Tuesday, October 24, 2000

OSU linebacker focusing on Brees

League title, Rose Bowl on the line for both Buckeyes, Boilermakers

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Ohio State's defense has no doubts about the Heisman-sized talent of Purdue quarterback Drew Brees. But the Buckeyes do have a question or two about his toughness.

        “I don't think he likes getting hit as hard as we hit people,” Ohio State linebacker Joe Cooper said Monday. “This week we're going to really challenge him. He's going to challenge us mentally and we're going to challenge him physically. It's going to be a war.”

        Twelfth-ranked Ohio State and No.16 Purdue meet Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium. The winner will have the inside track to the Big Ten Conference championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl. If either wins the rest of its games, it is assured of at least a share of the league title and can't do worse than a trip to Pasadena.

        “Everybody knows the consequences of this game,” Buckeye tailback Derek Combs said. “This is basically for the Rose Bowl.”

        Brees is the focal point for the Buckeyes. He is completing 60 percent of his passes, with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Three of his targets (Vinny Sutherland with 45, John Stande ford with 44 and Tim Stratton with 39) have more catches than Ohio State's leader in receptions (Ken-Yon Rambo with 36).

        Cooper, the Buckeyes' second-leading tackler, said Ohio State's defense hopes to get up close and personal with the Purdue quarterback.

        “No matter what he does in that game, we want to make him feel it,” Cooper said. “You know, let him know that we're here and we're going to be here for four quarters whether he's passing the ball or running the ball. Even if he gets the ball off, if we're close enough we're going to put a hit on him. Anything legal, we're going to hit him.”

        Brees also is averaging 54.4 yards a game running the ball.

        “If he runs this week, we're going to make him pay for it hopefully,” Cooper said. “I like to see him run a lot because then I can get more hits.”

        Ohio State coach John Cooper (no relation to his linebacker) said there is a lot to worry about with a player of Brees' abilities.

        “You've got to stop the passing game first,” Cooper said. “The guy will eat you alive if you don't play a nickel. They're going to throw it all the time. They threw 83 times against Wisconsin in one game” in 1998.

        Brees has thrown more passes and completed more for more yards and touchdowns than any quarterback in Big Ten history. Yet the Ohio State coach said the Boilermakers have several other offensive weapons.

        “You look at their game against Michigan and it's scary,” Cooper said, referring to Purdue's come-from-behind 32-31 victory three weeks ago. “They had over 200 yards rushing and well over 200 yards passing and a lot of it came in the second half. It looked to me like they were scoring every time they touched the ball in the second half. They're not one-dimensional. You'd better line up sound or they'll hurt you running the ball.”


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