For the Hoosiers (4-6, 2-4), this game presents a chance for to bounce back from a pasting last week by Wisconsin, and to end a 17-game skid against the Buckeyes. The setting from last year's game - at home, at night, against the 2012 Buckeyes - was close to ideal. Doing so this week, against a Buckeye team looking for red blood and knowing crimson will do, will be an unenviable task for third year head coach Kevin Wilson.
If there is a way for the Hoosiers to beat the Buckeyes, it will be to keep up with them on offense, because the Indiana defense hasn't done the Crimson and Cream any favors this season, averaging almost 40 points against per game, good enough for 117th nationally. Three different Wisconsin backs had triple-digit outputs against the Hoosiers last week en route to a 51-3 shellacking at Camp Randall. In fact, to revive the meme, I'm pretty sure Wisconsin just scored again.
But, to be fair to the Hoosiers, their offense has been explosive enough to make up for their Swiss cheese defense. Before the Wisconsin game, Indiana had put 28 or more points on the board in 10 consecutive games and, with two games to go, have already set or tied school records for passing touchdowns (28) and total touchdowns (52). Indiana runs the ball from time to time, but it will lean toward throwing without mercy. The cannon belongs to Nate Sudfeld, who has over 2,200 yards passing and 19 touchdowns on the year. When Sudfeld isn't working, Tre Roberson usually is in the change-of-pace role, with 9 touchdowns to his name on the year. When the Buckeyes have struggled, it has been against pass-heavy offenses, and that's exactly what Indiana brings to the table.
But the Indiana offense, so potent against the likes of Michigan, Penn State and Illinois, couldn't find the any semblance of that form last week in Madison. Coming into Columbus, the Hoosiers find themselves on the underdog side of a 32-point spread. Against a good Buckeye offense and an improving Buckeye defense, it will take near-perfect execution with the ball, and a fair amount of luck on defense to get within that number.
Look around the college football world right now, and you'll undoubtedly see or hear a lot about style points and strength of schedule slim BCS margins. Indeed, in the eyes of most people, pundits and partisans, you would believe that there is no way that Ohio State, even if it destroys the living daylights out of Indiana tomorrow, will be able to overcome the mighty Baylor Bears for the right to look up at Florida State and Alabama. Even SB Nation's resident guru, Bill Connelly thinks the voters will hedge toward Baylor, rather than potential 25-consecutive-win Ohio State.
But we're not here to talk about that, we're here to talk about Ohio State and Indiana, which, last year, provided one of the more exciting, high-scoring and all together annoying games on that slate. The two teams that renew acquaintances on Senior Day in The 'Shoe tomorrow, and the college football world can have it's own life, and champion style points at its leisure; Urban Meyer has always been a bigger fan of winning your games before playing politics with the voters, and you can bet that's on the agenda for Saturday.
The Buckeye bonafides are well-known commodities at this point: quick-striking first quarter, opportunistic defense, bruising running game - lather, rinse, repeat. All three will be key to beating a pesky Indiana team with offense to spare.
The first quarter is important to this Buckeye team (10-0, 6-0), and has been all year. Ohio State has opened each game with a first quarter that has opponents playing from behind, including going up 63-0 in the first quarter in the last three games, all three blowout wins. The only game where Ohio State didn't have a strong first quarter was against Northwestern at night in the rain, and it still would up winning by 10. Indiana might be the most prolific offense on the Buckeye schedule, but the defense is soft,which could easily give way to another first quarter deluge of points for the scarlet and gray.
The defense, on the other hand, has been equally special in the first quarter, and throughout the phases of the game. The Silver Bullets are only giving up 18.8 points per game (13th nationally), 92.6 yards per game on the ground (fifth nationally) and still have not given up a 100-yard rusher on the other side of the ball. Last week was the first time all season that the unit gave up a rush of more than 20 yards, but made up for it with two interceptions - one a Bradley Roby pick-six - and now have an interception in every game, going back to the 2012 Michigan affair. It is time to drop the "maligned" from the ranks of descriptors of the Buckeye defense - this might be one of the most athletic and talented defenses Columbus has seen in years.
Finally, one can't speak about Ohio State without mentioning arguably the best running back in the country that no one wants to call that, Carlos Hyde. His 947 yards and 11 touchdowns this year has him on pace to be Urban Meyer's first ever 1,000 yard running back. The Heisman narrative was supposed to belong to Braxton Miller this year, but injury took him out of the debate. In hindsight, maybe it is Hyde who might have been going to New York City in December, but for his own missed games due to suspension.