What an absolutely crazy first half of the season it has been in the Big Ten. A quick look at the conference standings shows you that things are quite odd in the 2020 campaign. While Ohio State is where you would expect them to be, the bottom of B1G features teams like Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota. Originally thought of as competitors in their respective divisions, those three programs are a combined 2-10 on the year.
However, for all the teams that have underperformed, there are also the over performers, including a 4-0 Northwestern squad atop the West division as well as the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponent: undefeated No. 9 Indiana.
Ohio State has had its way with the Hoosiers in the history of this series, holding a 75-12 record over the boys from Bloomington and currently riding a 24-game winning streak that dates back to 1991. That being said, this year’s Indiana team is a whole different animal, and Tom Allen has put together a strong roster to go along with his phenomenal coaching prowess that could give the Buckeyes some trouble this time around.
Offensive Player to Watch: Ty Fryfogle
It would be far too easy to name QB Michael Penix as the offensive player to watch in this matchup, as he is the guy everyone has been talking about. Instead, we look to one of his favorite weapons in the wide receiver core: Ty Fryfogle.
The talented senior pass-catcher is having a spectacular breakout season for the Hoosiers. Through four games, Fryfogle leads the team with 24 receptions for 424 yards and four touchdowns. He has already surpassed his career-high for TDs in a season, and is well on pace to shatter his career-high in receiving yards (604 his junior year). Winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his 200-yard, two TD performance against MSU, Fryfogle is one of three receivers in college football with a 0% drop rate on a minimum of 40 targets.
After posting just two catches for 27 yards against Penn State in the season opener, Fryfogle has scored at least one TD in each of the last three games. Ohio State’s pass defense hasn’t exactly been stellar to start the year, but they can’t be worse than some of the secondaries Indiana has been up against so far. Fryfogle has done a bunch of damage against teams like Michigan — whose pass defense ranks 80th in the country — and Michigan State — who may be the worst team in the Big Ten this year — so he is likely looking forward to some better competition this week.
Of course, when taking a look around this Indiana offense, you can’t not mention the rest of the Hoosier air raid attack with Penix and Whop Philyor. Penix has looked really good this season, completing over 60% of his passes for nearly 1,100 yards with nine TDs and three INTs. The lefty has some great zip on his ball, and his accuracy has made life easy for guys like Fryfogle and Philyor. Tied atop the team leaderboard with 24 receptions, Philyor has racked up 287 yards and a TD thus far.
Defensive Player to Watch: Micah McFadden
Outside of a much improved offense, the theme for this year’s Indiana team has been defense. Through four games, they’ve forced an outstanding 12 turnovers as a unit, including a whopping 10 INTs and two fumble recoveries.
While the Hoosiers secondary is incredibly talented, the engine that keeps this defense running is junior linebacker Micah McFadden. Much like Pete Werner for Ohio State, McFadden does it all for Indiana. The former three-star recruit out of Florida leads the team with 31 total tackles on the season to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. He had his best performance of the year last time out against Michigan State, recording a team-high nine tackles as he helped hold the Spartans to just 60 yards rushing.
Playing behind McFadden, the Hoosiers’ defensive backs are no joke. You don't rack up 10 interceptions on accident, and they are led in that department by Jaylin Williams and Tiawan Mullen. Williams leads the team with three INTs, recording one each in the team’s first three games, while Mullen’s two picks both came against MSU. Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack likes to use Mullen similarly to how Ohio State used Shaun Wade a year ago, freeing him up to run some corner blitzes that have resulted in 2.5 sacks for the sophomore already this season.
Indiana has scored more than a third of their points this year off turnovers. They now go up against an offense ran by Justin Fields — a guy who has thrown three total picks in 437 pass attempts at Ohio State and has completed over 86% (!!) of his passes this season so far. Will they be the first team to slow down the Buckeyes’ passing attack, or will the three-headed monster of Fields, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson be too much even for what will probably be the best defense OSU sees in the regular season?