Fresh off of their 58-0 defenestration of Rutgers last weekend, the Ohio State Buckeyes will face their second conference foe of the season when the Indiana Hoosiers come to town.
Against Rutgers, the Buckeye defense looked as good as it has in years. Despite not forcing a turnover, which has so far been the hallmark of this unit in 2016, they held the Scarlet Knights scoreless. Ohio State recorded as many sacks as Rutgers did complete passes. It was a ludicrous performance.
They won’t get off quite so easy against the Hoosiers. While Kevin Wilson’s team probably doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of many Buckeye fans, the Hoosiers have proven themselves a competent team through the air and a serviceable one on the ground, descriptions that really don’t apply to three of the four teams that Ohio State has dismantled this season.
If Indiana keeps the margin closer than Vegas (32.5 points at press time) and the advanced stats (25.6 points) think they will, it will almost certainly be because of this competent passing attack. Led by junior quarterback Richard Lagow, who beat out would-be giant killer and Handsomest Dude In College Football™ Zander Diamont in camp this summer, the Hoosiers have effectively spread the ball around to a trio of experienced receivers. They’ve done some damage, even against a team like traditional Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State.
Enter Marshon Lattimore.
Name: Marshon Lattimore
Weight: 192 lbs.
Line: 7.5 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 passes broken up
As name-making seasons go, Lattimore has so far only been outshone by his teammate Malik Hooker on the Buckeye defense. Hooker, Lattimore, and Gareon Conley make up the backbone of a secondary that’s making it easier and easier to forget the names Bell, Powell, and Apple. Chalk it up to the players themselves, chalk it up to the wizardry of Urban Meyer, chalk it up to Greg Schiano’s rabidity. Whatever the reason, the Ohio State secondary has become a force to be reckoned with in college football.
The spotlight might shine brightest on Lattimore this Saturday.
The Hoosiers aren’t the most complete team around, but the advanced stats really like what they’ve done throwing the ball. Lagow’s arm and the competence of his receiving corps have Indiana situated at No. 8 in the country in passing S&P+, and No. 10 in passing IsoPPP—essentially a measure of how often a team is successful passing the ball combined with how much value they’re able to extract from those successful pass plays. (Put in context, Indiana’s passing game has been almost identical in potency to Miami’s this season, and ranks ahead of schools like Florida State and LSU by those same metrics.)
The most intriguing and probably most dangerous member of Indiana’s receiving corps is senior Ricky Jones. Jones went off for 124 yards on just five grabs against Michigan State last week, including a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. At 5’10, 185 lbs., Jones splits the difference between 5’7 Mitchell Paige (who leads the Hoosiers in targets and catches) and 6’3, 215-pound matchup nightmare Nick Westbrook.
Don’t sleep on Lagow (pronounced like the intro to Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now”), either. The Hoosier QB is a talented athlete who can catch passes, too; he reeled in a great grab to score a gadget play touchdown against the Spartans. Something we might see more of? Only time will tell.
The Hoosiers have done a great job of protecting him, too.
Indiana's O-line has the best pass-blocking efficiency in the Big Ten. QB Richard Lagow has been pressured on just 21.2% of dropbacks.— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 4, 2016
What to watch for
If Indiana’s offensive line can keep up their solid run of play and continue giving Lagow time to throw—a slightly taller task in light of some recent injury troubles—Lattimore and co. will have to step up and shut down a talented group of wide receivers.
The Buckeye defensive staff has found success, to put it mildly, against teams like this in the past. The press-quarters scheme that the Buckeyes play is a simple, flexible one that the defense can use to get a numbers advantage against either the run or the pass, depending what’s read in the pre-snap.
In order to make this defense work, the starting Ohio State corners, Lattimore and Conley, have to play close to the line; this allows them to be aggressive against the run, but it does require a good deal of speed and football IQ against the pass, as they’re working against receivers without much cushion.
Lattimore’s uniquely suited to this challenge. At 6’0, 192 lbs., he makes for an imposing physical matchup for any wide receiver. As the Buckeyes’ No. 2 corner (he’s listed as an OR on the depth chart alongside Denzel Ward, but there’s no reason to think he’ll lose out on too many snaps), he’ll likely see a lot of Hoosier No. 2 Nick Westbrook. Westbrook is a monster, but Lattimore has the size and speed to stay with him.
The nice part about the press-quarters scheme is that Lattimore won’t be alone, regardless of the matchup he draws. As mentioned above, that defense is designed to get a numbers advantage against either the pass or the run by getting safety help to the correct area of the field. If the Hoosiers do run, Malik Hooker and Damon Webb will be ready to meet them at the line; if they show pass—which they should do often in this one, as their ground game has been pretty pedestrian—Lattimore and Conley will have help over the top.
Will that be enough to slow down a potent offensive attack? We’ll find out more this weekend.