Seven minutes passed before anyone broached the topic of Indiana with Urban Meyer during the coach’s press conference Monday, a media session typically dedicated to previewing the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponent.
It took all of one second for Meyer to reveal how he felt about the Hoosiers, in response.
“They’re really good,” he said under his breath, almost instinctively, before the reporter could even finish his question.
Despite opening as 32-point favorites, you’ll hear nothing but praise out of Meyer as he discusses the Hoosiers this week. His comments shouldn’t be confused with coach speak, the standard jargon used to overpraise a downtrodden program like Indiana, which hasn’t beaten Ohio State in 28 years.
No, Meyer and the Buckeyes are threatened by the Hoosiers, and recent history legitimizes that feeling.
It’s become a time-honored tradition in Columbus that the head coach at OSU will continuously struggle with the same inferior opponent, year after year. John Cooper was best known for his shortcomings against Michigan and in bowl games, but he also owned a ghastly 6-7 record against Illinois, including a five-game losing streak from 1988-1992.
One of Jim Tressel’s most famous wins came in West Lafayette, when Craig Krenzel hit Michael Jenkins for a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-one to spoil Purdue’s upset bid on a play now simply known as Holy Buckeye.
What was an improbable play become a premonition, and for the rest of Tressel’s tenure it seemed as if Buckeye fans had to pray for the best whenever Ohio State squared off with lowly Purdue. The Senator left Columbus with a winning record against the Black and Old Gold, but had perplexing moments, like in 2009 when his 11-2 Big Ten Champions took its only conference loss to a terrible Boilermaker squad.
Meyer is a perfect 4-0 against the Crimson and Cream of Indiana, but the Hoosiers have very much been to Meyer what Purdue was to Tressel, or Illinois was to Cooper. Quite frankly, Ohio State is fortunate to have not fallen in any of the last four contests, and twice needed historical performances to prevail.
Take last year for instance, when Ezekiel Elliot ripped off touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards to keep pace with Indiana’s offense, and the Buckeyes still needed a defensive stand in the final seconds to avoid upset. Or the year before that, when Jalin Marshall put on Superman’s cape, scored four touchdowns in the second half and preserved Ohio State’s bid for a national title.
Marshall is now in the NFL. As is Elliott, one of 12 Buckeyes selected in the top four rounds of last year’s draft. Indiana, on the other hand, has had 12 players selected in the top four rounds since the turn of the century.
There is a chasm between these two programs from a talent standpoint, but the score has not reflected that in recent years.
“They have played us as good as anyone in the conference,” said defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to the media Tuesday.
Indiana - yes, Indiana - has played Meyer’s Buckeyes closer than the likes of Michigan, Penn State, or Nebraska. The scary thing is, this could be their best team yet.
Kevin Wilson cut his teeth as an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma for nine years, engineering some of the most prolific attacks in the country during that time. He came to Bloomington in 2011 with a reputation for being an offensive prodigy, and for the most part he’s lived up to that billing.
As impressive as it was to see the Hoosiers beat Michigan State last weekend, the manner in which they won was even more telling. For as good as Wilson’s offenses have been, his defenses have been even worse. Against the Spartans, however, Indiana made crucial stops to erase a late 14-0 deficit, and prevented MSU from scoring in overtime.
“I see an outstanding team,” said Meyer. “For four years, it’s been swing as hard as you can because that game is going to be tough. This is by far their best team, and that’s being very respectful of the other teams we’ve played against.”
Oklahoma tested Ohio State’s ability to go on the road and beat a talented opponent in a hostile environment. Rutgers tested the young Bucks’ maturity, facing an outmatched adversary after a bye week.
Traditionally playing a program like Indiana the week before visiting a top-15 team in Wisconsin could create a recipe for overconfidence, a lack of focus, and an upset. With the way the Buckeyes have been tested by the Hoosiers in recent years, that shouldn’t be the case.
"I think the best thing is when it's real and, for example, Indiana is real," said Meyer. "We respect every opponent, but sometimes when the film is not very good that's where you have to create scenarios or maybe not even show them much film. When the team is really good like Indiana ... there's no issue”
Indiana might be better known for its basketball - let alone the candy-striped warm-up pants its basketball players wear - than it is for football. Ohio State might be expected to win by four touchdowns. Feel free to overlook the Hoosiers.
Just know that Ohio State won’t. Urban Meyer knows better by now.