Beating Ohio State was basically the only thing remaining on my Indiana Football Fan Bucket List after Indiana beat Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin last year. A few weeks ago, I still probably would have been pretty optimistic that this would be the year. Now, the Buckeyes are 19-point favorites, a reflection of the fact Indiana has just one touchdown in three Big Ten games this year and has struggled to move the ball, regardless of whether Michael Penix Jr. or Jack Tuttle is starting at quarterback. At this point, it seems like Indiana may need some old-fashioned Zander Diamont-style hijinks to pull off the upset.
Nevertheless, here’s what you need to about Ohio State coming into this weekend.
This is the first time since 2014 that Indiana will be playing an Ohio State team that’s already lost a game this season, thanks to an early 35-28 loss to Oregon in Columbus. The Buckeyes have since bounced back with four straight wins and are firmly back in the College Football Playoff conversation, especially since Oregon is ranked No. 10 now, so that loss won’t look too bad. The Buckeyes looked fairly mortal in a 45-31 win against Minnesota, a fairly middle-of-the pack Big Ten West team with wins over Purdue and Nebraska but also an ugly loss to Bowling Green.
Other than that, it’s a little difficult to read too much into Ohio State’s 5-1 record. Besides the Oregon game, the Buckeyes have taken care of business and blown out inferior teams like Tulsa, Akron, Maryland, and rutger.
Part of the reason I was so excited for this year’s matchup against Ohio State was Justin Fields’ departure for the NFL (an aside: I am a Bears fan and now have to watch him struggle in Matt Nagy’s offense). C.J. Stroud took over at quarterback this year as a redshirt freshman, and after a shaky first half against Minnesota, the Ohio State offense appears to be as solid as ever. Stroud has completed 66 percent of his passes this season for 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’s not a huge rushing threat, but the Buckeyes have three running backs with over 30 touches each on the season in TreyVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and Master Teague III.
At receiver, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba all have over 400 yards receiving on the year. Let’s hope Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor play.
Given the offensive firepower listed above, it should not be entirely surprising that Ohio State is gaining almost 100 more yards per game than any other team in the conference and scoring almost 50 points per game.
The Buckeyes are definitely a pass-heavy team, but they still rank third in the conference in rushing yards per game. Like last week, the Hoosier offense is going to have to step up to give Indiana a chance in this one. Ohio State’s defense is 11th in yards allowed per game.
Through six games, they Buckeyes are near the middle of the pack in points allowed, so it’s possible that we see another bend-don’t-break defense like we did last week. Not encouraging news, since I doubt whether most backs would have fought as hard to get in the end zone as Stephen Carr did on the Hoosiers’ sole touchdown in Big Ten play this year.
Field goals will simply not cut it against a team that scores 48.5 points a game. This one has the potential to get ugly if Nick Sheridan continues to drive the offense – and my dreams along with it – into the ground.
Q&A With Matt Tamanini
Is there anything in C.J. Stroud’s game right now that reflects his lack of experience?
This is hard to answer, because Stroud looked good — but still very raw — in the season’s first three games. However, after he took a week off to rest an ailing shoulder, he looked damn-near perfect against Rutgers and Maryland. If he continues to play like that for the duration of the season, Ohio State’s offense will be nearly impossible to stop and he will be in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
However, in the second half of the season, the competition (especially on defense) will improve dramatically, making living up to those standards tough to achieve. So, I am reserving judgment until we see what Stroud can do against the better defenses in the Big Ten. That being said, now that Ryan Day has moved from the Justin Fields to the Dwayne Haskins portion of the playbook, Stroud looks incredibly comfortable the the slants, crosses, mesh routes and screens that he is primarily being asked to execute; and it is giving him a lot better matchups when they do decide to go deep.
Outside of the Oregon game, Ohio State hasn’t been tested much. What are the biggest question marks about this team?
The biggest unanswered question for this team is whether or not Ohio State’s seemingly improved defense is actually improved at all. There have been a lot of changes made on that side of the ball following the Oregon game — personnel has shifted dramatically, schemes have been shuffled and defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs has given up play-calling duties to secondary coach Matt Barnes — but they haven’t had to test it out against a quality opponent yet.
While not great, the Buckeye defense has looked pretty good against Rutgers and Maryland, but, with all due respect, that’s against Rutgers and Maryland. Much like with Stroud, we will learn a lot about who the OSU defense really is in the coming weeks. But for now, I’m just not sure that we can say for certain just how good they actually are.
Does anything about this Indiana team concern you coming into this weekend?
I will never not have a ton of respect for any Tom Allen-coached team, so even though things haven’t gone exceptionally well for IU this season, I know that they have the potential to jump up and beat Ohio State at any time. Save, perhaps, Oregon back in Week 2, the Buckeyes haven’t faced a defense that could really put up much of a fight against their offense, but that will certainly change this week in Bloomington. While I think that OSU has far too many weapons to ever be shut down completely, a good defense can absolutely make things difficult for them.
On the other side of the ball, I’m not sold on if a Jack Tuttle-led Indiana offense will provide a huge challenge for the reforming OSU defense, but with Ty Fryfogle still on the roster, I will be holding my breath anytime the ball goes his way after how he torched the Buckeyes last season. This will be the biggest test of the season thus far for Ohio State’s true-freshman cornerback Denzel Burke (more on him in a second).
Are there any lingering injuries that you’re worried about?
Fortunately, the Buckeyes are coming off of an open week, so they have had time to rest and get healthy, not only for this game, but for the back-half of the season. Ohio State has been struggling with injuries to their cornerbacks all year, with at least one of the preseason starters (Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown) having been hurt for every game. Fortunately, the aforementioned Burke has stepped up and become a shockingly strong CB1. He’s not yet at All-American level or anything like that, but he’s gotten better every week and his athleticism and experience as a high school receiver allows him to keep up with just about anyone.
As for the other guys, Banks is back playing, but not near 100 percent, and it sounds like after being out for the Maryland came, Brown is expected to return on Saturday night. If he is fully healthy, I’d guess that Burke and Brown start at the outside corner spots on Saturday night. Also, All-American defensive tackle Haskell Garrett left the game against the Terps with an apparent head injury, but on Tuesday, Day also said that he should be returning, which is a huge bonus for the d-line.
What’s your prediction for the final score?
Ohio State 42, Indiana 17