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Indiana’s Jonathan Crawford will be a good test for the Ohio State offense

The Buckeyes face one of the best (and experienced) defensive backs in the Big Ten this weekend.

Indiana v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes are eyeing down a homecoming weekend matchup with a 4-1 Indiana Hoosiers squad this Saturday. Offensively, IU’s Peyton Ramsey is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country, and has potential to be a threat on the ground. Defensively, the Hoosiers have weapons to counteract the Buckeye offense; most notably, safety Jonathan Crawford is one to keep an eye on in Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET kickoff.

Crawford is the leading returner from last season’s campaign, and is one of only a few returning starters on defense. The Hoosiers have had to replace their top three tacklers from a season ago, but so far, Crawford has been up to the task. Through five games, the Largo, Fla., native is leading the defense with 26 tackles, and has recorded 3.0 tackles for loss along with a sack. On the turnover side, he’s dabbled; he snagged an interception and forced a fumble in Week 1 against Florida International, and recovered a fumble against Michigan State in Week 4.

From an experience perspective, you can’t ask for much more. Crawford has started all 43 games at safety, and is the current active leader for the Hoosiers in tackles, interceptions, pass breakups and fumble recoveries. Amongst active players, his nine interceptions are tied for the most in the Big Ten, and are sixth in the country. In the school record books, his interception mark is already tied for eighth.

Before we’ve hit the midway mark of the season, Crawford has proven why he was a preseason All-Big Ten selection according to numerous outlets. Athlon had him pegged as Second-Team, while Phil Steele has him at Third-Team. He’s picked up right where he left off last season. Just look at some of his highlights.

Ohio State had its biggest test of the season last week against Penn State, but they can’t sleep on Indiana. The deep ball wasn’t really a threat last week for the Buckeyes, as the Nittany Lions were constantly bringing pressure on QB Dwayne Haskins. The Hoosiers don’t have the same kind of line that PSU has, especially with senior Jacob Robinson not listed on the depth chart for this week’s game.

Haskins will get more time to throw this week, which means the screen passes probably won’t need to be utilized that much. What will be likely take its place is a return of the vertical passing to Austin Mack, K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor. If the passing game gets going, then expect it to be balanced out with the running attack. J.K. Dobbins showed last week that he should be the primary career, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if that’s what Urban Meyer attempts to do this week.

This is where Crawford will come into play. While passing to the tight end hasn’t been a staple of this Buckeye offense, anything that comes to Parris Campbell, or any rush from Dobbins or Mike Weber, may end with a tackle from Crawford. Because Campbell is shifty with the ball, the matchup with Crawford and the linebackers will be one to watch.

Haskins hasn’t made any dreadful throws into traffic this season, and the second of his two interceptions on the season was not exactly his fault. Last week, one of his throws ricocheted off of Rashod Berry and into the hands of one of the Nittany Lions. If he forced throws, especially to Campbell, I would say that would be something to watch this weekend, as Crawford has done quite well for himself in the interception category.

But, since that’s not really the case, the YAC (yards after catch) will be something to watch out for. Quick passes— like slant routes— can easily turn into big gains for the Buckeyes. Like last week, modest pickups were stretched into big plays that brought OSU back into the game. On those kinds of plays, Crawford and the linebackers will need to contain the receiver.

We know about the speed Dobbins and Weber have. If they get past the line of scrimmage, all bets are off as to what could happen. But, if Crawford can assist, and at least get a hand on the rusher, the Hoosiers might be able to stop a “chunk” rush from being tallied. With experienced members on both sides of the ball missing, the Hoosiers will have to turn to their most experienced leaders.

On defense, that will be Crawford. I’m willing to say, “As goes Crawford, goes the game for the Hoosiers.”

If he plays well and leads tackles again, the Hoosiers defense stands a chance to not get run out of The Horseshoe by halftime. Everyone else will need to pick up some slack, but stops every now and then could be enough to disrupt OSU’s rhythm. If the Buckeyes prove to be too fast, this game could get out of hand by halftime. Haskins has put up monster halves this season, and this game could be no different.

All in all, Indiana has the senior leader in Crawford, and are facing an Ohio State squad coming off of a big, emotional win. This game is the perfect post-Penn State trap for the Buckeyes, as they will see a test in a dual-threat QB, and an experienced safety and defensive back unit.