Ohio State travels to Indiana for a Big Ten East rivalry game in prime time on Saturday. The Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) are heavy favorites but cannot allow themselves to be complacent, as the stretch run towards a shot at another conference championship has begun.
OSU head coach Ryan Day seems to recognize the challenge that presents itself in a road game at night versus the Hoosiers. At his Oct. 19 press conference previewing the matchup, Day said, "They always play us tough. ... They always have really good scheme and play us hard. It comes different ways. The game a few years ago, it was close early on and we pulled away. Last year, we were up early and they were able to come back. You’ve got to play four quarters against Indiana. We have to plan on doing that."
Indiana sits at 2-4 (0-3 in conference play), with the terrific season of 2020 a seemingly distant memory. Injuries to starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr., combined with an ineffective offense, have relegated the Hoosiers from contender status to potential spoiler. This coming less than a year after battling Ohio State down to the wire in a 42-35 thriller in Columbus in a game that basically sealed the division title for the Buckeyes. So to say that the 2021 season has been immensely frustrating for head coach Tom Allen and his players would be an understatement.
That said, Allen made it clear earlier this week that his struggling team still relishes the opportunity to face Ohio State in Bloomington on Saturday, stating: "We are at home. That's a positive thing. There's no question they do have some youth, some very talented youth, mind you. But it is youth. Youth is youth. I think you play on the road, expecting a big crowd, a loud crowd. The intensity and the energy, like we had this past Saturday, like we had at all of our home games, which has been awesome. That plays into that. That's the best part of it. We got to be able to, in that moment, play our best football. There's no doubt that's the objective, that's the goal. That's what we're going to do everything within our power to do that against a team that is very, very talented, has a lot of really good football players, and they're very well-coached."
No. 5 Ohio State at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Ohio State -21
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Boasting the nation's top offense, the Buckeyes have shown they are capable of both running and throwing the football. Freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud has played well since sitting out the Akron game with an injured shoulder, completing 73 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in blowout wins over Rutgers and Maryland. Stroud has the benefit of throwing to a spectacular stable of wide receivers highlighted by Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. On the ground, another freshman leads the way as TreVeyon Henderson has emerged as one of the Big Ten's best running backs. He is second in the conference with 612 rushing yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns with nine (Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III). He's a threat to go the distance anytime he touches the ball and is averaging nearly nine yards per carry.
Because of Indiana's offensive struggles (see below), the defense has had to carry more of the load, and this is starting to show up on the stat sheet. The Hoosiers are second to last in the Big Ten in scoring defense at 27 points allowed per game. Last season, they were fourth in the conference and 19th in the nation in this category at 20.2. It also should be pointed out that Indiana has played (and lost) to four teams currently ranked in the top 11 of the AP poll — Cincinnati, Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa.
IU's defensive anchor is linebacker Micah McFadden. He leads the team in tackles, tackles for a loss, and sacks (tied) and is coming off of a strong performance against Michigan State where he did a little bit of everything (9 stops, 2.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, a pass breakup). As Allen stated in his press conference, Ohio State's youth and relative inexperience (this will be Stroud's sixth career start) may encourage the Hoosiers to try and bait the freshman signal-caller into forcing some throws in hopes of creating a turnover.
When Indiana Has the Ball
With Penix out indefinitely because of a shoulder injury, Jack Tuttle is expected to start at quarterback for the Hoosiers. Last week, Tuttle struggled against Michigan State, throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown as the Spartans won a close one, 20-15, in Bloomington.
The running game also continued to struggle as Stephen Carr led the way with 53 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Overall, Indiana is 11th in the Big Ten in both total (340.0 ypg) and scoring (22.3 ppg) offense. Even worse, the Hoosiers have totaled 21 points in their three Big Ten games.
Ohio State has somewhat righted the ship after struggling on defense earlier in the season in games against Oregon and Tulsa. After giving up more than 500 yards to both the Ducks and Golden Hurricane, the Buckeyes held Rutgers and Maryland to a combined 681 yards of offense. A contributing factor in this has been the emergence of Ronnie Hickman, who leads the team in tackles from his "Bullet" position, a hybrid linebacker-safety. Hickman may be called on to help out in coverage against tight end Peyton Hendershot (24 rec., 306 yds., TD), one of IU's few reliable pass catchers this season.
Ohio State is starting to build momentum on both sides of the ball while Indiana has been unable to do much on offense. The Hoosiers will be fired up to play the Buckeyes, and that energy may help them frustrate the visiting team early on, but Ohio State has too much depth, talent, and speed for IU to hang in after the first half.
Prediction: Ohio State 49, Indiana 21
Podcast: Previewing Week 8 + CFB Expansion + Washington State Coaching Search
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Buckeye Scoop. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.