COLUMBUS, Ohio – Neither Ohio State's Urban Meyer nor Purdue's Danny Hope can trust their defenses these days.
As a result, no one has any idea what's going to happen when the teams meet on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Meyer, proponent of the high-scoring, devil-may-care spread offense, is not happy when his team is forced to outscore an opponent.
"Oh, we can't have that. That's not going to happen," he said. "Do we want to win 48-47? We want to win, but no, Ohio State is going to be a defensive school. Absolutely."
These days, about the only thing the Buckeyes and Boilermakers are defensive about is the way they're playing defense.
The Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) have escaped with wins over Nebraska and Indiana the past two weeks while surrendering 43.5 points and 458 yards a game. Over that same span, the Boilermakers (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) have been dinged for an average of 41 points and 527 yards in losses to Michigan and Wisconsin, both at home.
"The last two weeks we have not played very well defensively, and the numbers speak for themselves," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "This past week, we were misaligned and misassigned some, and we tackled very poorly. It was the worst we've tackled around here in a long time."
After a week of being openly doubted by fans and media, neither defense is feeling very good about itself.
"It's very difficult looking on TV and seeing people talking bad about your defense," Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby said. "I personally took it to heart a little bit. I feel like it's going to give us more reason to go out there and dominate our opponent."
The big question now is, will they respond to the criticism or are their underlying problems that can't be easily solved?
It's gotten so bad at Ohio State, due to injuries and bad play, that starting fullback Zach Boren was moved last week to linebacker. With just a day or two of learning the defense, he led the team in tackles. What does that say about Boren? About the defense?
As for the Boilermakers, they've been hurt by injuries as well on both sides of the ball. When they were 3-1 — and the only loss was a last-minute one to No. 5 Notre Dame — they were getting points in the AP Top 25.
But the past two weeks have left the Boilermakers' defense 97th (of 120 major-college programs) against the run (200 yards per game) and 76th in total defense (412 yards a game, just 12 more than the Buckeyes are giving up).
Meyer blamed the fat defensive averages on the Boilermakers having to go up against two of the Big Ten's biggest offensive stars: Michigan's Denard Robinson (235 yards rushing) and Wisconsin's Montee Ball (247 yards, 3 TDs).
"I saw the scores and the stats but then you watch the video and even our coaches are, like, 'Where are these yards?'" Meyer said. "What it is, you see Montee Ball and Denard Robinson breaking off some big runs against them."
Purdue has won two of the last three meetings (including an Ohio State win in 2011 that was later vacated). So it's not as if Ohio State, which is a 19-point favorite this time, has been controlling the series.
A year ago, backup quarterback Robert Marve was the star for the Boilermakers. He came on in relief of Caleb TerBush to throw an interception in the final minute of regulation that cost Purdue a possible win, but then scored on a keeper in overtime for a 26-23 victory.
TerBush, who led his team to an early 10-0 lead last year, was careful when asked about Ohio State's defense.
"They have given up those points in those games, but it's still a good defense and it's still Ohio State," he said. "I'm sure they're not too happy about getting beat (at Purdue) last year. I guarantee you that. They have a new coach, a new team. We just have to go out and take care of business."
Roby hasn't forgotten the losses the last two times the Buckeyes have played in Ross-Ade Stadium. He made it sound as if the Buckeyes were flat because of the environment.
"Their whole atmosphere at Purdue is just, not that many fans, the fields aren't all that nice and things like that," he said. "It's kind of a gloomy type of atmosphere. Playing at Ohio State you're kind of used to playing the big games, big crowds."
With the scene shifting to Ohio Stadium, Hope is calling on his team to summon the toughness it has not shown recently.
"Winning is never easy," he said. "We've had to fight our way out many times in the past. So obviously maybe the experience that we've had can aid our efforts some. This is nothing new. This is big-time football. This is Big Ten football. It's competitive, and it's no place for the faint-hearted or the squeamish."
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