Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana Hoosiers (#41 projected S&P+) vs #2 Ohio State Buckeyes (#3 projected S&P+)
When? Thursday, 8/31 8:00 PM, Bloomington, Indiana
Vegas? OHIO STATE -21
S&P+ Projection? OHIO STATE -17
F O O T B A L L
F O O O O O O T B A W W W W W W W W
The offseason is over. It has been a fun eight-ish months of beating our chests on Twitter about this game and now it’s time to play it. Indiana has hung tough with the Buckeyes for over the past few seasons, typically taking the perennial Big Ten favorites into the fourth quarter before letting the game get away with them.
Last year, the Hoosiers closed the gap to just one touchdown before the Buckeyes scored the last fourteen points of the game in a 38-17 loss. Both teams would go on to gain bowl eligibility and score zero points in the College Football Playoff Semifinal, just not a lot to separate these two when you break it down!
The first game preview of the year is always my favorite, because I always focus on stats and, well- let’s look at the stats table:
|Field Position (75%)
|Finishing Drives (72%)
|Turnover Margin (73%)
|Field Position (75%)
|Finishing Drives (72%)
|Turnover Margin (73%)
|INDIANA (#90 offense)
|MICHIGAN STATE (#9 defense)
|MICHIGAN STATE (#78 offense)
|INDIANA (#22 defense)
(% indicates how often a team wins the game if they win that battle. Explanation here.)
OH HELL YEAH THAT GIVES ME SOMETHING TO WORK WITH. LET’S DIG IN.
Both quarterbacks from last year’s teams return to start the season-opener, and their individual growth will probably have a lot to do with determining the outcome. Richard Lagow showed flashes of brilliance (3362 yards, 19 touchdowns) but a terrible knack for throwing interceptions in bunches (17 picks, 57.8% completion rate); still, the highs outweighed the lows, and despite fan perception, it wasn’t close. Indiana enjoyed a top-25 passing offense last season, with above-average marks in both efficiency and explosiveness. Not too shabby for a kid’s first year out of junior college. He loses his two top targets from last season (slot ace Mitchell Paige and dynamic Ricky Jones) but regains the king-sized Simmie Cobbs who misses most of last season with an ankle injury and the hopefully-still-explosive J-Shun Harris, finally back on the field after consecutive lost seasons to knee injuries. Nick Westbrook is back as well, and all he did was lead the team in yards and touchdowns last year- by quite a bit.
JT Barrett’s standard numbers looked good enough (2555 yards, 24/7 TD/INT, 61.5%), but Ohio State was neither all that efficient (95th Success Rate) nor explosive (105th IsoPPP) leading to a thoroughly average passing attack that was eventually left completely exposed and helpless by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Of Barrett’s top-four receiving targets, only tight end Marcus Baugh (24 catches, 269 yards, 2 TDs) returns after all-purpose RB Curtis Samuel and receivers Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson move on, taking 133 catches, 1619 yards, and 19 touchdowns with them. The receiver meeting room in Columbus will be one of the greenest around (projected starters Austin Mack, Johnnie Dixon, and Parris Campbell combined for 21 catches, 162 yards, and 0 TDs last season) but they have the talent to make up for the lack of experience and if Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator (more on him in a bit) can turn Barrett’s career trajectory around, look out.
It was Ohio State’s rushing attack that defenses had to be worried about, ranking 3rd overall last season and returning its two biggest contributers: sophomore Mike Weber (1096 yards, 9 TDs, 6.0 YPC) and Barrett (990 yards, 9 TDs, 5.6 YPC), add in sophomore Demario McCall (270 yards, 3 TDs) and it gives the Buckeyes one of the youngest and most productive backfields in the country. They don’t have a ton of experience, but the talent is incredible, to say nothing of J.K. Dobbins, only the 6th best RB recruit in the country who has ascended to second on the Buckeye depth chart.
In Bloomington, for the first time since Darius Willis was dismissed, there is no heir-apparent to the top of the depth chart. Camion Patrick, and all that potential, was granted a medical hardship waiver and is no longer with the team, leaving the position wide open. Mike Majette is the most seasoned of those in the meeting room and lead everyone not named Zander Diamont with 6.1 HY/O last season, the stat that attempts to strip out offensive line performance and measure how many yards a player typically gets after the offensive line does their job. His sophomore campaign was cut short, but in the handful of times he got both the ball and some space, good things happened. Tom Allen has stated that up to five guys will see carries against OSU, so expect Devonte Williams, Cole Gest, and others to see time out of the backfield.
Indiana’s defensive resurgence was the biggest story out of Bloomington last season and for good reason. Tom Allen took the same group of guys that had struggled mightily as a unit (105th in defensive S&P+ in 2015) and turned them into the 31st best defense in the country. That kind of renaissance is, basically, unheard of and Allen was entrusted with the reins to the entire program as a result of his performance after an internal disagreement between Kevin Wilson and Indiana University’s administration on player treatment lead to Wilson’s departure.
Preseason All-American linebacker Tegray Scales leads a defense that boasts both talent and experience across all three levels, needing only to replace linebacker Marcus Oliver and defensive lineman Ralph Green III as far as major contributors from last season. If the passing defense can do a better job of not giving up the big play through the air (92nd in passing IsoPPP), the sky is the limit for these guys.
Ohio State need not worry about fixing such holes as they were tremendous across the board last year. On the ground or through the air, the Buckeyes made opponents earn every yard and it all started in the front seven, boasting a defensive line that checked in at 19th in Havoc Rate (and they all return this season) while the team was 9th in rushing success rate.
There are minutes to be replaced in the secondary, but as per usual, there are two top-20 freshman on campus vying for time while last year’s nickelback, Denzel Ward (9 pass break-ups in 2016) slides into a starting role.
Most comparisons to Indiana and Ohio State are farfetched at best, but it’s not outlandish to say both squads have the same issues to face in 2017: can the offenses cobble together enough points week-in and week-out to make good on the probable defensive success? It won’t be easy to score on Indiana, and it’ll be even harder to score on the Buckeyes, but if their respective offenses struggle to get touchdowns on the board, it might not matter.
For a long time, it was the inverse for the Hoosiers. These are wild times we live in.
While Urban Meyer’s success at Ohio State is undeniable, all eyes on Thursday will be on his new offensive coordination: former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson. Meyer, apparently satisfied with the still-muddled reasons behind Wilson’s departure from Indiana, brought on the well-known scoring savant to help turn around his talented, but struggling, offense; particularly his talented, but struggling, quarterback. Wilson has been going uptempo spread long before it became the cool thing to do in college football and JT Barrett’s skill set seems, quite frankly, to be tailor-made for Wilson’s offense.
Tom Allen’s first game as the head man at Indiana went according to the same heartbreaking script that the Wilson era often followed: have a ranked team on the ropes and then lose in the 4th quarter. But with the Foster Farms Bowl long behind him and an entire offseason to further mold the program to his liking, he has the buzz around Indiana football at a notch not seen in some time. His second game at the helm will be one of the most talked-about and analyzed coaching match-ups of his tenure, as the nation’s eyes tune in to see what he has waiting for his former boss and vice-versa.
It is, as they say, lit.
- Does Simmie Cobbs play? After being arrested for the crime of attending a Jason Aldean concert, Simmie Cobbs status for the opener has been up in the air. One of Kevin Wilson’s storied traditions at Indiana was waiting until minutes before the opener to reveal who would miss the game due to suspension for infractions from the offseason. Tom Allen refused to answer when asked directly about Cobbs’ status, but given the lack of seriousness of his crime and the fact he had all offseason to be punished for his transgressions makes me think we’ll see him out there. This might be a very young-person opinion but here it is: token suspensions are for openers against the likes of Southern Illinois and FIU, not the biggest game in program history. If Tom Allen comes out and says “Simmie will be suspended for the FIU game because that’s the punishment that fits the crime” I would crown him king of the state immediately. Because let’s be honest, he would be absolutely right.
- Never tell me the odds. Tom Allen has consistently referred to this game as the biggest in Indiana’s history and it’s hard to argue with him. For some perspective as to how historic an Indiana victory would be, some numbers: the Hoosiers are 12-72-5 against Ohio State all-time, losers of 21 straight to the Buckeyes dating back to 1990, and are 0-29 all-time against teams ranked 1st or 2nd. Vegas, who makes a living on such things, pegs the Hoosiers as a three-touchdown underdog at home against the Buckeyes. Indiana has come tantalizingly close to a program-altering victory, and Thursday night, in week 1, they’ll have the stage to themselves. You couldn’t make this upset bid more monumental if you tried.
- This is the ideal time to play Ohio State. Week 1 is a wild time. No team has put anything on tape and there’s only so much preparation you can do with last season’s data. There always seems to be a shocking result or two to kickoff what is always a season full of them. As Indiana fans know, Kevin Wilson runs a complex (and highly effective) offensive scheme that could, in theory, have some kinks that still need ironed out in-season and it could be a few weeks before Ohio State is humming at peak efficiency. This isn’t to suggest that the Buckeyes will be bad on Thursday, but if given the option of which week to play them, I’d much prefer to do it now than in a couple of months.
My prediction is I consume a lot of brown liquor in a parking lot with thousands of my best friends and tweet several regrettable things from the CQ account. Can’t we just leave it at that?
ALRIGHT, FINE. FOR THE #BRAND
HOOSIERS: 24, Buckeyes: 23
don’t @ me