COLUMBUS — Last week, when Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said he was worried about Indiana and cautious in preparing his team to face the one-win Hoosiers, not many took him too seriously.
They do now, after the Buckeyes needed to score the two final touchdowns of the game to win 34-20. With Purdue up next, on the road, Fickell has a lot easier sell this week.
“It’s going to be a battle,” the first-year coach said Tuesday during his weekly news conference.
Fickell has a stack of empirical evidence to support his case that Saturday’s game against the 4-5 Boilermakers is filled with danger.
Exhibit A: The Buckeyes visited West Lafayette in 2009, ranked No. 7 in the country and riding high as huge favorites against a Purdue team that was on a five-game losing streak.
Ohio State came out flat, committed five turnovers, and lost 26-18. Any hopes of making the national championship game were left in the fading daylight at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“I remember we had five turnovers, and dropped a punt down inside the 20-yard line,” Fickell said. “They hit a screen there to make it 23-7 ... I can remember every bad play that happened.”
Exhibit B: The Boilermakers will be in their comfort zone. This year’s Purdue team has four wins at home, and four of its five losses have come on the road.
“They’re a different team at home,” Fickell said. “They play a lot better at home and we have to make sure our guys understand that’s what you’re going to see.”
Exhibit C: The Boilermakers are motivated. A year ago in Columbus, Purdue was humbled to the tune of 49-0 by the Buckeyes. Purdue got whacked 62-17 at Wisconsin last Saturday and 36-14 at Michigan two weeks ago.
“Obviously we are disappointed in the way the last two games have gone,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “But we have to move on, and I think being back home in Ross-Ade is a difference maker for us right now. The timing is perfect.”
When the Boilermakers bumped off the heavily-favored Buckeyes two years ago, Ohio State had its school-record 16-game Big Ten road winning streak snapped, just one game shy of tying the conference record of 17 straight. Fickell said that with a reminder of the 2009 disaster and following the close call with Indiana last weekend, he expects the Buckeyes to be locked in on Saturday.
“Hopefully that’s one thing we can take out of last week,” Fickell said. “It doesn’t matter [who you play]. It’s a new week every week. This is a great league. There’s guys on every team that are going to have opportunities to make plays. Whether you’re on the road, whether you’re at home, it’s about you.”
Senior defensive back Tyler Moeller said he believes the Buckeyes are prepared for the challenges of playing on the road, especially after the chaotic 10 months Ohio State has been through since the tattoo scandal broke.
“We’re tough. Anything that comes our way, I think we can handle,” Moeller said. “We’ve dealt with so many things on the field and off the field this year. If something happens, I think guys are doing a great job of handling it, kind of just shrugging it off, handling it face-up. That’s the biggest thing about our team, we can handle adversity.”
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.