be. So Pryor's progress...or lack of it...and his ultimate success or failure as the Ohio State quarterback, will be forever intertwined with Tressel's troubles as an offensive coordinator. Joined at the hip...for the duration.
Against Purdue, it seemed that the more Pryor struggled, the more Tressel doubled down on him. Saine helped with a couple of big plays in the first drive, but the play-calling inexplicably shifted away from the running backs after that, and Saine had just six more carries in the game...and no other OSU running back had a carry. Ohio State rushed 28 times in the game, for a total of 66 net yards on the ground, but Pryor had 21 of those rushes (averaging 1.6 yds...with a long of 35).
How long do you suppose it's been since an Ohio State team had all their running backs combine for justseven carriesin a game? I have no idea, but the offensive game plan seemed to be limited to Pryor runs or Pryor passes, the former something the defense was set up to prevent, and the latter something he has yet to prove he's very good at.
As the straw that stirs the drink, Pryor has a bit more than 1/11th of the responsibility for how the offense performs. But he is also playing in an offensive system that has to stretch the word's definition to qualify as a "system". Right now at least, it's a mess, and Pryor is no more culpable than his coaches.
This is a deflating loss for lots of reasons, not least that it comes at a point on the schedule that was supposed to be the first game of the "soft" portion of the slate. Much tougher tests lie ahead, and undefeated Iowa has taken charge of the conference race. Although I went along with the conventional wisdom on this one and talked myself into predicting a routine OSU victory, this loss doesn't really come as too much of a surprise.
The warning signs were out there for all to see in the Wisconsin game a week ago, when the offense managed just 10 points at home, but I for one refused to admit that the trend might well carry over to Purdue. And everyone could see all week how hungry this Boilermaker outfit was for a win to prove they were better than any old 1-5 team. They hadn't proven it though, and many of us doubted they would....not this week anyway.
But this loss or one like it was inevitable. These Buckeyes have an outstanding defense right now, and an offense that remains a big fat question mark every week. Seven games into the season, they are still trying to figure out what kind of offense they want to be.
One thing's for sure. Wherever this team is headed, Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor are going there together. Because they're too far down the road to turn back, and there's nobody warming up in the bullpen.