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Ohio State vs. Indiana preview: Bucks look to continue IU dominance against nation's leading rusher

The Buckeyes open Big Ten play in Bloomington against the Indiana Hoosiers and look to start conference play the right way.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State Buckeyes start the Big Ten portion of their much-criticized schedule this Saturday when they travel to Bloomington to face the Indiana Hoosiers. The two teams have met a total of 87 times, with the Buckeyes winning 70 of them. Ohio State also currently holds a 19-game winning streak against the Hoosiers dating back to 1991. The Buckeyes will look to make that streak an even 20 Saturday in Memorial Stadium.

The Buckeyes are coming off of a week where it appeared they somewhat found their groove on offense, something that hadn't been seen in the three games prior. Cardale Jones played the majority of the game, and nearly had the first 300-yard passing game of his career, until he was pulled in the fourth quarter for J.T. Barrett. Fortunately for Ohio State, although their defense played a sloppy game, many players still put up good numbers, and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington even became a frontrunner for the Piesman Trophy.

Indiana is coming in to this one with one thing in common with the Buckeyes, and that is a 4-0 record. The Hoosiers have knocked off Southern Illinois, FIU, Western Kentucky, and Wake Forest. While none of their wins have been particularly pretty or impressive, a win is a win, and the Buckeyes know this as well over the course of their first four games. Last season, the Hoosiers gave the Buckeyes problems up until the third quarter, when Jalin Marshall scorched them for four touchdowns in the second half, three of them coming in the fourth quarter.

Data dump

Team Record AP F/+ Rk Line
Ohio State 4-0 1 2 -21.5
Indiana 4-0 NR 78

Ohio State Five Factors

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 62 1.09 23 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 45.1% 48 30.7% 13 40.6%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 33.4 25 27.3 40 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.93 62 3.77 23 4.71
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -2.33 109 Turnover Luck (PPG):
+1.66
ACTUAL -1 79

Indiana Five Factors

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 98 1.36 100 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 48.9% 24 43.3% 88 40.6%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 28.8 83 23.7 5 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.94 61 4.92 87 4.71
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED 4.17 4 Turnover Luck (PPG):
+2.29
ACTUAL 6 7

Ohio State's biggest advantages

Defense, defense, defense. Ohio State's defense has been terrifying for opposing offenses. Sure, last week they looked shaky, but still managed an interception for a touchdown, as well as sacks from Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan. The good thing for the Buckeyes is that their bad defensive game is a lot of other team's best game. That's a pretty ideal situation for any team. With all of the talent, the Silver Bullets are able to make each other's jobs easier, keeping each other fresh.

The Buckeyes defense boasts six players with an interception, 10 players with at least half a sack, and 15 players with at least half a tackle for loss. Considering the season is just four games old, that's not bad. Linebackers Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, and Raekwon McMillan are perhaps the best linebacking corps in the FBS. The secondary is just as ferocious, and it seems at the end of every play, safety Vonn Bell is near the ball.

But perhaps the most important group on Saturday will be the defensive line. While talented, the Buckeyes will be facing the nation's leading rusher in Jordan Howard. The likes of Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, and Tyquan Lewis, along with help from Sam Hubbard, will be largely important in slowing down the stud running back. A performance from the first three games of the season will be crucial for this group.

A starting quarterback. Yes, Indiana also has a starting quarterback. But aside from the offensive line woes, one of the Buckeyes' biggest issues was at the quarterback position, and who thought we would have been saying that at this point in the season? Although there has been uncertainty, it appears that Cardale Jones has made that job his, based on his performance against Western Michigan, as well as there being no "or" on the depth chart for the first time all season.

Cardale Jones, while still making some questionable decisions against Western Michigan made some solid throws, and really good decisions to follow up his bad ones. Jones never gave Urban Meyer a reason to pull him from the game, and the fact that he didn't have to look over his shoulder the entire game really helped him, giving him the confidence he needed. Jones could have an even bigger and better game against the Hoosiers, who have not been great at defending the pass so far this season. The Hoosiers allow teams to act as well-oiled machines in the passing game, and give up big plays on offense, which is right in Cardale Jones' wheelhouse. With that in mind, we could see his first big game of the season, and breakout games for the Buckeye receivers.

Special teams. The often forgotten about aspect of any team, the Buckeyes special teams unit is a good one, and they proved as much last week. The Buckeyes punting unit did not allow one return to Western Michigan last week, providing great coverage on good punts from Cameron Johnston, whose longest punt was a booming 67 yards. Johnston was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the Broncos.

The Buckeyes kickoff unit has also been a good performer, giving up just over 17 yards per kickoff return, one of the best in the nation. A lot of this is perhaps attributed to the fact that many of the Buckeyes playing on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball, who are some of the nation's best athletes, are putting in great contributions on special teams. It really doesn't hurt to have ballhawk Vonn Bell on your special teams unit.

Indiana's biggest advantages

They have nothing to lose. Very few people expected the Hoosiers to be 4-0. After struggling against FCS opponent Southern Illinois, who is typically known for basketball (and hasn't even been good at that recently), the Hoosiers looked like they would be in for a very long season. After getting a win against Wake Forest, the Hoosiers look to break Ohio State's win streak against them, which currently sits at 19 games. Indiana hasn't been 5-0 since 1967 (their current coach was just 6 years old at the time).

The Hoosiers can shoot their shots. We have seen plenty of times this college football season when underdogs had the chance to potentially upset teams (see: Jacksonville State vs. Auburn), and have played not to lose as opposed to playing to win the game. Indiana is on their home field, and have garnered so much support and excitement in Bloomington that is typically only seen from the basketball program. Shoot, even SB Nation's Indiana site, Crimson Quarry, helped get this game consideration for College GameDay. The Hoosiers know going into this one that they have nothing to lose, and per usual, will give the top team in the nation their best game.

Running the rock. Jordan Howard has done a fine job in replacing Tevin Coleman, who was one of the best backs in the nation last season. Howard, a transfer out of UAB, rushed for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns last season for the Blazers, so his transfer to Indiana was welcomed warmly by those in Bloomington. Thus far this season, Howard has 675 yards and four touchdowns, averaging an efficient 6.1 yards per carry in the process. With his 6-1, 230 pound frame, Howard is the most intimidating part of the Indiana Hoosiers team.

Howard's biggest contribution has possibly been helping set up the play action for the Hoosiers, who are getting a good year out of quarterback Nate Sudfeld in part because of the success of Howard. A solid running game is a quarterback's best friend (next to a strong offensive line, of course), and Sudfeld and Howard get along just fine in that aspect. Howard is a workhorse, with 20 carries being the least he has gotten in Indiana's four games this season. He is a big, bruising back, and should be more than something of note for the Buckeye defense.

Efficiency on offense. What the Hoosiers might need to be in their favor the most on Saturday alongside a strong game from Jordan Howard is a typical efficient game on offense. The Hoosier offense is 24th in the nation in offensive efficiency, with a success rate of 48.9 percent. While their rushing game is clearly a strong suit with the numbers put up by Jordan Howard, Indiana is even more efficient in the passing game, as they are 18th in the nation in passing success rate. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld has had a great comeback season, and has thrown just one interception through four games.

Sudfeld has also completed over 61 percent of his passes this season, his best percentage since his freshman season with the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers haven't been exactly explosive on the offensive end, and that's fine. They would rather be efficient than explosive, especially against an Ohio State defense that has been one of the best in the country through the first four weeks of the season. If for whatever reason the Hoosiers offense is breaking off explosive plays, it could be a good day for them.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 40, Indiana 20

Win probability: Ohio State 87%

Ohio State is expected to win this one, and win this one big, as they should be. They have dominated Indiana over the years, and appear to be catching their stride heading into the tougher part of their schedule. Now, if Ohio State is unable to get it going in this one, panic might be at an all-time high for the season. But if last week was any indication, the Buckeyes should be just fine.

Indiana will have their flashes on offense just as all of the Buckeyes four opponents have during this season, but between a stout defense and improved offense, this shouldn't be much of a contest. Expect a good game from Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld, but expect a better one from Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and the Buckeye receivers. If history is any indicator, the Buckeyes are in good shape, as the Hoosiers are 0-15 against the top-ranked team in the nation. Their last shot? Against the Buckeyes in 2006, a 44-3 win for the Buckeyes.

Predict the score: