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The win over Indiana wasn’t pretty, but Ohio State’s run defense still hasn’t allowed a TD

Who needs a potent offense when you’re made of brick on D?

Indiana v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

There’s just something about Indiana that bedevils Ohio State, no matter the year or the rankings. The Hoosiers have kept things cardiac-close each of the last three seasons, and Saturday’s matchup in windy Columbus was no different for the first three quarters of play.

Even when the Buckeyes got some breathing room, things weren’t nearly as in-hand as the No. 2 team would’ve hoped for against an unranked (albeit talented) conference opponent. For the first time all season, the passing game looked out of sorts, a disjointed and ugly series of attempts rife with incompletions.

It would be so much nicer to pretend that this season could come without a blemish, without cause for worry or despair on the part of Ohio State fans, at least until late November. (That this was supposed to be a rebuilding year does nothing to temper the despair of a sloppy performance against what should have been an overmatched foe.) But that’s not how the world works, especially the world of sports, which is at once an escape from and a perfect distillation of the chaos and uncertainty that comes with being alive. The mighty occasionally falter, win ugly, stumble. I prefer to pretend that Urban Meyer is simply a student of Hemingway, who once wrote that “you can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it.”

Inconsistency of contractions aside, Papa H. had a point, IMO. We have to accept that every game won’t be a Rutgers-style annihilation. The Buckeyes won by three touchdowns to go to 5-0 on the year. Let’s take a look at the players responsible for walking off with the W in this one.

Blue chip stocks

Jerome Baker, LB: It felt like Baker was everywhere in this one. Hardly a gang tackle went by—and there were plenty of them—without Baker emerging from the bottom of the pile, having been the first to the ball. He was in on 11 tackles, getting credit for seven of them by himself, including two for loss.

Baker definitely benefited from the Hoosiers’ insistence on running the ball despite all evidence that it wasn’t really working for them. Devine Redding found the occasional gap for Indiana, but Baker was often there to meet him. His two TFLs tied him with Robert Landers for the team lead.

Despite being overshadowed by fellow linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Chris Worley, Baker is quietly putting together a great year on this young, hungry Buckeye defense. The whole unit looked great against the run on Saturday, and Baker was a huge reason why.

Dre’mont Jones, DT: Did we mention that the Buckeye run defense is pretty damn stifling? They remain the only team in the country not to allow a rushing touchdown in 2016. That’s despite the best efforts of the Hoosiers to break that streak, with Kevin Wilson drawing up 40 run plays (compared to just 14 passes) for an offense that’s been carried by its aerial attack all season.

Freshman defensive tackle Dre’mont Jones was a big reason why Indiana ended up with just 99 yards rushing on those 40 carries. The Buckeyes got burly in the middle, containing Devine Redding to just 3.5 yards a carry; Jones was in on seven total tackles and got four on his own. The Jones/Robert Landers/Michael Hill rotation inside doesn’t get the same shine as the secondary or the defensive ends, but they’re coming into their own as a unit, and in Jones’ best game as a Buckeye, they were indispensable.

Curtis Samuel, H-back: People who got the same number of touches as Curtis Samuel in the first quarter of this game:

  • Carrot Top
  • Robert Goulet
  • SB Nation’s own Matt Brown

Despite being absent from Ohio State’s game plan in the first 15 minutes, the most dynamic offensive threat on the roster ended up eating in the final 45. (Keeping the ball out of his hands a la Zeke against Michigan State 2015 would’ve resulted in at least one unironic #FireUrban tweet from a sports blogger, so thankfully we’ve been spared that.)

Samuel found paydirt for the fifth time this season as part of a nine-carry, 82-yard effort. He looks like a threat to go for six just about every time he touches the ball, and despite being held without a reception against the Hoosiers, he made an enormous impact on the game. In a contest seriously lacking in offensive inspiration, Samuel was one of the lone bright spots.

Solid investments

Raekwon McMillan, LB: Raekwon the Chef hasn’t forgotten how to cook. If Tom Emanski dedicated a video series to football instead of fundamental infield defense, he’d need look no further than McMillan for footage of consistent form tackling. One-on-one in space, in a crowd, whatever: Ohio State’s middle linebacker doesn’t miss.

McMillan was in on six total tackles, getting three by himself; he also got credit for half a TFL against the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes have a true field general in No. 5.

Marshon Lattimore, CB: It’s honestly a little surprising that Lattimore wasn’t tested more in this one. Indiana’s been excellent through the air this season, so their electing to pass just 14 times was a little puzzling, even considering just how lights-out the Buckeyes have been in the secondary.

Other than a could’ve-gone-either-way pass interference penalty, Lattimore had himself a day against the Hoosiers. He broke up two of Richard Lagow’s passes, as well as recording five solo tackles and getting in on another with teammates.

J.T. Barrett, QB: Let’s get it out of the way early. J.T. Barrett was, uhhh, not good through the air against Indiana. If he were less capable of an athlete or had a lower football IQ, this might be a real issue, but Joe Touchdowns was in fine form leading a rushing attack that slowly eroded all resistance from the Hoosiers.

Barrett finished with 137 rushing yards on 26 carries; he also found his way into the end zone on a perfect option read. We’re going to just ignore his passing stat line and the early fumble and pretend this is a Georgia Tech-style offense.

Junk bonds

The officiating. Yes, it’s an unforgiving, underpaid job, it’s harder than we could fathom, etc. But any time the refs are what stand out across multiple drives, that’s not great for anyone involved. From the Indiana fumble that led to Ohio State’s first touchdown (which looked a whole lot like a forward pass) to the Indiana fumble that Ohio State wasn’t credited for recovering (which they absolutely did), the refs didn’t seem able to get the big calls right. Couple this with the ticky-tack PI call on Lattimore and the lack thereof when Noah Brown was impeded on an early deep ball and you’ve got a nice little stew of errors.

Buy/Sell

BUY: Ohio State’s ability to get people shook. From a schadenfreude perspective, one set of plays really stands out from this one. On a crucial third down, Ohio State’s defense forced Indiana into a delay of game penalty; before calling a play, the Hoosiers were then forced to call timeout to prevent being nailed with a second. The crowd in Ohio Stadium is absolutely a factor in the team’s invincibility.

BUY: The Ohio State Brazil Twitter account. A hidden gem in the college sports landscape, Ohio State’s Brazilian Twitter cohort came to play on Saturday. These South American stalwarts covered everything from the mundane—of which there was plenty—to the really exciting, all in Portuguese. Give them a follow, catch the magic.

SELL: Opening drive turnovers. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The Buckeyes gave up possession on the opening drive. It’s an annoying trend, and while the sloppiness hasn’t mattered against the quality of foes they’ve faced so far, not protecting the football could be a season-killer if they commit the same mistakes against, say, Michigan.

BUY: Fetty Wap. Always good for the sport when a game ends 17-38.