For some reason, the Buckeyes have struggled at times against Indiana in the past decade, though they haven’t lost to the Hoosiers since 1988.
The last time the teams matched up in Bloomington, where they’ll face off on Saturday, Indiana held a halftime lead before Ohio State pulled ahead for a 49-21 win two years ago. In 2015, the Buckeyes went on the road and only won by seven points. Three years prior, Ohio State beat Indiana by three points, edging out a 52-49 victory.
“Every time we play Indiana, it's a tough game,” Day said.
The Buckeyes expect more of the same on Saturday.
“We're going to play a team that has played us extremely well in previous years,” Alford said. “They're a hungry team. They're a good football team. They've got some good players, very well coached. We showed that on film, and our guys are going to have to have a great week of practice and continue to prepare to be better.”
Tony Alford called Indiana a “hungry team” and Davon Hamilton noted their combination of physicality and speed.
“They're tough,” Brendon White said. “Everyone wants to beat Ohio State, and I think that's every team. I think we get every team's best matchup. And so with Indiana, they run the ball hard, they can pass, they have athletes just like we do. They're going to come out and swing, and we're going to have to swing back harder.”
Pursuit Stopping Big Plays
Nobody needs a reminder of the amount of big plays allowed by Ohio State last season. If you do, just go ahead and type “Darius Anderson Ohio State” or “Anthony McFarland Jr. Ohio State” into the YouTube search bar, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Day hired a new defensive staff hoping to end those types of plays, and that has happened in the first two games. Cincinnati had one play for more than 21 yards, and it came on a perfectly thrown deep pass to somebody guarded by Damon Arnette who had just entered the game unexpectedly after the coaches told him he was done for the day. Florida Atlantic had one play for more than 26 yards. Neither opponents has had a run for more than 21 yards.
Mattison partially attributes the success in that area to a constant focus on pursuing the ball.
“One of the biggest things in our defense is running to the football, and when you run to the football and you play with great effort, the thing that you find out happens is your missed tackles slowly start going down and your big plays really go down,” Mattison said. “That's a huge, huge part of our defense, and our guys have bought into that.”
On any given play, multiple Ohio State defenders fly to the ball to help bring down ball-carriers with an urgency often not present a year ago.
“Coach Mattison, coach (Jeff) Hafley, coach (Al) Washington, coach (Larry Johnson), they all definitely emphasize that ever day, having all 11 hats to the ball,” White said. “That's definitely helping out with limiting big plays and everybody getting to the ball and getting the guy down with the ball. It's definitely helping.”
The play that stands out to Mattison was Borland’s interception.
On the late-game turnovers, he said he saw almost everybody on the defense “running as hard as they can to that football.”
“That's what we want, and that's what we're proud of,” Mattison said.
Avoiding a letdown
The words “Purdue” and “Iowa” have a certain meaning in the Woody Athletic Center.
Everybody remembers what happened against the Boilermakers last year and the Hawkeyes the prior season, and the Buckeyes know they can’t afford to have a similar performance against a supposedly overmatched team this season. Indiana enters as a double-digit underdog hoping to pull an upset in the same vein as Iowa and Purdue.
“We talk about we want to be the best in the country,” Day said. “The message to the team is that the issues are still in the film, whether you win, you lose, whatever it is. The immature player, the immature coach looks at it and says everything is good, we won. We won pretty handily. The facts of the matter are that the issues are on film. As the level of play increases through conference play, as the season goes on, those issues aren't going to go away.”
To Alford, the performance against Cincinnati was “far from flawless.”
He, like Day, mentioned that Ohio State wanted to be the “best in the country.” And at the moment, he doesn’t feel like the team is where it needs to be to have that title.
“Did we play well? We did, in all facets of our game,” Alford said. “So the key is to come back and figure out how to enhance what we did on Tuesday and on Wednesday and on Thursday moving forward and for everybody in the program to identify where we can get better.”
Facing A Dual-Threat Quarterback
In the first two games of their respective teams’ seasons, Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robinson has 19 rushes for minus-44 yards, and Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has 18 rushes for 31 yards. Both signal-callers have preferred to do damage from within the pocket.
Indiana’s Michael Penix could pose a threat to Ohio State with his legs – if he plays, of course. He's listed as a game-time decision.
Penix, a left-handed quarterback, typically stays in the pocket to take advantage of his cannon of an arm, but he isn’t afraid to take off on the ground. In the first two games of the season, he has nine rushes for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Ryan Day, who said he recruited Penix out of high school but didn’t offer him a scholarship, called him “very mobile” with a “good football IQ.”
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he believes quarterbacks that can hurt defenses on the ground are “by far” more difficult to defend than pocket passers.
“When a guy stays in the pocket, you just need to look in coach (Jeff) Hafley's room and say, 'OK, I hope I have a really good secondary,' and you look in (Larry Johnson's) room and you say, 'I hope I have a really good front so I can get a pass rush,’” Mattison said on Tuesday. “But when you have a guy that can scramble, can make things happen with his feet as well as throwing, it really makes it more difficult for you.”
Penix, a first-year starter, has impressed with his natural ability thus far. He has completed 38-of-60 passes for 523 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He’s going to make plays,” Wade said. “We’re going to make plays. It’s all ball. You can’t do nothing about that. When they make a play, clap it up, go on to the next play.”
Ultimately, Penix won’t be the only dual-threat quarterback the Buckeyes face this season. The more uncommon part about him? He’s a left-handed passer.
Brendon White said facing a southpaw quarterback doesn’t change many responsibilities for linebackers, and Davon Hamilton said the same about the defensive line. But that hasn’t stopped the Buckeyes from having their right-handed scout team quarterback throw with his left hand this week to give the defense a more accurate look at defending Penix.
“At least he tries to,” Hamilton said.