The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes may have played with our hearts and got lost in the game last week (oh baby, baby), but they did manage to emerge with a win over a 1-8 Northwestern team. Now, we’re hoping the Buckeyes are Stronger than yesterday when they head home to face Indiana as they enter the homestretch of the regular season. And hopefully things go so well that you can dance around to this all-Britney playlist in the second half.
It’s Brutus, B***h.
Ohio State is back at home after two road games, including, most recently, a blustery trip away from the Horseshoe (gusts reached as high as 55 miles per hour during the Buckeyes’ outing against Northwestern). Columbus will be less windy, perhaps, but still chilly Saturday when Indiana comes to town. It’ll also be Military Appreciation Day at the Horseshoe following Veterans Day Friday.
The Buckeyes, go figure, are really good at home in this 100th anniversary season of the Horseshoe. But they’ve been pretty good for a while: Ohio State has 28-straight conference wins at home. The Buckeyes’ last loss at home came against Oregon in week two of last season. The last time Ohio State lost to Indiana at home was in 1987.
Ohio State has 26-straight wins over Indiana. That’s the longest win streak over a single opponent in the FBS. In all, the Buckeyes are 77-12-5 against the Hoosiers in a series that dates back to 1901.
Last time out, Ohio State quashed the Hoosiers 54-7 in Bloomington. In that game, Ohio State had 539 offensive yards to Indiana’s 128. C.J. Stroud led the way with 266 yards and four touchdowns. The starter even got to take a rest for the fourth quarter. Ohio State’s running-back-by-committee approach gleaned 187 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While Indiana scored on its opening possession, the Hoosiers never again found the endzone.
However, things haven’t always been so one-sided against Indiana. It wasn’t all that long ago when the Hoosiers gave Ohio State a run for their money in 2020. After leading 35-7 early in the third, the Buckeyes escaped from Indiana with a 42-35 after a second-half Hoosier comeback that almost worked.
Indiana is 3-6 overall and 1-5 in-conference so far this year. After starting the season hot, including with a win over Illinois (AKA “the pride of the Big Ten West”), the Hoosiers followed things up with wins over Idaho and Western Kentucky. Then things fell apart with six-straight losses. Just two of those losses (Maryland, Rutgers) came within one score.
Most recently, Indiana suffered a suffocating 45-14 loss to Penn State. The Hoosiers allowed six sacks and gave up three turnovers. Indiana didn’t cross the 200-yard mark in total offense and defensively surrendered 483 yards to the Nittany Lions.
Looking ahead, Indiana has to win out to be bowl eligible. It seems like a tall order for a team that’s not favored in any of its remaining matchups.
Unless you happen to be Ohio State in 2014, it’s never a good situation when you are forced to turn to your third-string quarterback when your top two choices get hurt in rapid succession. Even worse is when your third-string quarterback is normally your fourth-stringer because your season starter was scratched before the game.
Unfortunately for Indiana, that was their lived experience Saturday against Penn State. Jack Tuttle started the game in place of the injured Connor Bazelak, who watched the game in street clothes. Tuttle played respectably in the first half, even engineering a touchdown drive that kept things close against the Nittany Lions, but got hurt when he was sacked for the fifth time before halftime. Then came freshman Brendan Sorsby, who went 3-for-6 for eight yards, a pick and two sacks before getting yanked in favor of sophomore Dexter Williams. Williams finished the game completing 4-of-11 passes for 41 yards with two picks of his own.
Fortunately for Indiana, they expect Bazelak to return to start against the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, that means the Buckeyes will get Indiana’s best when it comes to their passing offense, which is ranked a reasonable fifth in the conference, averaging 250 passing yards per game. Bazelak, a transfer from Missouri, has completed 55% of his passes this season for 2,100 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine picks. Not much of a threat on the ground, Bazelak has net -145 rushing yards on the season, though he has recorded one rushing touchdown.
Sometimes they can’t. Indiana amassed just 65 yards on the ground against Penn State last week. Senior running back Shaun Shivers is the leading rusher for Indiana on the season, with 399 yards and four touchdowns on the year. The Hoosiers have had just one 100-yard rusher all season (Shivers, 155 yards against Idaho).
Related, Indiana has struggled to protect their quarterback(s). Remember those -145 rushing yards for Bazelak? The offensive line has given up 28 sacks, which places the Hoosiers worst in the Big Ten and 118th in the FBS.
Tom Allen, the 2020 Big Ten Coach of the Year, has struggled to find footing in the last couple seasons in Bloomington. Now in his seventh season with the Hoosiers, Allen is 29-38 overall with a 16-33 conference mark.
Allen signed his most recent contract extension in March 2021 after the Hoosiers went 6-1 in conference play, their only loss coming in the aforementioned game against Ohio State. That season, Indiana got mad because they missed out on a shot at the conference championship when Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren adjusted the COVID rules and gave Ohio State the nod. But since then, Indiana has gone 1-14 in conference play.
I Wanna Go (to the transfer portal)
Indiana has churned its roster since last season, with 29 players leaving the team and 15 players joining the squad from the transfer portal (including Bazelak).
Chief among the departures was starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. who transferred to Washington. The Hoosiers also lost leading rusher Stephen Carr to graduation and second-leading rusher Davion Ervin-Poindexter to the transfer portal. Adding to the chaos, tight end Peyton Hendershot and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle (remember him?) both left for the NFL. Defensively, Indiana lost leading tackler Micah McFadden to the NFL Draft.
Inbound for Indiana, Shivers joined the Hoosiers after four seasons at Auburn. Josh Henderson, the team’s second-leading rusher, and Emery Simmons, the second-leading receiver, both came to Bloomington after three seasons apiece at North Carolina.
Indiana’s defense has proven, well, porous this season. In fact, it’s the worst scoring defense in the Big Ten, giving up 32 points per game. That’s 114th in the FBS. The Hoosiers have allowed at least 20 points in every game.
The reasons why are ambiguous. As Josh Dooley pointed out this week in his Indiana Defensive Player to Watch, the Indiana secondary has a lot of talent, including All-American corner Tiawan Mullen and All-Big corner Ten Jaylin Williams.
Speaking of the transfer portal, the Hoosiers also brought on Bradley Jennings Jr. from Miami (Fl), who has been a consistent tackler and (thanks, Josh) one who held a strong Michigan rushing attack in check earlier this season.
The Hoosiers certainly need more time, at least when it comes to hanging onto the ball. They are worst in the conference and FBS in time of possession, holding onto the football an average of just 24:19 per game. If they had a consistent quick-strike offense (which they’ve shown flashes of this season), that might not be a problem. Unfortunately, Indiana is scoring just 23 points per game. And giving up, as we mentioned, a conference-worst 32. That’s not controlling things in any sense.
For what it’s worth, Ohio State hangs onto the pigskin for 30:11 per game on average. Which is just fine.
Indiana will have some familiar faces on the opposing sideline Saturday (they might call them traitors, I suppose). Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and offensive line coach Justin Frye have their roots in Bloomington.
Frye played his college ball with the Hoosiers, setting a school record for consecutive starts (45) on the offensive line. After spending two seasons as a grad assistant with Indiana, Frye made his way through Florida, Temple, Boston College and UCLA before landing in Columbus this past offseason.
Then there’s Wilson, who was head coach at Indiana from 2011-16. Wilson amassed a 26-47 overall and 12-37 in-conference record over his six seasons with the Hoosiers.
Even while the offense has had fits and starts in recent weeks, the defense has remained strong. And what we see is what we get. Though the defense gave up 31 points against Penn State, their outing versus the Nittany Lions was the game of big plays, at least for sophomore defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau. And while a stalled offense was the story against Northwestern, the defense allowing just seven points was a big reason the Buckeyes were successful.
One reason for the success? The defense can get off the field on third down. The Buckeyes are 10th in the nation in third down defense, allowing conversions on just 29% of opponent attempts. And just 15 opponent possessions all season have ended up in the red zone.
As ugly as last week’s win against Northwestern was, it officially made it 70-straight games that Ohio State has scored at least 20 points. The last time Ohio State didn’t score 20 points was in 2016 when Baker Mayfield planted an Oklahoma flag at the 50-yard line of the Horseshoe after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes 31-16 in 2017.
It feels poetic that at least Ohio State broke the previous record set by Oklahoma (69 games).
Since that game in 2017, Ryan Day, who joined the Ohio State staff in the same year, has evolved Ohio State’s offense into the monster machine we see today, especially when it comes to the prolific passing we’ve become accustomed to. Which brings us to…
To paraphrase Britney: There’s only two types of quarterbacks out there: the ones that can hang with Stroud, and the ones that are scared.
C.J. Stroud keeps giving us more. He had the worst passing game of his career last week against the Wildcats, which was a follow-on to another meh game against Penn State. However, Stroud did show us what he could do with his legs on two runs in particular: a 16-yard run on 4th-and-1 and a 44-yard designed run on separate drives — both of which led to touchdowns for Ohio State.
And we know Stroud can pass — and pass he surely will against the worst passing defense in the conference. In fact, some might even call that attack Toxic, since it’s too high and can’t come down; It’s in the air and it’s all around.
Marvin Harrison Jr. has been one of the most reliable receiving targets for C.J. Stroud this season. He led all Ohio State receivers by a long shot last week with five receptions for 51 yards against Northwestern. It was far from his best game of the season, but impressive since Stroud had just 76 yards through the air on the aforementioned blustery day.
While the Hoosiers bring a talented set of defensive backs to match up against Harrison, Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, Harrison has a few inches on both Mullen and Williams. Plus, he’s one of the most absurd athletes we’ve seen in college football this season. Expect more circus catches.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba remains questionable against the Hoosiers. He’s had just five catches for 43 yards in three games. He was said to be on a snap count against Iowa, which limited his play versus the Hawkeyes, but he saw no action in subsequent games against Penn State and Northwestern.
While the Buckeyes have been getting along without him, there’s no doubt he brings the passing attack to another level. We saw what that attack was capable of when Smith-Njigba and Harrison lined up together in the Rose Bowl, and hopefully will get to see the pair on the field again this season—maybe even against the worst passing defense in the conference this weekend.
One area that’s been questionable for the Buckeyes has been the rushing attack, which has struggled with successive injuries to TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. Obviously things are better when both Henderson and Williams are in the lineup, though Williams still managed 111 yards on the ground against the Wildcats last week (as though either team had a choice but to run the ball in those conditions).
Establishing a strong rushing attack has obvious benefits for the passing game. Indiana is allowing 158 yards on the ground per game (11th in the Big Ten). It could be a chance for the Buckeyes to get back on track with the run game.
The Ohio State offensive line has been phenomenal in protecting Stroud in the pocket. In fact, the Buckeyes are tied for fourth in the nation in sacks allowed, having given up just seven sacks this season.
Issues, as mentioned, remain for the run game, at least part of which are rooted in the play of the offensive line. However, like many other position groups, the offensive line is managing injuries which impacted their performance against Northwestern last weekend.
Ugh, well, almost every time Ohio State has made it to the red zone this season, they’ve scored. Curses to that end-of-half possession against Penn State! Still, the Buckeyes generally manage to score when they get deep into opponents’ territory. As the season has gone on, the balance has shifted somewhat to field goals from touchdowns. In fact, seven of Noah Ruggles’ nine field goals have come in the last three games, with three coming from inside the red zone.
Summary: You want a piece of me?
The Buckeyes officially have a target on their backs as they enter their second-straight week as the second-ranked team in the College Football Playoff. In the homestretch of the season, Ohio State is tasked with fine-tuning the things that have gone off the rails (relatively) through conference play thus far — while avoiding looking ahead to an inevitable showdown with a top-four Michigan to wrap the regular season.
After two games away from Columbus, the Buckeyes’ return to the Horseshoe will at least bring some familiarity for the team, as well as the chance for Ohio State fans to Scream & Shout with the team back in town.
Following a stagnant performance against the Wildcats last week, the Buckeyes enter their matchup with Indiana as 40-point favorites. The Ohio State offense will be looking to get back to its high-flying ways while reestablishing the run, giving too many channels for opposing defenses to stop.
Still, even as Ohio State has had hiccups on offense, the defense has remained strong. On the other side, Indiana has been porous defensively, while offensively the Hoosiers have been one-dimensional.
Theoretically, It Should Be Easy, but we know how these conference games can go, and we all have that memory of Indiana almost making that comeback in 2020. Plus, Indiana will be fighting for bowl eligibility — despite the rough road ahead for the Hoosiers.
The Buckeyes have all the tools. But they still have to Work…B***h.