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Four downs: Keys to Ohio State-Purdue

10/19/2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they hit the midway point of the Big Ten season with a visit from Purdue on Saturday (TV: ABC, noon).

FIRST DOWN

Perfect imbalance: The offense clearly isn't broke, so there's no need for Ohio State to fix anything with Purdue coming to town. Maybe the Buckeyes would like to show off some improvement in the passing attack and even up the balance with the running game, but there's really no need to bother.

The Boilermakers are among the worst teams in the Big Ten at stopping the rush, and the combination of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the backfield has been a juggernaut over the last two games against defenses that have a lot in common with Purdue. All the Buckeyes should have to do is stick with what has worked on the ground, and Miller figures to go over 1,000 yards for the season and the offense should have another big number up on the scoreboard.

SECOND DOWN

Next level: The Buckeyes appear to be healthier than they were a week ago at linebacker, and the addition of Zach Boren to that unit should continue to be a boost as he gets more comfortable thanks to an extra week of practice and a game under his belt.

But Ohio State still won't have Etienne Sabino, so it will need to keep showing some creativity to patch up some issues at the second level. One such option appears to be letting Nathan Williams do some stand-up work as a hybrid linebacker, a move that would allow developing freshman Noah Spence to help up front with his pass-rushing skills.

THIRD DOWN

Take it back: The Boilermakers have rolled out three different quarterbacks at times, and all of them have thrown at least one interception. Collectively, that group of passers has accounted for nine picks -- and it's about to run into a secondary that has nabbed more errant throws than any other unit in the Big Ten.

Bradley Roby and Travis Howard have become the dangerous threat in the secondary they've long talked about being. While both have had some injury concerns over the last month, they will be looking to stamp their impact on another game that would provide the Buckeyes a measure of redemption after a loss a year ago.

That tandem hooked up for a big touchdown a week ago against Indiana on special teams, but both cornerbacks will be looking for routes to jump to turn the tide on defense.

FOURTH DOWN

Starting blocks: The Buckeyes have seemingly needed a bit of time to find their footing coming out of the locker room. Both the first and the third quarters have left a little something to be desired at times, particularly the former, where Ohio State has only outscored opponents by a single point through seven games.

The margin is a bit wider in the third with a 16-point edge, but if the Buckeyes can impose their will right after coming out of pre-game and halftime meetings, there's a good chance a team that hasn't won yet in the Big Ten and is 3-3 for the season won't be able to answer on the road.