COLUMBUS — With the second College Football Playoff rankings scheduled to be revealed late Tuesday evening, No. 5 Ohio State’s position as a near-lock to make the playoffs barring any future losses is expected to be strengthened following No. 3 Michigan State’s upset loss this past weekend.
But before Ohio State can turn its attention to the closing two-game stretch that has long been expected to define their season, they must first deal with the very team responsible for their likely jump into Tuesday’s top four in the Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue travels to Columbus on Saturday one week after taking down their second top-five team of the season with a 40-29 victory over previously-unbeaten Michigan State. In October, the Boilermakers held then-No.2 Iowa to just seven points en route to a 17-point beatdown of the Hawkeyes.
The two upsets have shaken up the national title race while subsequently earning Purdue the nickname of “Spoilermakers” from fans in West Lafayette who are hoping another upset is in store this weekend.
While Purdue is no stranger to spoiling previous Ohio State seasons, it will be tasked with doing so on Saturday without the element of surprise given the triumphs this season. During his Tuesday press conference, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said his team has taken every game of the second half equally as serious given the implications of any misstep.
“When we went into the bye week, we looked at all six (remaining) games. We usually don’t look ahead but that’s an opportunity to do that. We knew what this stretch was going to be like, and we have respect for everybody,” Day said. “We also know that it just takes one game and you’re out, and we’ve been saying that. It doesn’t matter how it looks, we gotta win. If we keep winning then a lot of good things are going to happen.”
Asked about Purdue’s showing against the best teams on its schedule this season, Day pointed out that Ohio State won’t be the only team with a lot to play for in Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
“Our guys understand that. I mean, (Purdue is) tied for first in the (Big Ten) West (Division),” he said. “They’re 4-2 (in the conference) with the rest of those guys. It’s a four-way tie, so they’re playing for a chance to go to Indy. They certainly have our attention. They have very, very good players and a good scheme.”
Purdue enters the game with a red-hot passing attack that ranks eighth in the country in average passing yards per game. Against Michigan State, Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 536 yards and three touchdowns. Junior wide receiver and soon-to-be All-American David Bell was on the other end of 11 of O’Connell’s completions, collecting 217 yards and a touchdown in the process.
For the season, Bell has already caught 64 passes and five touchdowns while surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving mark with 1,003 yards.
Day said of the challenges his defense will face, “They have a very good passing offense. I think the quarterback is excellent, and coach (Jeff) Brohm does an excellent job. Bell is a really talented receiver, but they have other guys too that are very good … They are certainly creative about schematics and different things that they do, so it’s going to be a really important week of work so that we’re prepared. Our guys have been playing at a high level, but this is a new challenge. We really haven’t gone against a style of offense like this.”
Ohio State will be looking to reverse some troubling trends that have shown up the past two weeks, particularly on offense. A sporadic running game and issues with finishing drives in the end zone made for far more competitive games against Penn State and Nebraska than most expected, something Day and the Buckeyes will need to fix in order to remain in the playoff discussion.
However, while those outside the program may voice their concerns with the manner in which Ohio State is currently winning, Day said on Tuesday that surviving the November schedule unscathed is the only end game his team is playing toward, regardless of what that looks like.
“Our number one goal is to win, and that’s what matters to us,” Day said. “Certainly, we want to play at a high level, and we have a standard that we play to. And if we don’t do that, then we come back and try to get it fixed. But the number one goal is to win.
“College football could maybe be the only sport in the world where it matters sometimes how you win. We can’t get caught up in that because when you start getting caught up in that, that’s how you lose. If that means we have to win by one point, we win by one point. If we have to apologize for winning by nine points on the road at Nebraska against a really good team, then life’s pretty good.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 12 p.m., and it will be nationally televised on ABC.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.