COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 2 Ohio State is back at it again Saturday, playing Indiana at noon at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes moved to 9-0 with a stylistically disappointing victory over Northwestern, and the Hoosiers (3-6) were pasted by Penn State at home.
OSU’s offense could look more healthy considering that Indiana is at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in most important defensive numbers, including 14th against the pass. Indiana has allowed 21 touchdown passes and an average of 264 passing yards. Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud is coming off his worst career passing game, netting just 76 yards in what many called “extreme” weather conditions.
Here are a few things to know about the matchup:
Work to be done on the run
Even before the blustery, rainy weather conditions outside Chicago at Northwestern, Ohio State was going to make a concerted attempt to get its running game in gear. Although it was a slog most of the game, the Buckeyes managed 5.91 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns.
“I think we all need to do better,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Going back and watching the film, we’ve got to block better, we’ve got to run better, we’ve got to do a better job equating the numbers. We know we can do a better job.”
Day said a combination of mistakes conspired to make Ohio State 1-for-4 on third downs of 2 yards or fewer. There were blocking issues, running back miscues, pad level problems, and technique deficiencies.
“Of all the things I was disappointed in with the running game on Saturday, short yardage was at the top of the list,” Day said. “We didn’t quite get the movement we wanted to or get into the blocks the right way.”
Miyan Williams gained 111 yards with two touchdowns on a career-best 26 carries. The new wrinkle was Stroud and some quarterback run plays. He gained 76 yards on 10 carries.
“I think C.J. embraced it,” Day said. “You can see what he can do, and I think it can be a weapon. Maybe we found a little something there but that has pluses and minuses as well.”
Indiana is 11th in the Big Ten against the run.
No Hollywood endings for Hoosiers
It wasn’t all that long ago the Hoosiers were coming off back-to-back winning seasons under coach Tom Allen. They went a combined 14-7 in 2019 and 2020 and looked to be throwing their hat into the ring of Big Ten East contenders.
Then 2021 hit and the bottom fell out. Indiana went 2-10, with wins over Idaho and Western Kentucky, and found itself looking up at the rest of the division. Injuries, mistakes, and bad luck all played parts.
This season started well with three straight wins, including the opener against Illinois, which has gone on to show itself as perhaps the best team in the Big Ten West. But since then, the Hoosiers have lost six straight.
“We have to find a way to win,” Allen said. “For us right now, it’s back to basics of blocking and tackling and trying to make sure that we are emphasizing those in the proper way to create opportunities to be able to create a game-changing play that can create a game-changing momentum.”
Quarterback Connor Bazelak, a Missouri transfer, missed the Penn State game but should be back against the Buckeyes. He has been inconsistent, completing just under 55% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and a conference-high nine interceptions. A ground game that averages just 2.64 yards hasn’t helped, nor has being minus-6 in turnover margin.
Linebacker Aaron Casey is a force, with 70 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles, but the back seven are having to do too much of the work. The Hoosiers are 10th in the Big Ten in sacks.
“They’re going to come in here and fight, they always have,” Day said. “We’ve got to come out and play a little better early on in the game.”
Buckeyes a force in the series
Ohio State has won 26 straight over Indiana, the longest current streak over one opponent in college football.
The Buckeyes have not lost to Indiana since 1988, with a 27-27 tie in 1990 as the only blemish that has kept the streak from being 28 straight.
Only three of those wins have been by one score, and the average score has been 39-16 in favor of the Buckeyes. In two of the last three, the Hoosiers have scored 10 points or fewer, and they have allowed 34 points or more in a dozen straight meetings.
The last time Indiana won in Columbus was 1987 behind the running of Anthony Thompson, who gained 134 yards and a touchdown in a 31-10 victory that coach Earle Bruce called Ohio State’s “darkest day.”
Imagine the surprise when Indiana was even more emphatic the following year in Bloomington, defeating coach John Cooper’s Buckeyes 41-7 in a game many in the media dubbed “Darkest Day II.” Thompson was even better, with 190 yards and four touchdowns.
“[Coach Bill Mallory] was nice to us – he took the first team out,” Cooper said.
The Buckeyes finished 4-6-1 that season, and Indiana contended for the Big Ten title before finishing 8-3-1.
As ugly as last week’s win was for the Buckeyes, it was still a victory. And as the season progresses, that is the most important thing.
“We want to have that as a badge of honor,” Day said. “I think our guys are very confident right now. There are not many undefeated teams in the country.”
Ohio State is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and if it keeps winning it will be among the four competing for the national title. But Day is thinking less about rankings and more about simply playing.
“If you keep winning, you’re going to keep moving on,” Day said. “So style points or no style points … [just] win. That being said, when you look at the film, were we playing really clean football in all areas? Are we getting better every week? Those are the things we’re going to focus on.”