Since taking over the job in 2012, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has had his team tested against perennial Big Ten bottom feeder Indiana and coach Kevin Wilson.
Meyer’s first game against Wilson and the Hoosiers in 2012 ended in a 52-49 nail-biter that came down to an onside kick in the final minute after Indiana scored 14 points in under a minute. In 2014, Indiana had the lead in the third quarter before Jalin Marshall scored four touchdowns, and last season came down to the final play in a 34-27 victory.
Indiana pulled off the upset at home against then-No. 17 Michigan State last week, giving the Hoosiers confidence heading into Columbus. After a Hoosiers win, Meyer said he believes Indiana might be quite the challenge to his team.
“I think they got an excellent coaching staff and you can see some really positive, really good things on videotape,” Meyer said. “Their game Saturday, that was a great win for that program.”
Indiana’s offense has given OSU trouble in the past, and that could be the same in this week’s matchup. But what compelled Meyer to make such a statement was the overhaul of the Hoosier defense. In the offseason, Wilson hired Tom Allen as the team’s defensive coordinator, who coached a University of South Florida defense that ranked first in its conference last season, allowing 19.6 points per game.
The Ohio State offense has been nearly unstoppable in the early going this season, averaging 57 points and 576 total yards per game. Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett is looking to add to his career passing touchdowns record that currently sits at 59, and has the opportunity to break the program record for total touchdowns responsible for, sitting just four shy of Braxton Miller’s record.
Barrett didn’t play in last year’s victory over Indiana, but he vividly remembers the 2014 game that had OSU trailing in the second half. He said Indiana was one of the games of his redshirt freshman season where he took off his shoulder pads after the game and thought, “(I’m) glad that’s over.”
“The first two series (Indiana) was in kind of base coverage, and then after a while they started they started throwing everything at us and it was like, ‘Woah my, where did this come from?’” Barrett said. “They always play hard against us and they’re going to come after us.”
Although they will not acknowledge it, the Buckeyes have a game in two weeks in Madison, Wisconsin, that greatly affects the realm of college football and the state of the College Football Playoff. Meyer has always been a one-game-at-a-time coach, but to think OSU is not looking at the Wisconsin game on Oct. 15 would be naive. Oklahoma was seen as the Buckeyes’ first test this season, but Wisconsin provides a different style of play that Meyer and his team haven’t faced in 2016, and OSU has a history of being in close games at Camp Randall.
One similarity between Indiana and Wisconsin is their rushing attack. Junior running back Devine Redding is averaging 103 yards per game on the ground, ranking second in the Big Ten behind OSU redshirt freshman Mike Weber. Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley played with Redding at Glenville High School in Cleveland, and complemented his downhill style of attacking the first line of defense.
Worley said that the team needs to focus even more on Indiana this week than previous seasons because of a change in the Hoosiers’ offensive attack.
“I think this year they’re more run-minded. The last few years, I believe they have been more of a passing offense,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a transition for them, but it’s something we have to get used to.”
OSU has the pressure each week of donning a giant target on its back, one that every challenger wants to hit dead-center. While OSU has withstood that pressure thus far, Indiana has given the Buckeyes a scare in past years, and there’s room to believe that could be the same story on Saturday.
“This is by far their best team,” Meyer said. “And that is being very respectful of the other teams we’ve played against. For four years in a row it’s been a swing as hard as you can.”