After an unexpected bye week last week, Ohio State gets back on the field this weekend, hosting the upstart Indiana Hoosiers. The Buckeyes were supposed to travel to Maryland last week, but the Terrapins were unable to play due to COVID-19 issues. The cancellation was Ohio State’s first in-season since 1919 when the Spanish Flu had its grips on the country.
A lopsided series
Ohio State has dominated their neighbor to the west, winning 24 consecutive games over Indiana. Since 1952, Ohio State is 55-2-2 against the Hoosiers, and 75-12-5 overall. The Buckeyes have had little trouble getting their offense going against Indiana, scoring at least 30 points in 16 straight games against the Hoosiers.
Thinking about two weeks ago
Last time we saw Ohio State on the field, the Buckeyes defeated Rutgers 49-27. Ohio State won their 22nd straight home game, which is not only the third-longest active streak amongst FBS teams, but it is three wins shy of tying the school record of 25 straight home wins.
The Buckeyes were firmly in control in the first half against the Scarlet Knights, taking a 35-3 lead into the halftime break. The second quarter has been where Ohio State has done their damage this year, outscoring opponents 45-10, as well as outgaining opponents 419 yards to 93 yards.
More big numbers
Justin Fields continued his stellar start to the season, adding six more total touchdowns to his season total in the victory over Rutgers. Fields has 13 total touchdowns through three games this year, while throwing just 11 incomplete passes. The 314 yards Fields passed for against the Scarlet Knights was his second 300-yard passing game of the season, and fifth of his Ohio State career. After just 17 games in the scarlet and gray, Fields already has the fourth-most 300-yard passing games in school history.
Fields has had to do most of the work on offense since he hasn’t been getting a lot of help from the running game. After rushing for 110 yards against Penn State, Master Teague III wasn’t able to find his footing against Rutgers, rushing for just 60 yards on 12 carries. After averaging at least 5.8 yards per carry in his first two years with the Buckeyes, Teague is averaging just 4.5 yards per carry this year.
It’s not just Teague who has struggled rushing the football for Ohio State this year. After transferring into the program from Oklahoma in the offseason, Trey Sermon has failed to live up to expectations so far. Sermon’s 4.8 yards per carry is actually higher that what Teague has been able to average this year, but it is still a yard per carry below his lowest season total during his time with the Sooners. If Sermon isn’t able to start breaking some bigger runs, Steele Chambers could be in line for some more carries, as Chambers has impressed in limited action this year.
Then again, Fields hasn’t needed much production from the running game, since he has a couple of the best wide receivers in the country. Garrett Wilson topped 100 yards receiving for the third straight game, making him the first Buckeye receiver to hit triple digits in receiving yardage in three consecutive games since David Boston accomplished the feat twice in 1998. Cris Carter holds the school record with five straight games with 100 yards receiving.
Along with Wilson, Chris Olave is putting up huge numbers this year. Olave has 18 catches for 288 yards and four touchdowns. Olave has 19 career receiving touchdowns, which currently is tied for seventh in school history. The next receiving touchdown for the junior will move him into a tie with K.J. Hill for sixth place. Last year Olave caught three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown against the Hoosiers.
Movin’ on up
Another player moving their way up the Ohio State career receiving touchdown list is Jeremy Ruckert. The tight end has three receiving touchdowns on the season, and seven career receiving touchdowns, which is currently tied for 10th all-time among Ohio State tight ends. Ruckert’s touchdown rate is pretty impressive. Of his 24 career catches, seven have been touchdowns.
The Buckeyes will be facing their toughest test of the season when they try and slow down an Indiana offense that has scored at least 24 points in each of their first four games. Ohio State has been great in the first half of games this year. The second half has been another story, as they have seen some lapses after building a big lead in games. Rutgers actually outscored the Buckeyes 24-14 in the second half, although the Scarlet Knights did throw about every trick play in the book at Ohio State.
Work in progress
To beat Indiana, Ohio State is going to need to pressure Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. early and often. The Buckeyes can’t afford to give Penix time to find Whop Philyor, Ty Fryfogle, and Peyton Hendershot. After pressuring Sean Clifford all night long, Ohio State wasn’t able to get much heat on Rutgers and Noah Vedral. Tuf Borland was the only Buckeye who was able to register a sack against the Scarlet Knights. Defensive tackle Tommy Togiai still leads the Buckeyes with three sacks this year, with all of them coming in the victory at Penn State.
Looking for consistency
While there isn’t any questions at linebacker with Borland, Pete Werner, and Baron Browning, the same can’t be said for the Buckeye secondary. Cornerback Shaun Wade’s play has been inconsistent so far this year. If there was ever a week to shift the momentum, it would be this one for Wade, as he’ll have a number of heavily targeted Indiana receivers to keep tabs on. Wade will also have to carry more responsibility, as Cameron Brown was lost for the year after suffering an injury in the Penn State game.
Indiana enters this game at 4-0, which is the first time they’ve reached that mark since 2015, and just the seventh time they’ve been 4-0 in school history. Not only are the Hoosiers ranked in the Top-10 for the first time since 1969, Indiana has been ranked in the Top-10 in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 1967.
Already this year Indiana has beaten Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State in the same season for the first time in school history, and now they are looking to defeat Ohio State for the first time since 1987. If Indiana is able to upset the Buckeyes, they’ll be in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten East crown. The Hoosiers have only won the Big Ten twice in school history, with the last conference championship coming back in 1967.
Last time out
The most recent win for Indiana came last week when they beat Michigan State 24-0 in East Lansing. The shutout was Indiana’s first on the road since 1993 when they beat Northwestern in Evanston. The Hoosiers racked up 433 yards of total offense against the Spartans, giving them at least 400 yards of offense in back-to-back games.
Past meets present
Tom Allen is in his fourth season as head coach of Indiana, posting a 22-20 record during his time in Bloomington. Allen took over after current Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and the school agreed to part ways after there was allegations against Wilson of mistreatment of players. Wilson was 26-47 in six seasons as head coach of the Hoosiers.
The eight wins Indiana posted last year was the first time Indiana has recorded eight wins in a season since 2004, and just the third time they’ve secured eight wins since 1945. The Hoosiers had a shot to win nine games for the first time since 1967, but Indiana wasn’t able to finish off Tennessee in the Gator Bowl, blowing a 22-9 lead in the fourth quarter.
The driving force of the Indiana offense this year has been quarterback Michael Penix Jr. After dipping his toe in the water last year before suffering a season-ending injury in early November against Northwestern, Penix has thrown for 1,070 yards and nine touchdowns in four games this year. The outstanding effort on the two-point conversion in double overtime in the season opener against Penn State secured the victory for the Hoosiers. Penix is now 9-1 as a starter and his 342 yards passing and three touchdown passes against Michigan earned him Manning Award Quarterback of the Week honors.
Penix has benefitted from having three outstanding targets at his disposal. While Whop Philyor gets most of the headlines, Ty Fryfogle has really come on lately. After catching seven passes for 142 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, Fryfogle bettered those numbers against Michigan State, hauling in 11 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. The 200 yards receiving by Fryfogle was the seventh time a Hoosier receiver has reached that mark. Fryfogle now has 99 career catches at Indiana.
Fryfogle has given Penix and the Hoosiers a tremendous second option behind Philyor, who has been one of the most productive receivers in school history. Philyor has 150 career catches, which ranks sixth in Indiana history. With four more catches, Philyor will tie Tandon Doss for fifth in school history. Last year Philyor was named Second Team All-Big Ten after recording 70 catches for 1,002 yards, and five touchdowns.
Another prime target for Penix is tight end Peyton Hendershot. While Hendershot might not see the football as much as Indiana’s top two receivers, he is just as reliable. Ohio State found out last year what Hendershot brings to the table after the tight end caught four passes for 70 yards, one of which was a 49-yard touchdown catch. Hendershot finished last year with 52 catches for 622 yards and four touchdowns.
Stevie does it
Stevie Scott III is quietly putting together a resumé as one of the best running backs in Indiana history. Scott is just a junior, but he has already rushed for 2,301 yards and 25 touchdowns, making Scott the fourth Hoosier to rush for over 2,000 yards during their career. Scott is only a couple yards away from moving into Indiana’s Top-10 all-time leading rushers.
Scott’s running backs coach is still looking for his first win over Ohio State. Mike Hart was famously winless during his time at Michigan. Now Hart is in his fourth season as running backs coach at Indiana. Joining Hart on the coach staff is offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, who was a quarterback at Michigan. Sheridan is also in his fourth season on Indiana’s coaching staff. The first-year offensive coordinator spent his first two seasons as quarterbacks coach before taking over as tight ends coach last season.
Manning the line
Penix and Scott have been able to find success because they are playing behind a solid offensive line. Leading the way for the unit is senior Harry Crider, who moved to center this year after spending last season as the starting left guard. Joining Crider is left tackle Caleb Jones, who earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors last year. Jones missed last week’s game against Michigan State, and Tom Allen said he will be a “game-time decision” this week.
At the opposite tackle spot will be Matthew Bedford. The opposite saw some action last year after Coy Cronk was lost to injury. The guard spots are where Indiana is a little weaker. Redshirt freshman Mike Katic started the first two games of the year at left guard for Indiana before an injury sidelined him, leaving Stanford transfer Dylan Powell to take his spot. Like Jones, Katic is a “game-time decision” for Saturday. Mackenzie Nworah has started at right guard for the Hoosiers this year.
Big play artists
On the other side of the football, Indiana’s defense has been impressive so far this season. The Hoosiers have been creating a lot of chaos this season, forcing their opponents into 12 committing turnovers. Indiana has picked off three passes in two games so far in 2020, and have picked off at least two passes in five straight games dating back to 2019.
The younger Mullen
The secondary Justin Fields will face on Saturday could very well be the toughest he has seen so far in 2020. Tiawan Mullen, younger brother of former Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen, has made plays all over the field so far this year. Mullen is Indiana’s second-leading tackler with 21 stops, has registered two sacks, and picked off a couple passes. Mullen is joined at corner by Jaylin Williams, who has a team leading three interceptions. Reese Taylor will also see plenty of time on the field.
Indiana’s defense has notched 12 sacks so far this season. The Hoosiers don’t generate a ton of heat with their defensive line, but they do get a lot of pressure from their linebackers and defensive backs. Mullen and the rest of his mates in the secondary have combined for 4.5 sacks. Linebacker Micah McFadden, who is also Indiana’s leading tackler, and defensive lineman Jerome Johnson each have two sacks on the season.
Kane is able
Indiana’s defensive coordinator is Kane Wommack, who is in his second year at the position with Indiana. At 33, Wommack is the youngest defensive coordinator among Power 5 schools. The Hoosiers just saw offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer hired by Fresno State following last season, and it’s not hard to see Wommack getting a shot at a head coaching position sooner rather than later.
Ohio State has to be itching to get back on the field. That could be really bad news for Indiana, since the Buckeyes are already so good at getting off to fast starts in games. The goal for the Hoosiers is to not allow Ohio State to get a couple touchdowns early. The Buckeyes have really put on the jets in the second quarter this year, which has relieved some of the pressure after halftime, in turn leading to some sleepy second half performances.
The Hoosiers are already going to be behind the eight ball because Justin Fields just refuses to make mistake. Indiana has been very opportunistic this year, using turnovers to create some distance in games. If Ohio State doesn’t turn the football over it could reveal some of the talent differences between the two schools. Even though Indiana is coming along as a program, they still can’t quite match the depth of the Buckeyes.
Vegas has placed Ohio State as nearly a three touchdown favorite this week. Normally it wouldn’t be crazy to think the Buckeyes would beat the Hoosiers by at least 21 points, but times are changing. The Hoosiers are probably going to feel a little bit slighted by the numbers, which could lead to even more inspired play for the underdogs.
The Buckeyes know the importance of this game, not only because Indiana is 4-0, but also because of the uncertain future of this season as a whole because of COVID-19. While this game isn’t quite as tight as the game the Hoosiers gave Ohio State in 2015 in Bloomington, Indiana doesn’t embarrass themselves in this game. The Buckeyes get a solid win while the Hoosiers show they are on the right track.