Showdown In West Lafayette

Tomorrow afternoon two teams will play a game that will go a long way toward deciding who will be the regular season Big Ten basketball champion.  Ohio State travels to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.

A lot is on the line.  The Buckeyes are 12-1 in the conference and have a two-game lead over second-place Purdue.  In their last outing, the Boilermakers won a huge home game against Wisconsin to take sole possession of second place.  They now look to topple the Buckeyes and pull within one game of the Big Ten lead.  They also will be looking for some revenge against Ohio State, which crushed Purdue 87-64 when the teams matched up earlier this season at Value City Arena.

The last game between these two teams is meaningless.  It was one of those magical games where everything went right for Ohio State and everything went wrong for Purdue.  (I have the game DVR’d and will probably not erase it for months; it is too much fun to watch.)  The rematch undoubtedly will be different.  Mackey Arena is one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, and this year Purdue is undefeated at home against Big Ten opponents.  In the first game between these teams, JaJuan Johnson played well and scored 22 points, but he was almost a one-man team.  The Buckeyes managed to marginalize Purdue’s excellent shooting guard E’Twaun Moore and neutralize the Boilermakers’ waterbug-quick point guard, Lewis Jackson.  Aaron Craft had a breakout game for the Buckeyes, playing hard-as-nails defense and blowing past the Boilermakers’ defense for some embarrassingly easy layups.

Craft and the Buckeyes won’t surprise Purdue this time.  Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in the Big Ten and he will have the Boilermakers ready for this game.  Moore and Jackson, in particular, will be pumped for a chance to redeem themselves against the Buckeyes.  I expect another very difficult road test against a well-coached opponent that will be playing with a lot of talent and a lot of pride.

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A Bounce Back Game

After losing at Wisconsin last Saturday night and falling to number 10 in the polls, the Buckeyes came roaring back yesterday.  On a fine fall day in Columbus, overcast and perfect for college football, they trounced Purdue, 49-0.  The score really isn’t reflective of how one-sided the game was.

The Buckeyes get ready to score one of their first half touchdowns against Purdue

Ohio State led 42-0 at halftime and racked up more than 400 yards of offense in the first half.  They ran the ball pretty much at will, Boom Herron lived up to his name as he blasted through Purdue for two scores, and Terrelle Pryor threw for three additional touchdowns.  The defense, after getting gashed by Wisconsin’s running attack, totally shut down the Boilermakers very banged-up offense.  In the second half the Buckeyes coasted (a bit of a concern to the Buckeye Nation, which knows that you don’t want to get sloppy).

Up next is Minnesota, where the Buckeyes will play their third Saturday night game of the year against a Golden Gophers team that has struggled all year and recently fired its coach.

When A Coach Earns His Pay

After the Wisconsin game, I tuned out college football for a few days.  I skipped the post mortems, avoided the Ohio State message boards, and didn’t analyze the game with friends.  Why add to the pain?

Coaches don’t have that luxury.  Jim Tressel and his staff had to immediately swallow their disappointment and get to work at deconstructing the Wisconsin game and developing plans for the next game.  When I was deciding to practice an avoidance approach, they were watching film of the brutal loss.  They had to decide what to tell players who had played poorly at Madison and what to do to keep opponents from running kickoffs back for touchdowns, among countless other preparations.  The Wisconsin game — tough though it was — is only one game of a long season.  There are many more games to be played, like tomorrow’s game against Purdue at the Horseshoe, and when you have a bad game you have to bounce back.

This is where a coach earns his pay.  Great coaches help their players shrug off a bad game and understand that they can still have a successful season, and then get them to play hard the next game and get back on track.  Coach Tressel managed to do that last year after Ohio State had a painful loss at Purdue.  This year he faces that challenge again.

Boiler Up!

One of the great things about being a long-time Big Ten football fan is that you learn about, and ultimately come to enjoy, not only your own institution’s traditions but also those of other members of the conference.  True Big Ten followers appreciate the annual  contest for Paul Bunyan’s axe between Wisconsin and Minnesota, or the story about the pink visitor’s locker room at Iowa’s Nile Kinnick stadium.  Such traditions lend a richness and color to college football that you simply do not find in professional sports or, for that matter, in other college sports.

The Golden Girl and the Boilermaker Special

A past Golden Girl and the Boilermaker Special

Purdue, Ohio State’s opponent tomorrow, has some great traditions.  Purdue athletic teams are known as the Boilermakers, and its official mascot is a locomotive known as the Boilermaker Special.  Its on-the-field mascot is a burly, lantern-jawed, mallet-wielding titan with a hard hat named Purdue Pete. If I recall correctly, a very loud locomotive sound is made whenever Purdue scores.  The band features the baton-twirling Purdue Golden Girl and a mobile Big Bass Drum manned by a team of helmet-wearing bandies.

Of course, I want Ohio State to stomp Purdue all over the field tomorrow — but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate Purdue’s pride in its lore and unique traditions.  So, go ahead, Boilermakers!  Boiler Up, beat that drum, and let the train whistle roar!