It was unfortunate that UAB lost their football program, but Indiana reaped the benefits by adding the nation's leading rusher, Jordan Howard.
Last season at UAB, Howard rushed for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was then allowed to transfer without sitting out a season due to the program ceasing operation. The 6'1, 230-pound power back has made his mark early in Bloomington, leading the nation in rushing through four games with 675 yards, at a 6.08 yard per carry clip.
Howard is a change of pace from Tevin Coleman, who left early for the NFL Draft after breaking the single season Indiana rushing record with 2,036 yards in 2014. Coleman was more of a one cut runner who got to the second level with ease, due to his elite speed and quickness. For example, half of his 28 career touchdowns were of 43-plus yards. It is safe to say that Coleman gave the Buckeyes defense trouble last season, carving them up for 228 yards. On the contrary, Howard is more of a bruiser, who only recorded nine runs of over 20-yards on 306 carries last season.
He is a big, physical runner but he has had his chances to gain chunk yardage.
"A lot of times, it's just a back-side receiver, a back-side tight end, a guy on the second level doing his job," Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson said of the difference between a 15- or 20-yard run and a longer one that goes the distance. "So a quarterback carrying out a fake that holds the safety two more steps, all of it just kind of adds up. So sometimes it's teammates. Not that we are doing bad, but sometimes the team gets him in the end zone as much as him."
How Howard is being used
This year as a Hoosier, the UAB transfer is getting a bulk of his carries (56 percent of his carries) on first down. He is averaging 5.84 yards per carry on first down, so he is getting them into manageable down-and-distance for the ensuing downs. He does a good job of gaining positive yardage and sucking the safeties up, to set up play action. On second down, he has carried the ball 39 times, averaging 6.92 yards per carry and moving the chains 17 times. He is great when it matters most, on third-and-short (less than 6 yards) where he converted the first down 66 percent (6-of-9 attempts) of the time.
Indiana runs a jet tempo, spread offense to limit the defense from substituting and keep them on their heels. Howard is typically lined up next to, or staggered behind quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who is having a great bounce back year after his 2014 season was cut short. The Hoosiers are simple, they run inside and outside zone and they execute it very well. It does look like Howard tips his inside or outside runs with his depth in the backfield.
Look where he lines up on inside zone:
Compared to outside zone:
How the Buckeyes will counter
As Coach Meyer noted, the interior run defense had issues and were exposed a bit against Western Michigan. Against the bigger Howard and the less athletic Sudfeld in the backfield, they will primarily need to worry about the inside zone. Although Howard has succeeded this year with outside zone and outside running plays, he does not have the speed to counter Ohio State's perimeter defense. Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, Joey Bosa, Tyquan Lewis and the aggressive fillers in the secondary will take care of the slower, less nimble Howard on the perimeter. He does not have the ability to put his foot in the ground and make a quick cut up-field, ala Ezekiel Elliott.
Raekwon McMillan led the team with 16 tackles against Western Michigan, but he got caught up in the rubbish numerous times. Adolphus Washington has been dominant in Michael Bennett's former role and Tommy Schutt has been solid but he has to do a better job of commanding double teams to free up McMillan and Washington.
Overall, I expect a stand out performance from the defense against Howard and company. Indiana's strengths are similar to the Buckeyes' strengths. They should be able to slow down Howard on outside runs and limit him with their strong defensive line and linebacker play. If Howard starts to gain consistent yardage, Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell have to do their job and not get too aggressive in the run game, so they do not get sucked up in play action.
Look for McMillan to build on last week's performance and limit Indiana's interior run game.