Darkest Day Part II?
There’s a stay-at-home advisory in place for Columbus this weekend, meaning Ohio Stadium will sit in silence on Saturday. No fans, no parents, just team personnel — a different scene than what we’re used to experiencing, even in this year of shutdowns and lockouts. Ohio State, after all, was among the Big Ten teams allowing family members through the gates. This week, however, there will be only silence.
But I’ve heard that place get quiet before.
It was Nov. 22, 2014, and 101,426 Buckeye fans were packed inside the Horseshoe for the annual whooping of Indiana. Except this time, the win didn’t come so easy. When Tevin Coleman found a hole and darted 90 yards to the end zone to give IU the lead midway through the third quarter, the place fell to a hush. No groans, no jeers, just stunned stillness.
IU, of course, went on to lose that game in predictable fashion, but the point is this: lesser Indiana teams have gone into Columbus and given Ohio State a fit of resistance. Can this group of flourishing Hoosiers finish the job?
The metrics, coupled with reasonable expectations, say no. But again, this is a weird year.
And Indiana has a habit of making things feel strange in the Shoe.
Here are three other thoughts on Saturday’s game between No. 9 Indiana and No. 3 Ohio State.
Indiana has done an excellent job of not only generating pressure, but mixing its blitzes and working the angles to harass quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, IU is pressuring opposing passers on 37 percent of pass-rushing snaps, which leads the Big Ten. It’s been a key to Indiana’s overall success this season, and it’ll have to continue on Saturday. That’s because no quarterback in the country has been more efficient with a clean pocket than Justin Fields. Per PFF, Fields leads the nation with a 90 percent completion percentage and a 152.9 passer rating with a clean pocket. He’s also thrown nine touchdowns with zero interceptions in those scenarios. Of course, applying pressure — especially against a line like Ohio State’s — isn’t a foolproof plan, so IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack will have to be wise here.
One of the major keys to success for this Indiana team has been its ability to seize takeaways. The Hoosiers rank first in the Big Ten and third nationally in takeaway margin (plus-eight) and takeaways gained (12). They’ve intercepted at least two passes in five consecutive games. They’ve also cashed in on those situations, scoring 51 points off of turnovers. Can they keep up that pace against a crisp Ohio State offense that doesn’t tend to beat itself? Because this feels like the kind of matchup where the Hoosiers will need multiple takeaways to make history.
The IU O-line
Indiana’s big men up front have been fairly inconsistent through the midway point in the season. It doesn’t feel like they’ve been bad, just as it doesn’t seem like they’ve always been great. On balance, they’ve hovered somewhere in between. Traditionally, this is not a personnel matchup that IU wins. Can the Hoosiers hold up — or at least hold their own? Protecting Michael Penix and opening up a few running lanes, obviously, will make a difference for IU’s chances at an upset.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? No. 9 Indiana Hoosiers (4-0,) at No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (3-)
Where? Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
When? Saturday, Nov. 21, noon ET
Channel? FOX | Gus Johnson (p-b-p), Joel Klatt (analyst) & Jenny Taft (sideline)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Buck Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Ohio State -20 1⁄2
SP+ Projection? Ohio State by 19 (39-20), 87 percent chance of Buckeye victory