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 most 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.
No. 4 Ohio State 23, No. 23 Purdue 7
Player of the game
Ohio State receiver Ray Small had perhaps the biggest impact, catching a career-best six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. His 26-yard TD in the left corner of the end zone on the Buckeyes' opening drive set the tone.
The Buckeyes stopped the Boilermakers cold on their second possession, forcing a three-and-out then moving 43 yards on five plays to go up 14-0 and establish momentum.
Purdue wideout Dorien Bryant was limited to two catches for -4 yards. He came into the game with 40 catches for 450 yards and four touchdowns.
What it means for Ohio State
The Buckeyes are in great shape in the Big Ten and are a legitimate factor in the national championship hunt. With games left against Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, they have some work to do. Foremost concern is sluggishness on offense, but the defense might be as good as any in the nation.
What it means for Purdue
Another opportunity to make a statement on the national stage fell by the wayside for Joe Tiller's team. They must rebound quickly when they travel to Ann Arbor for a date with Michigan next week if they want to be a factor in the conference race.
Ohio State has won 24 consecutive regular-season games and 25 of its last 26 games total. OSU has won 17 consecutive Big Ten games. .. The Buckeyes have held five of six opponents this season to seven or fewer points. Their defense has forced opponents to go three-and-out on 42 possessions. … Purdue is now 2-6 against top-five teams under Tiller. Bryant is now the Boilermakers all-time kickoff return yardage leader (1,600). … Jared Armstrong tied the Purdue record for punts in a game (12). Scott Lougheed (1970) shares the record. Lougheed also punted a dozen times against Ohio State. … Purdue was held to first-half season lows in five categories: points (none); rushing yards (7); passing yards (83) total offense (90) and first downs (five).
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.
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 off on 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 equaled his interception total for the first five games, often overthrowing 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 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.
Gerry Ahern is a senior editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gerry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.