Ohio St.-Purdue Preview
Almost every major college football team burns with the central goal of playing for a national championship.
That's also true at Ohio State, only with a twist.
Coach Urban Meyer says a more realistic and reachable goal is to merely be in a position to play for all the marbles, and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes open their November stretch run with a game Saturday at struggling Purdue.
"We don't go into the season saying we want to win this one, or this one. If you look around there's not a bunch of goals," he said Monday. "Our goal is to win the national championship, but we don't put that down. There's too many variables involved."
Instead of reaching for an all-or-nothing prize, Meyer and the Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) hope to head into the stretch run of the season with championships on the line.
"It's always the same: To get to November and then let's go try to find a way to win a championship," Meyer said. "Because there's injuries and issues you have to deal with. So that's our focus."
Ohio State's season may not have traced the line a lot of Ohio State fans or insiders had plotted before the season even got going.
Due to injuries and suspensions, it seems the cast of characters has changed each week.
Yet the Buckeyes enter their final four games riding a 20-game winning streak and with a world of possibilities.
It's been so long since they lost that they have to think hard what it felt like.
"It has been a few years. What, the Gator Bowl was the last loss?" tight end Jeff Heuerman said, referring to a 24-17 defeat to Florida on Jan. 2, 2012, that capped a dreadful 6-7 campaign. "We experienced that a few times that year. A lot of the guys remember that. And that's not something we want."
Things are going so well right now that the Buckeyes are content to ride the wave and see where it takes them.
The offense, in particular, appears to be on a high-speed treadmill. It is averaging a Big Ten-best 47.2 points, coming off a 63-14 rout of Penn State last Saturday.
After a while, opposing defenses just want the game to end.
"We like to call that 'no mas,'" tailback Carlos Hyde said with a grin. "It's pretty easy to tell when guys don't want anymore. They don't want to even tackle you anymore. And the offensive line is just blowing guys off the ball."
The Boilermakers (1-6, 0-3) are unquestionably suffering through a difficult season, but Ohio State is not expressing much sympathy.
Purdue has won the last two meetings and four of the last six in West Lafayette, Ind., and almost shocked the unbeaten Buckeyes a year ago at Ohio Stadium before losing 29-22 in overtime.
"Each week we respect our opponent," linebacker Curtis Grant said. "(Their record) doesn't have anything to do with it because they could come out this week and be ready to play. If you're not ready to play, you'll take a loss."
After this game at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Buckeyes have a bye week to gear up for games at Illinois (3-4, 0-3), the home finale against Indiana (3-4, 1-2) a week later, and then the annual grudge match with rival Michigan (6-1, 2-1) at The Big House on Nov. 30.
Meyer isn't concerned about a letdown at any point along the way.
"We're going into November, we are competing for championships," he said. "So you can bet the focus is very intense."
Purdue, last in most statistical categories in the conference, has dropped five straight. The Boilermakers fell 14-0 at Michigan State in their last game Oct. 19 and 44-7 to Nebraska the previous week.
"I think we're making strides but obviously we're not making enough plays to get the ball into the end zone," coach Darrell Hazell said. "We haven't been able to finish drives all season long."