The Boilermakers lost to then-No. 12 Notre Dame early in the season but have beaten then-No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Michigan State by double digits in the past month to vault into the rankings themselves.
Such upsets have become an Old Gold and Black specialty as Purdue’s 17 wins when unranked against teams in the Associated Press top five are six more than any other program.
“No, I probably can’t put my finger on it,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said in reply to a question about why his team has had such a knack for upsets. “I do think that we have an aggressive approach, an aggressive style that can sometimes look really good and sometimes not.
“I think we’re willing to take some chances against really good opponents that maybe others aren’t.”
Last week, that included a flea-flicker off a reverse that set up a screen that went for a long touchdown late in the second quarter of a 40-29 upset of Michigan State.
2. This series is one of Ohio State’s weirdest, especially lately.
Ohio State fans already knew the Boilermakers could be dangerous. They stunned No. 2 OSU 49-20 in the last meeting three years ago in West Lafayette and upset No. 7 Ohio State 26-18 in 2009.
The Boilermakers also nearly ruined Ohio State’s perfect 2012 season, but backup quarterback Kenny Guiton rallied the Buckeyes for a 29-22 overtime win in Purdue’s last visit to Ohio Stadium.
Five of Purdue’s 15 wins in a series that began in 1919 have come since 2000.
3. Historically known for offense, Purdue has a good defense this season, too.
Statistically, the Purdue defense is in the national top 20 in many categories, including passing yards, pass efficiency and red zone.
The Boilermakers are 27th in total defense and 61st in rushing defense while checking in 28th on third downs.
George Karlaftis, a junior end from West Lafayette, headlines the group. He is a national award candidate and has 7.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks, and eight quarterback hits on the season.
“I think this year we’ve been better in all three segments of our team than we have in the past, which is really meaningful to me to see that happen,” Brohm said. “I think that we’re more of a complete team. Obviously have a ways to go in all segments, but we’ve been better at all three segments, and we’ve made strides.”
4. Ohio State is looking for a better performance from the offensive line this week.
On the year, the Buckeyes have been great up front. Pro Football Focus ranked the group No. 1 in the country through 11 weeks, and the Buckeyes are No. 6 in the country in average line yards (a measure of run-blocking efficiency) according to FootballOutsiders.com. The latter site also has Ohio State 10th in the nation in sack rate, but some untimely breakdowns have hindered the offense overall the last two weeks.
“The penalties are getting us out of whack — or a negative run,” Day said this week. “Anything that would be negative yards or zero because now you’re second-and-10, we have to avoid those things.
“We are playing against some good defenses, but we can do a better job of execution and communication. There is a lot to it. I don’t think it’s one thing across the board. You may see one guy a little bit off here or a little bit off there.
“We watched the film as a group this week (and showed) if this guy makes this block, look what could happen here, but we didn’t.”
5. The quarterback run game could be a wild card for the Buckeyes.
Calling a few runs for quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has proven to be more of a pure pocket passer than most of the recent Ohio State players at his position, could make life a little easier for the offensive by forcing defenses to play more straight up, but it remains to be seen if that happens.
“He is very competitive and he can run,” Day said of the redshirt freshman who kept the ball on a third-down zone-read play last week but has not shown much appetite for trying to pick up yards scrambling. “You’ve seen him do it before, and he will continue to do it. It’s just finding the right time to duck your head in there for four or five. He did a nice job in the red zone. He pulled the one and kept it on third-and-4 and made like six. That was really well done. There were a couple of other ones where you would have to ask him whether he should have made three or four more yards (on scrambles), but that’s all part of playing the position.
“I played the position. I know it’s not easy. You can tell somebody what to do in the moment. You have to trust your instincts. The more he plays, the better he’s going to feel in those spots and the more confident he will be.”
Purdue at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., ABC, 1410