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What we learned in Ohio State’s 42-35 nail-biter over No. 9 Indiana

The Buckeyes picked up their first victory over a ranked team this season as they overcame the Hoosiers.

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

The Indiana game wasn’t exactly one that Ohio State fans had circled on their calendar to start the year. Winners of 24-straight (really 25), the Buckeyes have had some close games with the Hoosiers in recent memory, but they have gotten the job done every season dating back to 1991. Would Saturday’s contest against a Top-10 Indiana team be any different?

Despite some really pathetic defense in a wet and chilly Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes managed to pull out a 42-35 victory over Tom Allen’s Hoosiers. Justin Fields played perhaps the worst game of his career, uncharacteristically throwing three interceptions, but still finished with 300 yards passing and two TDs and another 78 yards and a score on the ground. The Buckeyes poured in over 600 total yards of offense, but the real area of concern was the defense.

Ohio State allowed nearly 500 total yards of offense to Indiana, with almost all of it coming through the air. After leading 35-7 at the start of the third quarter, the Buckeyes allowed the Hoosiers to come all the way back into the game and cut it to a seven-point affair that Ryan Day’s team had to sweat out until the final whistle.

Family man

Before things even kicked off on Saturday afternoon, we knew things would be even more different than they had already been in this weird COVID-19 season. In accordance with new health protocols in Franklin County, Ohio State is no longer allowing family in the stands as they had for the first two home games on the Buckeyes’ schedule. While this really stinks for everyone involved, it was an especially big deal for center Josh Myers — whose parents won’t be in the stands for the first time in his football career at any level.

To honor his late grandfather, Donnie Myers, the junior offensive lineman wore No. 50 instead of his customary No. 71. His grandmother writes Myers a letter at the start of every season and sends with it a piece of his grandfather’s old Miamisburg jersey, which Myers wears inside his sock in every game. Without his family inside the stadium for the first time ever, Myers felt it was important to honor them with the special number change to make it feel like they were close to him even when they couldn’t be there in person.

Ohio State has only one home game remaining on the schedule — the Dec. 12 season finale against Michigan — and it is unclear whether or not family members will be allowed back inside the stadium by that time. With the way things are trending with COVID, it doesn’t appear all too likely.

Justin Fields: confirmed human

The Buckeyes’ afternoon could not have gotten off to a much better start. After winning the toss and deferring to the second half, Indiana started out with the ball on offense. They picked up one first down, but a sack by Jonathon Cooper forced the Hoosiers to punt shortly thereafter. The Ohio State offense looked like a caged animal ready to break free, as it took only two plays to find the end zone. A 65-yard pass on their first play of the drive to Garrett Wilson set up an easy 10-yard TD for Wilson, and OSU was up 7-0 quickly.

Things looked like they were ready to get out of hand right away, as a bad snap over the head of Indiana QB Michael Penix forced yet another punt. However, the Hoosier defense made up for past transgressions, picking off Justin Fields for the quarterback’s first interception of the season. It was Fields’ first incomplete pass in the first quarter this year, and it was definitely a pass he would want to have back. It was especially unfortunate for the Buckeyes, as the refs missed a clear fumble by Indiana on their previous drive that would have had OSU set up just outside the red zone.

Fields had two more questionable interceptions later in the game. Instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to force it, and the results were passes that ended up in the hands of the Hoosiers. Fields is obviously incredible, but his one fault is that he thinks he can make every play at every time. Sometimes you’ve just gotta cut your losses and live to see another down.

A Master-ful performance

Ohio State has been waiting all year for a running back to finally have a breakout performance. There has been some past history in this matchup of the Buckeye ball carriers doing just that — including Zeke’s massive day in 2015 when he rushed for touchdowns of 55 yards, 65 yards, and 75 yards, as well as J.K. Dobbins’ 193-yard rushing performance against the Hoosiers last season. Would Saturday be the day that Ohio State finally got some good production from their backfield?

The answer was a resounding yes, as Master Teague finally looked like the running back we saw look dominant in spurts a year ago as a backup. It was clear he was in for a big day early on, as for really the first time this year Teague was finding the hole and breaking tackles to pick up extra yardage. It all came together in the second quarter, when Teague broke free for a 41-yard touchdown run for his first score of the afternoon.

Ohio State’s run game as a whole looked the best it has through four games. Teague finished as the team’s leading rusher with 169 yards on 26 carries and two TDs, while Trey Sermon looked the best he’s looked as well, running for 60 yards on nine carries. With Indiana blitzing so often, Fields ran it more than usual with Indiana blitzing so often, finishing with 15 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown. As a team, they finished with a season high 297 yards on the ground.

Thanksgiving stuffing

On the flip side of things, Ohio State defended the Indiana run game phenomenally. The Silver Bullets have been pretty good at stopping the opposing rushing attack all season long. After allowing 210 rushing yards to Nebraska — the bulk of which came on trick plays and two-quarterback read-options — they held Penn State to just 44 yards on the ground. Rutgers was able to pick up 141 yards running the ball, but they averaged under five yards per carry and also ran a ton of trick plays.

Saturday’s performance was their best one yet. Indiana hasn’t exactly been a great rushing team this season, and they struggled mightily against a strong Ohio State front. The Hoosiers’ first-half efforts to establish the run were especially futile, as they went into the break with -6 total yards on the ground as a unit. Starting RB Stevie Scott finished the first two quarters with five yards on five carries.

The Buckeyes continued to stuff the run well the rest of the way, with Indiana finishing their afternoon in Columbus with -1 total yards on the ground. Scott finished with seven carries for six yards, while Sampson James was the Hoosiers’ leading rushing with 10 yards.

Chasing history

I’m just going to say what everyone else isn’t brave enough to say: Garrett Wilson is good at football. Ohio State’s newest slot receiver has quickly become the favorite target of Fields this season, and he has dominated in every aspect. Don't believe me? Here are his stat lines this year thus far:

Vs. Nebraska: 7 receptions, 129 yards, 1 TD
Vs. Penn State: 11 receptions, 111 yards + a 62-yard rush
Vs. Rutgers: 6 receptions, 104 yards, 1 TD

He was once again the star of the show on Saturday against Indiana, catching seven passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. With his fourth-straight 100-yard receiving performance, Wilson is now one game passing the century mark away from tying Cris Carter’s program record of five-straight 100-yard games. Wilson and Olave have been brilliant for Ohio State all season, and Wilson’s move to the slot has paid dividends.

Teams continue to have no idea how to cover him over the middle of the field, and seemingly everything they throw at him is no match for the talented sophomore.

Shades of 2018

Listen, I don't know if I'm fully ready to declare this defense as putrid as what we saw on the field in that maddening 2018 season after only four games. That unit, mostly as a result of poor coaching and scheme, could not stop a nosebleed. They let up big play after big play and there was not one area you could really point to and call it a positive. Players were constantly out of position, and it eventually led to a massive upset loss at the hands of Purdue.

This year’s defense does some things well. As we previously touched on, the run defense has been phenomenal — but that’s where the praise ends. Like the 2018 defense, this team is getting absolutely gashed in the passing game. Michael Penix abused the Ohio State secondary, picking up massive chunk passes on missed assignments and busted coverages. Half of the time OSU defenders were nowhere near the play. The Indiana QB finished the afternoon throwing for 491 yards and five touchdowns as he nearly willed his team back into the game.

There is still time in this season to right the ship, but through four games this defense is definitely concerning. The Hoosiers have a good passing attack with Penix and their talented wide receivers, but guys should not be streaking down the field wide open regardless of who the opposition is. The Buckeyes have the guys to get the job done, but this is not a championship defense right now — especially if they’re having linebackers cover outside receivers and playing 10 yards off the ball.