Boiling Buckeyes take on first-place Purdue

It feels like the perfect storm for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

They come off of their first loss of the season, a 31-18 setback at Wisconsin that likely eliminates them from the national title race. They return home to face a Purdue team that stunned them last year in West Lafayette, leaving Buckeyes players to later say they overlooked the Boilers.

Given these factors, shouldn't we expect the Buckeyes to run out of the tunnel Saturday with steam coming out of their ears and with faces turned the color of their home jerseys?

Not exactly.

"I don't think you can play this game really mad, or you get yourself in trouble," receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "Maybe a little pissed, I'll give you that. But a controlled pissed. I don't think you want to go out there foaming at the mouth like a madman."

Despite trailing Purdue in the Big Ten standings, No. 10 Ohio State is heavily favored to handle the Boilers on Saturday.

And history is on Ohio State's side: coach Jim Tressel has lost 22 games in his Buckeyes' tenure, but only once has he dropped back-to-back contests, during a three-game slide in 2004. And the fortunate few Big Ten teams that beat Ohio State in recent years always dropped the rematch.

Sanzenbacher and many of his teammates were on the field last October at Ross-Ade Stadium, as the Buckeyes committed four turnovers, fell behind 23-7 and had no answer for Purdue star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who recorded three sacks, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

"I don't think we'll have any problem getting focused and up for this game," Sanzenbacher said. "Purdue played us tough last year, so it's not like we're going to come in here and think we're going to walk through them."

Sanzenbacher, a co-captain, has been pleasantly surprised by the mood he's seen around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this week.

"I've been around for a few tough losses and seen mixed responses from the team," he said. "I don't know if I attribute it to having an older bunch or people being through it before, but the attitude's actually pretty good."

Purdue's spirits are high after a surprising 2-0 start to Big Ten play. After a rash of key injuries, the Boilers have reinvented themselves midseason -- never an easy task -- and become a run-oriented offense built around athletic quarterback Rob Henry and running back Dan Dierking. They've racked up 200 or more rushing yards in five consecutive games for the first time since 1973.

Much like a Week 1 trip to Notre Dame, the Boilers head to Columbus without much pressure and with a lot to gain.

"As big a challenge as it is, it's an even bigger opportunity," head coach Danny Hope said. "And that's exciting. ... We know that we're out-manned in some ways, and we have to execute very well in all phases of the game to manufacture a win."

Purdue isn't blind to Ohio State's current state, but the Boilers have turned their focus inward this week.

"We have to get better this week or we won't be able to beat Ohio State," Hope said. "So we can't really focus a whole lot on where their mindset is at. We're really involved in the development of our squad. ... Regardless of who won the game last year, regardless of who won last week, it's going to boil down to who can play the best this Saturday.

"We have our work cut out for us."