Ohio State faces Indiana in Bloomington this weekend before the Buckeyes get into the meat of their conference schedule.
A quick look at Indiana’s record, and it would be tempting to write off the 2-4 Hoosiers. However, their conference games so far have been against Iowa, Penn State and Michigan State. They have also played second-ranked Cincinnati. With Ohio State and Michigan still on Indiana’s schedule, few (if any) teams in the country will face as many top-15 programs.
Indiana gave Ohio State a scare last year when they nearly overcame a 35-7 deficit. The Hoosiers used the momentum from that game to win out in 2020, and earn a spot on the A.P. Poll going into 2021. But after losing the matchup between number 17 Indiana and number 18 Iowa in the season opener, it’s been all downhill for the Hoosiers.
While Indiana has been trying to survive a gauntlet, Ohio State has had it easy since late September. Since the loss to Oregon, the Buckeyes haven’t even played a team with a winning record. Indiana will be the best team Ohio State has played since the Ducks came to town.
The Buckeyes have one more game to tune things up before they play Penn State in a College Football Playoff qualifying match. That doesn’t mean they can overlook the Hoosiers, though. Tom Allen made that very clear a season ago.
Here’s what Ohio State can expect against Indiana.
Ohio State vs Indiana Preview
On one hand, Indiana hung in there against Cincinnati and Michigan State, so their record doesn’t necessarily reflect their talent. On the other hand, they rank worst in the Big Ten East in scoring offense, and worst in the entire conference in scoring defense.
Something that might not be apparent is that the only thing that usually goes well for Indiana the hidden yards. The Hoosiers have the second fewest penalty yards in the Big Ten, while their opponents have the most. Indiana has an average penalty yardage differential of +25 yards. The Buckeyes will have to make sure to keep it clean, as the flags typically go Indiana’s way. Playing in Bloomington will probably lead to some pre-snap penalties for the Buckeyes as well.
Indiana’s Offense vs Ohio State’s Defense
Whether it’s because of the tough defenses they’ve played, or whether it’s due to something else, Indiana’s offense cannot find the end zone. With only 21 points in three conference games so far, the Hoosiers average only seven per game. The funny thing is, that even though the average a touchdown every game, they only have one six-point score against Big Ten opponents this season, and that came in the second half against Michigan State.
Indiana had to wait ten quarters to score a touchdown in the conference.
Part of the reason Indiana’s offense is lagging is because of inconsistent quarterback play. Michael Penix Jr. has the arm of a top quarterback, but lacks the decision making to go with it. He was a turnover machine, with seven interceptions in five games.
But he separated his shoulder against Penn State, so Jack Tuttle will go under center against the Buckeyes.
The Tuttle experience in Bloomington has been underwhelming. He has completed slightly more than half of his passes, and thrown one touchdown (which came against Idaho) to three picks. The only game he started was against Michigan State, in which he completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 188 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Ohio State has one advantage that Michigan State didn’t, and that is an entire game of film on Tuttle. The Buckeyes should be prepared to face Tuttle and the adjusted offense that comes with him.
Whoever is under center, the top target is Ty Fryfogle. The 2020 Big Ten Receiver of the Year is also feeling the effects of the offensive slog, though. Last season, Fryfogle had 652 receiving yards in his first six games; in 2021, he only has 371 on the exact same number of receptions.
The Buckeyes will have their eye on Fryfogle, no matter how bad his numbers are this year. He had 218 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes a year ago, and the coaching staff will remember that performance.
Peyton Hendershot is not far behind Fryfogle, with 23 receptions and 300 yards. Hendershot was Third-Team All-Conference last season, and without a clear number two receiver, he will be a huge part of the offense.
Indiana probably won’t try to do much running. USC transfer Stephen Carr is the leading back for the Hoosiers, but he hasn’t shone against quality opponents. He has gained more than 57 yards in only two games this year: against Idaho and against Western Kentucky. Whether it’s because they tend to fall behind and need to throw, or because Carr ends up spinning his wheels, he has yet to carry the ball more than 20 times against a Big Ten opponent.
This game will be one more chance for Ohio State to fine-tune their defense before facing Penn State. Indiana won’t threaten to score often, and they will have trouble moving the ball.
Indiana’s Defense vs Ohio State’s Offense
Indiana’s defense has looked just as bad as their offense.
Unlike their offense, at least the defense has a few playmakers that could make things interesting.
Micah McFadden is the middle linebacker, but he plays all over the defense. He stands up at the line, blitzes from the second level, and drops deep into coverage. McFadden leads the team in total tackles, tackles for a loss, and sacks. He had two interceptions in eight games last year, so his ball skills are dangerous as well.
Ryan Day will most be sure to factor in McFadden when game planning for the Hoosiers.
Though Tiawan Mullen is having a down year this year, he is the best player in the secondary for the Hoosiers. He led the conference in passes defended in 2019 as a freshman and had seven tackles against Ohio State last year.
Indiana has had trouble getting to the quarterback, and they are last in the conference in sacks. If your middle linebacker leads the team in sacks, that’s a sign that your pass rush isn’t doing their job. But if a defensive lineman can put pressure on the quarterback, it’s probably Ryder Anderson. An Ole Miss transfer, he has already tied his career high with 2.5 sacks this year.
If Ohio State can hone in on those players on defense, they should be able to move the ball just fine. Indiana hasn’t seen an offense like Ohio State yet, so their already lackluster defense is primed to give up a lot of points.
They don’t have the talent to cover the number two rushing offense and the number one passing offense in the conference.