Colton Denning of SBNation's Ohio State blog, Land-Grant Holy-Land stops by to discuss this week's matchup of UNDEFEATED NATIONAL TITLE CONTENDERS. You can get caught up to speed on Ohio State by checking out all their coverage of Buckeye football right here.
Ok, let's be honest. Ohio State's early offensive "struggles" are no secret to anyone following college football across the country. But Cardale Jones seemingly looked improved in a 38-12 win over Western Michigan. Should Ohio State fans be concerned heading into conference play?
CD: I think that's it's ok to be a bit concerned, especially with the way Jones and the rest of the offense played against Hawaii and Northern Illinois. Even if Ohio State isn't the offensive juggernaut we all thought they'd be coming into the season, averaging less than 5 yards per play against those two defenses was alarming. The good thing is they looked much better against Western Michigan. While there were still some issues with Jones throwing deep, he looked much more efficient than in prior weeks. The offensive line also played well, showing some of the sustained rushing success that made the offense so potent last year. If they're able to generate just a bit more space for Ezekiel Elliott than they have so far, the running game can be just as good. From the coordinator spot, losing Tom Herman really hurt, and Ohio State is figuring ways out on the fly to mesh Co-coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck into Urban Meyer's vision for this offense. The problems have been large enough to be rightfully concerned, but not overly panicked.
You mention that running game. Has that been the biggest strength offensively for this team -- -- the one that Indiana fans should be most concerned about?
CD: By no means has the running game been bad, but so far, it hasn't lived up to the hype of having 80 percent of the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott back brought in the offseason. That being said, it should be what Indiana fans are most concerned about. Elliott has been awesome, averaging nearly six yards per carry, despite not having a ton of room to work with. Behind him, Curtis Samuel is a breakaway threat, and provides just as big a big play element to the backfield as Elliott. That's not to mention the quarterback run game, as well as the creative ways Braxton Miller will be used out of the backfield. If the offensive line can continue it's improvement from last week, Ohio State should have similar success to what they've had versus Indiana in the past. Since Urban Meyer took over in 2012, Ohio State has averaged 296 rushing yards in their three meetings, with those carries netting nearly 7 yards a pop. Maybe the run game isn't what it was last year, but it still poses the biggest problem for Indiana.
Let's flip sides of the ball. So much of the defense keys on Darron Lee -- who was dinged last week, but did return. What's the biggest area of concern for Buckeye fans in stopping what has been a fairly potent Hoosier offense?
CD: As of now, the biggest concerns are the run defense, particularly up the middle, as well as giving up the occasional big play through the air. Through four games, Ohio State ranks 104th nationally in defensive adjusted line yards, and at times against Western Michigan was gashed right up the middle. With the way Jordan Howard has run this season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him rip more than a few nice gains. The Buckeye pass defense has been very efficient so far, ranking 2nd nationally in both passing s&p+ and passing success rate, but only 76th in isoPPP. Given that Ricky Jones is averaging nearly a quarter of the field per catch, Indiana is probably going to test the Buckeye secondary deep on a few occasions Saturday.
Ok, cool, so let's boil it down. Indiana hasn't knocked off Ohio State since the 80's and "The Darkest Day" game. Indiana's 4-0 and didn't have many roster changes from a team that led the Buckeyes in the 4th quarter last season. I don't think I've ever had to ask this question: as a fan, are you actually worried about this game in Bloomington? No is a fine and justified answer.
CD: I can't speak for all Ohio State fans, but personally? No. Granted, Ohio State hasn't looked like the team most thought they would as of yet, but we're four weeks into the season. That 'slow start' has led to a #2 ranking in F/+ and #7 in S&P+, so not exactly awful. The offense has had it's struggles, but last week's improvement makes me hopeful that the running game is on the verge of getting back to where it was last year. Despite all the nice pieces Indiana has on offense, I'm just not sure how Indiana consistently moves the ball through the air with Lee, Joey Bosa, and company bringing the pressure, with one of the better secondary's in the country behind them. That's not to say Indiana won't score, because I wouldn't be surprised to see the Hoosiers get some big plays from Jones and Howard. Ultimately, the Buckeyes will be too much. This game was in a bad spot for Ohio State last season, what with Michigan being the next week, and the Hoosiers aren't as lucky here. I think Ohio State continues its' offensive improvement, has a big rushing day, and wins around the 45-21 range.
We'll have full coverage of Ohio State throughout the week here at CQ. Be sure to check back for more ALL DAY EVERY DAY for great online content.