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Ohio State’s inexperienced secondary will be challenged by Indiana’s strength on the perimeter

The Hoosiers return two top receivers and their starting quarterback.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes finally got their offensive wizard to replace Tom Herman and he just so happens to begin his career as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator at the Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN, where he called home since 2011.

When Wilson was forced out, or “stepped down” from the head coaching job at Indiana due to “philosophical differences,” he left the program in a very good position from where it was when he arrived. Out went Wilson, one of the nation’s best offensive minds, while defensive coordinator Tom Allen was named his successor.

Allen then hired Mike DeBord away from Tennessee as his offensive coordinator. DeBord might be familiar to Buckeye fans because he was Michigan’s offensive coordinator from 1997-1999 and then again from 2006-2007. He coached Brian Griese, Tom Brady and Chad Henne, while guiding them to a national title in 1997.

Flash forward to 2015-2016, when DeBord called the plays in Knoxville, TN. His offensive talent was loaded with stars such as Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. Tennessee put up numbers — especially during his final five games, where the Vols averaged 48 points per game. DeBord unleashed the Swiss-Army knife that was Dobbs, and most importantly they converted in the red zone — something that DeBord wants to improve for the Hoosiers.

The new head coach was quick to call out Wilson’s deficiencies, pointing out that although the offense racked up yardage in 2016, they failed to finish drives.

“It’s about scoring touchdowns,” Allen said. “I’ve said it before: Yards are what they are. I really don’t care what we’re ranked in yards. It’s about points. It’s the same way on defense. You’ve got to keep them out of the end zone, and you’ve got to put it in the end zone on offense.”

DeBord runs a similar zone-blocking scheme as Wilson and has been known to run a one-dimensional rushing attack, but Allen stated that they’ll still run an up-tempo offense that will continue to stretch the field vertically. Although returning quarterback Richard Lagow does not possess a dynamic skill set like Dobbs, DeBord is looking to utilize Lagow’s strengths to throw the ball more, especially in the red zone.

“You’ve got to be able to put the ball in the end zone throw-wise,” DeBord said Saturday. “We actually threw the ball a little bit more (at Tennessee). That’s why we were a little bit more successful in the red zone, so that’s what we’re looking to do.”

The Hoosiers don’t have a Jordan Howard, or a Kamara, Dobbs or even a Hurts to lean on this season, so it looks like they’ll be forced to rely on Lagow’s arm and two terrific receivers in Simmie Cobbs Jr. and Nick Westbrook. Cobbs racked up 1,035 yards and four touchdowns on 60 receptions in 2015, while Westbrook totaled 1,064 yards and seven touchdowns on 60 receptions in 2016.

So although DeBord wants to rely on a strong running game, his strength and experience at quarterback and receiver might be able to take advantage of Ohio State’s youth in the secondary. The Buckeyes return arguably the best defensive line in the country and three studs at linebacker, while the Hoosiers lost the top offensive lineman in the Big Ten, Dan Feeney. As we know, Damon Webb is the lone full-time starter returning in the secondary, and it would be smart for DeBord to challenge them early.

Cobbs is a 6’4, 220-pound beastly receiver who primarily plays on the outside and is returning from an ankle injury that forced him to sit out the 2016 season. He’ll be a size mismatch on the perimeter with Denzel Ward, Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield standing at 5’11 and 6’0 respectively. Cobbs has speed to beat the defense vertically and has the strength to make plays after the catch, as shown below.

Westbrook is similar to Simms, as he stands at 6’3, 216 lbs and will flank the opposite side of the field on the perimeter. Westbrook is a burner who roasted Denzel Ward on a 50-yarder last season. He has the ability to also take a screen or a shallow crosser to the house. He has great acceleration which has allowed him to exceed 15-yards on a reception 22 times and 25-plus yards 12 times. He’s a real burner who will test a secondary that just lost the best single-high free safety in the country, Malik Hooker, and will have two new corners on the outside who will likely play a lot of man-coverage.

As mentioned above, new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord would ideally like to run the ball, but it would make the most sense to go out of his element a bit to challenge the new Ohio State secondary with his game-breaking receivers.

When you’re coordinating your first game at a new school and you happen to be a 20.5-point underdog at home on national television, one would expect some fireworks. Indiana has nothing to lose and they possess the talent to make some plays on the perimeter against an inexperienced positional group.