Ohio State has survived a relatively tough stretch over the last with matchups at home against Iowa, on the road for Penn State, and finishing off the three-game stretch with a trip to Northwestern. The first two games there were expected to be physical battles, but the latter with Northwestern tested the Buckeyes more than expected.
The Northwestern game exasperated the run game issues for Ohio State, and after the third week in a row, all eyes will be on the Buckeyes’ ground game. There is not a lot that went right against Northwestern due to the weather, but the Buckeyes did find success in running quarterback C.J. Stroud. With Indiana on the horizon, there is an opportunity for Ohio State to regain its dominant form.
Ohio State has played well defensively the last three weeks with some incredible individual performances intertwined. The Hoosiers offense has struggled to find consistent success this season, making this a favorable matchup for the Buckeyes. Indiana has struggled to establish any semblance of a run game, this weighs on the offense, especially their downfield passing principals.
Like many teams across the country Indiana tries to establish the run using zone run game philosophy. They run a variety of inside zone and outside zone from different looks in the backfield. In this 3rd-and-1 situation, Indiana is in a two-back set in 20-personnel. This formational look widens out the defensive backs and if teams overcommit numbers to the box, Indiana will try to hurt teams throwing the ball from this formation. In this case, they run inside zone with the receivers each running a route.
The RPO game for Indiana is a significant part of their identity, and they rarely run without a passing look off of it. In this case, they choose to hand the ball off because Michigan plays man-coverage on the outside and they have enough numbers to make the run action work to gain the needed yard.
Moving on to Indiana’s matchup against Penn State, backup quarterback Jack Tuttle was running the show with starter Connor Bazelak out with an injury. Tuttle is a much more willing runner and has the ability to get out into space. Whether this is something Indiana has a package for this week or not is still to be determined.
Given Ohio State’s struggles last week stopping the quarterback keep, this is something Ohio State needs to have on its radar. Indiana runs the read option off their inside zone look, and Penn State crashes down on the running back giving Tuttle the opportunity to pull the ball. Tuttle makes a big play with his feet off a scheme that gave the Buckeyes fits last week, so it’ll be interesting to see if this look finds its way into the game plan for the Hoosiers.
In the last play on the offensive side of the ball for Indiana, the Hoosiers are down in the red zone. The next play shows how Indiana utilizes their running back as a pass catcher, but before looking at the final play, Indiana does have a solid foundation for downfield passing. Indiana tries to attack defenses vertically, this is done off RPOs and vertical passing concepts. Ohio State’s corners will be challenged this week off Indiana’s philosophies, but a strong showing can build a lot of confidence for Ohio State’s secondary.
When that vertical passing game is taken away, the Hoosiers find creative ways to get their running backs and tight ends involved in the passing game. Michigan does a good job of limiting the vertical passing game, but Indiana was keyed in on a tendency the Wolverines show in the red zone. Indiana pushes the tight end up the field vertically knowing the safety will carry him up the field and then take him in man-coverage.
The tight end breaks inside taking the safety away from that part of the field opening up space for the running back wheel route. For the running back he now just has to beat the linebacker who takes a bad angle starting the play moving toward the line of scrimmage, this gives the running back the space needed to make the catch and score. Ohio State will have to be disciplined and strong in their coverage responsibilities to limit plays like this one.
What Ohio State will look to attack in Indiana’s defense?
A good offensive performance against Indiana – just like the bad offensive performance against Northwestern – will not be an indictment of how Ohio State will fair the rest of the season. Indiana ranks a lowly 105th in opponents' yards per game and 107th in opponents' points per game defensively. Any gains made this week will need to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Buckeyes have scored more than 30 points in 18 consecutive games against the Hoosiers, so this is a great opportunity for Ohio State to have a get-right game. Indiana has struggled in keeping teams off the scoreboard. The Hoosier defense gives up scores on 80.64% of opponents trips to the red zone and 33.5 points per game. A perfect opportunity for Ohio State’s offense to find success and regain some confidence.
Looking at Indiana in the red zone to get started, they are playing Penn State who has a 1st-and-10 from the 11-yard line. Penn State is in a full house pistol look, which Ohio State doesn’t run, but the 12-personnel is a grouping that the Buckeyes run. Indiana lines up with six players on the line of scrimmage, they bring down a linebacker to the field side and a safety to the short side. Penn State runs an inside zone, they are able to equate numbers – something Ryan Day has mentioned a lot – and they get up to the second level. Indiana loses the battle and Penn State is able to find the end zone.
Indiana’s head coach Tom Allen brought an aggressive philosophy to Indiana when he was brought in as the defensive coordinator. Now as the head coach, this is a defining characteristic of his program. This shows up in short-yardage situations, and on 3rd/4th down looks as well. Indiana plays Cover-0 and brings everybody except the corner into the box. They shoot off the line at the snap and this type of aggressiveness allows them to get a tackle in the backfield. This is going to provide a huge challenge for Ohio State this week, and based on the last few weeks this might be a thorn in the side of the Buckeyes again.
Indiana runs a wide variety of coverages willing to throw basically any look, they lean on Cover-3, Cover-2, and Quarters primarily. In the first coverage look, Indiana is running Cover-3. Penn State tries to attack the coverage by running verticals, they run a tight end up the seam creating a window in between the linebacker and safety. This is an area of the field Ohio State has attacked successfully in their recent matchups against Indiana.
In the next play, Indiana is lined up in a 1-high shell trying to give the impression they will have a single high safety. Indiana rolls their safeties to 2-high and is running Cover-2, against this defense the middle of the field is the weakness of the defense and on the outside, the hole shot is where quarterbacks will look to attack. Michigan runs a switch concept to the field side crossing up the corner and forcing the safety out wide. On the backside, they run a delayed crossing route, this comes open in the middle of the field. The Michigan receiver is able to catch the ball for the big game.
There are aspects of Indiana’s team that should give Ohio State some challenges, but the overall feeling of this game should be a comfortable win. Indiana does not have a dynamic quarterback or a reliable run game which allows opposing teams to limit them offensively from base personnel packages. For the Hoosiers to find success, they will need to find a run game and pass protection to allow for their offense to push the ball downfield.
Offensively, the two main challenges will be in protecting C.J. Stroud against the blitz and picking up first downs in obvious run situations. The addition of Stroud as a runner can put Indiana’s backside EDGE defenders into a bind which should help the play side. Indiana has found success in those short-yardage situations against some talented football teams, so the Buckeyes will need to be at their best Saturday to keep drives alive.
If the Buckeyes can establish the run, protect Stroud, and play sound defense this game should never be in doubt on Saturday. For Indiana following the game plans of some previous opponents is where they should start. If the Hoosiers can stop the run, it won’t help them win, but it will tell us a lot about the Buckeyes.
For the Buckeyes, it’s time to show just how dominant a team they can be in all facets against a familiar opponent. A dominant win Saturday won’t change the prognostications of Ohio State’s season but will get them headed in the right direction to close out the year.