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Ohio State 38, Indiana 17: Three things from a defensive struggle (?) in Columbus

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Indiana had a shot to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter, but red zone struggles spelled the Hoosiers’ doom.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was frustrating and familiar!

Indiana hung with 2nd-ranked Ohio State four the better part of four quarters before a stagnating offense and a garbage-time touchdown from the Buckeyes put them ahead three scores with little time left. After an A’Shon Riggins interception, the Hoosiers had a chance to pull within 7 halfway through the fourth quarter -- but once again couldn’t punch it in from inside the Buckeye 10 yard line. That’s become a familiar pattern for the Hoosiers this season.

The story of the day was the lack of a passing game on both sides of the ball. Windy conditions made it difficult for both teams to throw the ball downfield, leading to a rushing battle that favored the Buckeyes. JT Barrett was only 9-of-21 for 93 yards and the one late touchdown, but he took on the role of lead runner for the Bucks. His 26 carries for 137 yards looks more of a stat line from a Paul Johnson Georgia Tech team than an Urban Meyer offense.

Here’s three quick things we learned.

Indiana’s offense is pretty good! Indiana’s red zone offense is absolutely atrocious.

It was a problem in the win over Michigan State — and it likely cost the Hoosiers a chance to beat Ohio State at the end of this game: Indiana can’t punch the ball into the endzone when they get close. An early Ohio State turnover led to a quick Indiana drive into the red zone, but Indiana settled for a field goal. In a big fourth quarter moment after the Riggins interception, Indiana was stuffed at the goal line again on fourth down. If Indiana’s just able to punch those in, it’s a four point game with 7 minutes to go and things suddenly look very different.

Why is the red zone offense so bad? Well...

Some of Indiana’s playcalling was quite suspect today.

I don’t enjoy playing Armchair Offensive Coordinator because I write blogs and I don’t coach football for very good reason. With that said, Indiana’s offense was reaaallllllly frustrating to watch for a bit on Saturday. The Kevins insisted on running the football all day in Columbus, which could’ve been the byproduct of a few things:

  1. Coaching staff was nervous about Lagow making his first Big Ten road start.
  2. Wind was reportedly a factor on the field
  3. When you’re the underdog, shorten the game.

Whatever it was, I wasn’t a particularly big fan of it. Indiana’s seemingly thrived much more when the offense just kinda cuts it loose and throws it all over the yard, but there are notable drawbacks to doing that against, you know, maybe the best team in America. Red zone calls weren’t great. I’d like to have seen more downfield. Run plays became predictable, and they’re less effective without Dan Feeney. Devine Redding was Indiana’s only somewhat productive back -- and he didn’t get the ball in the moments he needed it most. (Mike Majette was in on 3rd down during the failed goal line set that felled Indiana’s upset hopes. He’s tiny and ran for four yards on six carries on Saturday.)

Indiana’s defense is real good, though.

Ohio State scored 38 points, sure. But here, for example, is Ohio State’s three second quarter touchdown drives:

  • 2 plays, 9 yards
  • 5 plays, 75 yards
  • 2 plays, 5 yards

Allowing 14 yards normally doesn’t equate to 14 points, so you can’t hold Tom Allen’s defense accountable for those touchdowns. Officiating on a blown fumble call where Rich Lagow’s arm was clearly moving forward and bad kick coverage can be to blame there. Tom Allen’s defense gave up two true touchdown drives during non-garbage time and forced a number of three-and-outs. 380-some yards is by far Ohio State’s lowest offensive output of the season and 38 points the lowest number of points they’ve scored on the year.

Indiana’s defense is real. If some of the offensive problems fix themselves, Indiana’s entire team is very real.

That was a sentiment shared by Ohio State fans and media on Saturday.