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November 2, 2013
They keep saying there's only one way to go.
The implication is up, of course.
But Purdue keeps finding ways to bury itself deeper.
It reached another level Saturday against fourth-ranked Ohio State.
The 56-0 loss tied for the worst in program history - the last time was in 1922.
The shutout was the second consecutive for the Boilermakers - the first time that's happened in back-to-back games since 1953.
The yardage disparity - Purdue had only 116, Ohio State had 640 - was the largest margin in the program's history.
"It's been a struggle, very much a struggle right now," said first-year coach Darrell Hazell, whose team dropped to 1-7 and winless in its four Big Ten games.
"We've got to get a whole lot better from where we are right now."
The inability to muster offense - make it three games in a row without a red zone trip - and the inability to stop a potent Ohio State group left the Boilermakers looking crestfallen.
Even if they wouldn't say so.
In the postgame press conference, Ricardo Allen had his head down, rubbed it and stared blankly into space. Danny Etling said he was "fine" but didn't look it, eye black smudged, hair disheveled and shoulders slumped after getting his body battered by the Buckeyes.
Earlier in the week, Allen, a senior captain, said that "everybody has to be a man" for Purdue to have a chance at pulling the massive upset - the line reached 32 before kickoff.
It was clear who was.
Braxton Miller had only four incomplete passes out of 23 throws, piling up 233 yards and four touchdowns.
Jeff Heuerman caught five passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Carlos Hyde rushed for 111 yards - on eight carries.
Kenny Guiton, the backup quarterback, rushed for 98 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns.
Ryan Shazier had two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Those are all Buckeyes.
"Obviously, there's a lot to work on," said Etling, who was sacked six times. "I think we're going to continue to keep working and trying to keep improving and just keep getting better and taking the coaching."
Etling's mistake started what quickly turned into a spiral.
On the game's second play, he was supposed to take a checkdown but instead threw into coverage, and Doran Grant picked it off and returned it for a 33-yard touchdown. That was the fourth pick-six by a Purdue QB this season.
The next series ended when Cody Webster shanked a punt that traveled only 15 yards. Two plays later, Ohio State scored.
Purdue's offense added a fumble later in the quarter that Ohio State turned into a touchdown on the next play, pushing the deficit quickly to 28-0.
How bad was it for Purdue's offense?
Etling got sacked on a play in which the Boilermakers had seven linemen on the field.
"There's a lot of issues," Hazell said of the offense. "The exchange issue we had (on Brandon Cottom's fumble), that should absolutely never happen. Obviously, we have some protection issues we need to take care of, and we have to do a much better job of beating man-to-man coverage. That's not where we are right now."
The defense is searching, too.
Purdue went exclusively with its three-down linemen, nickel package against the Buckeyes but consistently failed to cover Ohio State's tight end, Heuerman, in the first half.
Hyde extended his streak this season to not having a single carry for lost yardage when he barreled over and through would-be tacklers. But he wasn't the only one, Miller evaded potential sacks at least twice - rare times Purdue got pressure - and then made big completions.
Ohio State converted 8 of its 12 third downs and scored touchdowns on all six of its red zone opportunities.
"They just made plays, and we didn't. It's pretty simple," linebacker Sean Robinson said. "We knew their running backs and their fast guys ran the ball hard, and we were going to have to get to the ball and all 11 guys were going to have to run. We knew we were going to have to run to the ball and wrap up and they did a good job of making us miss.
"They're ranked what they are for a reason."
Purdue is moving in the other direction.
But Hazell is intent that the problems - many, he admits - will get fixed by working to solve them. That's the only way he knows how to approach struggle, he said, is to work.
"You've got to take the salt and live with the salt for 24 hours and then you've got to more forward. If you don't, it'll fester and you won't get any better from it," he said. "We'll feel terrible (Saturday) and (Sunday) and we'll come back and look at the film and see where we can make improvements.
"Obviously, there's a lot of improvements to be made. Then we'll move forward. But you can't let it fester throughout the program. Otherwise, you've got no chance."
His 15-yard punt allowed Ohio State good field position for its first possession, moments after it had scored a defensive touchdown to open the game.
But by the end, the senior punter was dialed in; and that was a good thing, considering he was forced to punt eight times for 396 yards, an average of 49.5.
"The first punt is not what you ever want," said Webster, who had helped Purdue had the nation's second-best net punting average prior to Saturday. "To give the punt team a chance to make plays, I've got to do what I've got to do. We talked about, even before the game, if it's broke, fix it. At first, it was broke, so I had to, not necessarily start over, but go back and try to work on your steps. I really focused on doing that."
Webster's day included five punts of at least 52 yards, two of which traveled 73 and 67; the 73-yarder netted 78 when the Buckeye return man lost five additional yards.
Purdue punted 10 times Saturday. Twice, Webster lined up as the punter, but motioned to his right, allowing former QB Rob Henry to line up in a deep shotgun. He punted twice for a 37.5-yard average, including a 44-yarder that skipped into the end zone.
Webster also had tackle, bringing down the OSU return man on Henry's first boot.
Purdue played without three players, including potentially two starters.
Left guard Devin Smith, who had practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday, was out with an illness. Hazell said after the game that the senior has mono. He was replaced by Jason King, a redshirt freshman who made his first career start.
Jalani Phillips, the backup Jack and potential starter (had the Boilers played in a true 3-4 front), was in street clothes. He has a shoulder stinger. Collin Link saw more action at the backup Jack spot.
"His muscle is weak, couldn't protect himself," Hazell said of Phillips.
And backup defensive tackle Ryan Watson, a former starter, was sidelined. Hazell says Watson has a hamstring injury that has stretched into the knee.
"He got a lot of swelling and couldn't push off of it, so those three guys were out for the day," Hazell said.
Michael Rouse III took several snaps in Watson's place.
During the game, defensive backs Normondo Harris and Austin Logan were injured and limped up the tunnel afterward.
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