WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – They were billing it as a Boilermaker Blackout, Purdue fans sporting glow in the dark T-shirts hyping a Saturday night prime-time matchup many considered the biggest game here in decades.
It quickly turned into a Boilermaker Black Eye, with Ohio State – and even its fans – dominating the home folks, emphatically taking charge in the Big Ten title chase and building momentum in the national championship hunt.
On the same day Stanford stunned USC and Florida nearly foiled LSU, the No. 4 Buckeyes flexed for the cameras, the country and the conference, rolling to a 23-7 victory in front of a record crowd of 65,497 at Ross-Ade Stadium. The victory just might make Ohio State No. 2 when the polls come out Sunday. Third-ranked Cal was idle Saturday.
After Illinois established itself as a conference contender by handing Wisconsin its first loss in 15 games, OSU showed it might have higher aspirations. The Buckeyes displayed defensive dominance over the once high-scoring and 23rd-ranked Boilermakers and just enough offense to make things interesting.
Still coach Jim Tressel isn't ready to crown this his best OSU defense.
"They are a good defense," he said. "They've got to make sure they keep getting better."
A frightening thought.
Ohio State limited Purdue, which was averaging 45 points a game, to a meaningless touchdown against reserves in the final 10 seconds. They held the Boilermakers to 4 yards rushing and just 272 total net yards. They sacked Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter three times and forced two fumbles.
Chimdi Chekwa led the way with 10 tackles. Larry Grant had five stops and a sack. Anderson Russell collected a pair of sacks.
If Tressel wasn't impressed, Purdue tight end Dustin Keller was.
"Each week, we'll usually find something weak in the opponents' defense and just keep attacking and attacking," he said. "Ohio State is a really strong defense all across the board. There are no weaknesses there."
Still you had to wonder if, in the final analysis, defense will be enough for OSU.
Buckeyes quarterback Todd Boeckman was alternately good and bad. He got off to a fast start, but finished 17 of 29 passing for 200 yards with two touchdowns and an alarming three interceptions.
The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. Boeckman hit Ray Small with a 26-yard touchdown pass to cap a nine-play, 87-yard drive at 8:04 of the first quarter. They marched 43 yards on five plays on their second opportunity, Boeckman finding Brian Hartline for a 6-yard score at 4:48.
Just when you thought the preponderance of Buckeyes fans was going to commandeer Purdue Pete and drive home with the Boilermaker Special, the OSU offense bogged down. The Buckeyes managed just three Ryan Pretorius field goals the rest of the way.
This was supposed to be the night Painter showed off his arm for the nation. Instead he often overthrew his intended targets.
"When Curtis is out of sync, he tends to put more on the ball," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "We saw that some last year and we saw that tonight."
Painter (31 of 60 passing, 268 yards, one touchdown) said all he and his teammates can do is learn from the loss.
"We got some good practice against a really good defense tonight," he said. "We'll watch film tomorrow to let us know the specifics we need to work on. The bottom line is we just need to execute better."
The weirdness that is Big Ten 2007 doesn't end with Illinois suddenly in the mix. Indiana is now 5-1 after beating Minnesota. Michigan State, which had seemed respectable, suffered an embarrassing overtime loss to Northwestern at home. And Michigan could thank Mike Hart for saving them from more humiliation against Eastern Michigan.
It all sets up nicely for the Buckeyes, assuming they can establish some consistency offensively.