- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Identifying Ohio State's biggest nemesis over the past few seasons is no problem.
Figuring out why, exactly, Purdue has been able to give the Buckeyes so many problems recently is the hard part, and there might not even be a simple solution for what happened in a few eye-opening losses.
But no matter what the Boilermakers have done right or Buckeyes wrong, the recent series history hardly needs to be rehashed to ensure the latter team isn't overlooking the next opponent on its schedule. Even a team stocked with freshmen and sophomores who have never lost a game in their careers with No. 4 Ohio State have experienced what it's like to struggle with a bad bunch of Boilermakers, putting them on high alert for Saturday's trip to Ross-Ade Stadium.
"It's every year, and I have no idea why," junior linebacker Curtis Grant said. "There is always that one team that is always out to get you, and Purdue seems like that team.
"That sticks in my mind a lot. The last two years since I've been here, they're always out to get us. We're not expecting anything less."
The Boilermakers apparently have saved their best for the Buckeyes over the last few meetings, including two victories at home, one of them a stunning upset of a team ranked No. 7 in the country in 2009. But even when Purdue doesn't win, it has found a way to still make life miserable for Ohio State, as it did a year ago in the Horseshoe when it was seconds away from wrecking an unbeaten season before Kenny Guiton came off the bench to stage a late rally and ultimately keep the perfect record intact in overtime.
The Buckeyes still have plenty of players who were around for another game that required overtime with the Boilermakers in 2011, a decision that didn't go their way after having what would have been a game-winning extra point blocked. Those memories remain fresh in their minds, and they're certainly not looking to add to the collection with so much on the line and so little room for error in the hunt for a national title.
"Our coaching staff does a great job, regardless of who we're playing, making sure that we're prepared every week," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "Going into Purdue, I was there my freshman year, and it didn't turn out how we wanted it to. I think there are a lot of guys on this team who remember that.
"I think this week is a big week for us, and we've got something to prove going back to Purdue."
The Buckeyes might not like to admit it, but they also still have plenty to prove nationally as they continue to sit behind Alabama, Oregon and Florida State in the BCS standings, thanks in part to the perceived weakness of the schedule and the rest of the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers certainly haven't done much to bolster the reputation of the league so far, with just one win to their credit, and there might not be all that much ground to gain for Ohio State regardless of whether it wins with style or has to grind out another slugfest with one of its biggest pains in the neck. But the Buckeyes certainly have plenty to lose if they slip up, and they are well aware that Purdue can take it from them if they're not careful.
"When I was a freshman, we went out there and took a loss," Grant said. "So all we can do now is stick together, practice hard and get ready for the game on Saturday and not come out sluggish, because that can put us in a bad situation.
"That makes you want to work a lot harder, because any team can be beat on any given day. You can't take anything for granted."
No matter how they've done it, the Boilermakers have drilled that lesson home for the Buckeyes.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward