Rebuilding? Not these Buckeyes
Ohio State employs familiar formula to ascend in polls
Posted: Sunday October 7, 2007 1:25AM; Updated: Monday October 8, 2007 6:31PM
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's campus store sold some 4,000 glow-in-the-dark "Boiler Blackout" T-shirts in anticipation of Saturday night's clash with Ohio State. But under the lights of Ross-Ade Stadium, it was scarlet and gray that dominated the game and the record 65,497 in attendance.
No. 23 Purdue wilted in the unseasonable Midwestern heat as the fourth-ranked Buckeyes rolled, turning what was billed as the first true test for the Big Ten's last remaining unbeatens into a 23-7 formulaic cakewalk.
It was again the defense -- which allowed 272 yards to a team that came in averaging 495.8 yards and didn't allow a touchdown until the final 10 seconds -- the running game -- Chris and Maurice Wells -- and an improving passing game that extended Ohio State's regular-season winning streak to 24 games.
It's also a formula that, in a season where teams with national championship hopes are falling faster than contestants on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, has seen Ohio State rise from preseason No. 11 to No. 4. And with USC's stunning loss to Stanford, that ranking should climb higher still.
"It's surprising to move up that quick," cornerback Malcom Jenkins said. "Everybody started to get upset, last week was huge for us to move up the polls. It all comes down to us controlling our destiny. From here on out we can't lose any games. We have to focus on everybody like it's Michigan."
Yes, those same Buckeyes that were on the receiving end of an embarrassing loss to Florida in last year's title game are in contention once again.
Well, not exactly those same Buckeyes.
The defense had to replace five starters, but still has Bronko Nagurski-winning linebacker James Laurinaitis. Antonio Pittman was gone at running back, but Chris Wells proved capable when he shared carries last season. What was unknown was the passing game, where Ohio State had to replace a stiff-armed bronze-trophy winning quarterback and a wide receiver that was one of the most explosive players in the nation.
Todd Boeckman and receivers Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline and Roy Small aren't going to make anyone forget Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., (or Anthony Gonzalez for that matter) but two of this team's biggest question marks coming into 2007 are becoming all the more reason why we have to consider this team as a legitimate national title contender in this topsy-turvy season.
Boeckman -- a 23-year-old fifth-year junior, who coach Jim Tressel quipped during a recent press is "Older than I am" -- isn't the double-threat Smith was, but he's been effective in his first six games as a starter. He's thrown for 1,169 yards and 14 touchdowns, completing 65.7 percent of his passes. He's been lauded for sound judgment, like the perfect strike he threw at the left pylon in hitting Small on a 26-yard TD, though he did throw three uncharacteristic picks at Purdue.
"I think although he hasn't played a ton, his experience as far as his age and his poise are playing huge dividends right now," said Hartline, who had four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown. "He's not really getting happy feet. He'll stand in there and take a hit. He's doing a phenomenal job. He's probably one of the best quarterbacks in the country if not the best as far as I'm concerned."
Robiskie, who was the third receiver behind first-round NFL picks Ginn and Gonzalez last season, has blossomed into a legitimate deep threat with big-play capabilities (i.e. his circus catch against Minnesota, while the speedy Small and Hartline bring depth to the position.