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Ohio State safety tandem will be key against Indiana

Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell look to continue their run of excellence against Indiana's passing attack.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It's fair to say that the 2015 edition of Ohio State's offense is still figuring things out, but the same could hardly be said of the defense. Through four games, the unit coached by Luke Fickell and Chris Ash has looked like one of the best in the country.

There are myriad reasons why this is the case, but you could do worse than looking at the Buckeyes' pair of safeties, Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell. The two of them have helped anchor a formidable passing defense, one that has brought several teams crashing back down to earth in this nascent season. Take Western Michigan. The Broncos, who put up 365 yards through the air against Michigan State, could only muster 169 against the stingy OSU secondary.

The Buckeyes head to Indiana to open up Big Ten play this weekend, and the need for a No Fly Zone continues -- Hoosier QB Nate Sudfeld is off to a good start, throwing 7 TDs to just 1 INT so far during a 4-0 campaign. Let's take a look at how Powell and Bell can help shut down Indiana's passing game and put the Buckeyes at 5-0 on the year.

The stats

Year: Juniors

Height: 6'3 (Powell), 5'11 (Bell)

Weight: 210 lbs (Powell), 205 lbs (Bell)

Current Stat Lines

  • Powell: 17.5 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup
  • Bell: 17.5 tackles, 1 interception, 6 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery

It only seems fitting that Powell and Bell have such similar numbers, given what they've meant as a pair for the Buckeye defense. The only significant difference between the two comes in pass breakups; while part of the discrepancy can be chalked up to the different roles that Bell and Powell play, give No. 11 credit -- he's been giving quarterbacks hell all year.

The Ohio State pass defense as a whole doesn't just look good, they pass muster once you crunch the numbers, too. Bell's and Powell's efforts are each good for 8% of the team's tackle totals, certainly nothing to sneeze at. The Buckeyes post an above-average Havoc rate in the secondary, as well as coming in as a top-15 team when you look at PD to INC rate -- the percentage of opposing incompletions that are either actively broken up or intercepted. These are aggressive defensive backs, and Powell and Bell are as good as any of them.

The game situation

Perhaps the best bit of news for Ohio State fans heading into Saturday's game is that Tevin Coleman won't be suiting up for the Hoosiers, as his talents were taken to the NFL in the offseason. Given what Coleman did to a middling OSU run defense last year, that's no small victory for the Buckeyes. Still, this year's edition of Indiana football is not without weapons. Powell and Bell will, in part, be tasked with containing a pair of twin trees in receiver Simmie Cobbs, Jr. (coming in at 6'4, 212 pounds) and tight end Michael Cooper (6'5, 260), who could spar with Cardale Jones if the occasion called for it. Modest 5'10 receiver Ricky Jones is no slouch, either, racking up 411 yards and 3 TDs already this season.

Ohio State are still the heavy favorites -- SB Nation stats guru Bill Connelly posits an 87% chance that the Buckeyes win -- but that doesn't mean it will be a cakewalk for Urban Meyer's team in Bloomington. Provided the offense keeps clicking, the defense will still have their work, if not cut out for them, then at least perforated with the little scissor icon drawn next to it. Powell and Bell, absurdly athletic defenders each, will be a huge part of another passing game lockdown for the Buckeyes.

What to watch for

Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell won't be without help when Ohio State takes on the Hoosiers. Eli Apple and Gareon Conley have both been impressive at corner, contributing to the shutdown efforts of the pass defense. The front seven, at the moment being paced by the linebacking corps, will surely have a thing or two to say about Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld's 2% sack rate and 8.8 yards per passing attempt.

That's not to mention a pair of guys you may have heard of, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington. The all-universe defensive end looks to be hitting his stride after missing the first game of the season, and Washington is doing his best Michael Bennett impersonation as he goes after opposing QBs and RBs with equal malice.

The conclusion

The defending national champs appear to be back on track. The offense has woken up after a disastrous effort against Northern Illinois, and Cardale Jones seems firmly poised to be the starter at QB for the rest of the year. That kind of consistency will be key moving forward, and Indiana's defense -- middling to bad in most advanced statistical categories -- will be an excellent proving ground for a team still in search of its offensive identity.

That leaves Indiana's offense against the terrifying defense of Ohio State, if the Hoosiers have any prayer of going 5-0. And hey, there's a lot to like on that side of the ball. Kevin Wilson's team is a top 25 team by offensive S&P+, a top 10 team by power rushing success rate, and a top 20 team by passing success rate, and have shown they can put points on the board against inferior opposition.

But Ohio State is still Ohio State, and Indiana is still Indiana. The Hoosiers will find a way to score in this game, but it won't be nearly as often as the Buckeyes do, especially through the air. Messrs. Powell and Bell have shown an unwillingness to allow big plays this season, and don't expect Sudfeld and co. to break the streak. It's still not the thumping that Buckeye fans are waiting for their team to lay on someone, but Ohio State leaves Bloomington the 45-21 victor.