The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes enter Week 6 of the college football season as arguably the hottest team in the nation. Coach Urban Meyer’s defense leads the country with 9.3 points allowed per game, but will face a dynamic Indiana Hoosiers’ offense that has given OSU trouble in the past.
“They have a good team. They have a good defense. They have a really good o-line,” Elflein said. “They always play us tough … so I expect the same. Those guys don’t lay down.”
While OSU will be a heavy favorite on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Ohio Stadium, the past meetings between the Buckeyes and coach Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers have had the Scarlet and Gray on their heels, fighting for control of the game.
If it weren’t for former running back Ezekiel Elliott’s three second-half touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards, the Buckeyes may not have escaped Bloomington, Indiana, with a victory.
This season, OSU prepares for a revamped defense and the same potent offense.
For Wilson’s offense, its success starts with redshirt junior quarterback Richard Lagow. At 6-foot-6, 237 pounds, the Oklahoma State transfer has filled in nicely for departed quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft.
Lagow has thrown for 1,278 yards and nine touchdowns with a 62.2 completion percentage. He is averaging 319.5 passing yards per game, ranked first in the conference.
If there is one knock on Lagow, it’s his willingness to throw the ball into traffic. The redshirt junior has thrown six interceptions in four games, which could spell disaster against a turnover-savvy OSU defense that holds a plus-eight turnover margin, ranking second in the nation and first in the Big Ten.
At running back, Indiana has slowly developed one of the more impressive running back dynasties in recent years. Former running back Jordan Howard currently starts for the Chicago Bears, and Tevin Coleman plays a substantial amount of snaps for the Atlanta Falcons. Junior running back Devine Redding might be the next Hoosier back to make a name for himself in the NFL.
After a 1,000-yard season in his 2015 sophomore campaign, Redding has already racked up 413 yards for an average of 103.2 yards per game, good for second in the Big Ten. OSU redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley played with Redding in high school and described him as a downhill runner.
The Hoosiers rank 22nd in the country in total offense with just under 500 total yards, but Wilson said that OSU’s defense is so talented that even if the Buckeye offense hadn’t played in a game, OSU would still be undefeated.
“The structure is sound, they don’t misalign. To me it looks like there’s a lot of talent over there, but there’s a great competitive spirit with the team, and the kids are playing together and playing hard so they challenge every play,” Wilson said. “They make you compete every play to get every inch on the field.”
2001 was the last time the Buckeyes failed to score 30 points on the Hoosiers. And only five times since then has OSU failed to score 40 points. However, Meyer acknowledges that this team is different than past Indiana teams.
“I see an outstanding team,” Meyer said. “This is by far their best team, and that is being very respectful of the other teams we’ve played against.”
In 2015, Indiana ranked 121st in total defense and 117th in scoring defense. Wilson made a change to his staff in the season to make the Hoosiers a more well-rounded team.
He brought on 24-year veteran coach Tom Allen as defensive coordinator and associate head coach. Allen’s previous job was at University of South Florida where he coached the Bulls to a league-best 19.6 points allowed per game. So far in 2016, Allen has revolutionized Indiana’s defense.
The Hoosiers currently sit at 40th in scoring defense and 51st in total defense. Junior linebacker Tegray Scales leads the Crimson and Cream defense with 35 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He had 13 tackles last week at home against Michigan State.
While the Indiana defense has shown great improvement from last season’s incompetence, and Wilson and his staff doesn’t have to have nightmares of Ezekiel Elliott gashing the defense anymore, Wilson said there is still a lot of football to play before drawing conclusions of his defense.
“They’ll get tested this week with speed, a lot of speed on the perimeter and one of the premier players in the country at quarterback (redshirt junior J.T. Barrett), so we’re playing harder,” he said. “We’re not the most talented group … but it really starts with strong leadership and direction from Tom Allen.”
The Ohio State defense has been one of the most dominant defenses in the country through its first four games. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore and redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker each have three interceptions this season, and are looking for more.
Last week against Rutgers was the first game that the defense did not force a turnover. However, it only allowed a measly 116 total yards of offense. The Buckeyes currently rank No. 1 in the country in scoring defense and No. 3 in total defense. While Redding, Lagow and company may cause a few hiccups for the OSU defense, the sheer speed and athleticism of the Silver Bullets should overcome any maladies in the early portion of the game.
Indiana’s defense hasn’t put up a fight to the Buckeyes in the past, but this season, Barrett, redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, junior H-back Curtis Samuel may not have as much success moving the ball as they have in the past.
If consistent with the last two years, OSU might be trailing at points in the game on Saturday, but the Buckeyes have yet to show signs of slowing down their dominance on both sides of the ball.
OSU should go into Madison, Wisconsin, next week at 5-0.