Indiana might not usually stand out as one of Ohio State's biggest games of the season, but this year it is.
As the Hoosiers bring a 4-0 record into Saturday's game at Ohio Stadium, the Big Ten East lead – and likely, a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game – will be on the line as the Buckeyes host Indiana on Saturday at noon.
With that in mind, we jumped on Indiana's press conference on Monday afternoon to hear what head coach Tom Allen, quarterback Michael Penix Jr., offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack had to say about Ohio State and their excitement for the opportunity to be able to play in a top-10 game this week.
- On Ohio State: “Tremendous amount of respect for Coach Day and the job he continues to do there in Columbus. Excellent football team. Arguably the best quarterback in the country. Justin Fields, a special, special player playing at a high level right now, surrounded by a receiver core that's as good as you'll see in the country. Excellent running backs. Big, physical offensive line. And defensively, they're as usual, playing really, really hard. The defensive line is extremely dominant. Big, physical, athletic. A linebacker corps that we've seen the last several years, a lot of experience there. Continue to play at a high level in their secondary. Elite players that are well-coached and extremely talented ... There's a reason why they're why they are, defending Big Ten champions, but it's a great opportunity for our program.”
- On Justin Fields: “He's just extremely poised. He has tremendous arm talent ... quick release allows him to throw the ball where he wants to throw it.” He also notes that Ohio State is giving Fields excellent pass protection. “He's had a ton of success throwing the ball. He's gotten better (from last year) ... he's a special talent. There's a reason why he's arguably the best quarterback in the country.” Said it will be a “tremendous challenge” for Indiana's defense, “definitely the hardest test we've faced this year” going up against Fields.
- Allen said going up against Ohio State's defensive line will present a big challenge for Indiana's offensive line, and he knows the offensive and defensive line matchups will play a big part in how Saturday's game plays out.
- Asked whether a top-10 game in the national spotlight is part of the vision he's sold to recruits, Allen said, “Absolutely ... That's what this is all about. Even though others haven't shared in our beliefs that we can do this here, that's never wavered to me.” He says his players understand this is something they've been building toward, and now they have to go seize the opportunity.
- On whether being a three-touchdown underdog will give Indiana extra motivation this week, Allen responded, “You shouldn't need extra motivation to play the Ohio State Buckeyes.” He said, “We're used to being told we don't measure up,” but his team is already highly motivated. He said he and his team need to focus on themselves rather than others' perception of them, but he acknowledged the reality that players will notice it, and said it will be addressed with his team.
- After getting choked up about his coaching journey and how his family has supported him along the way, Allen said, still emotional: “I love this place, I love these kids. We're going to fight, man. I don't care what anybody says about this stinking game. We're going to compete, we're going to fight. The good lord willing, we're going to find a way to keep proving everybody wrong.”
- “We know we play in a really, really tough division. Play against some of the best teams in this country often. And Ohio State, they've been the standard-bearer for this conference, and it has been that way for a long, long time.” He said Indiana's mindset, though, is it's not playing the last 50 years of Ohio State (who has 26 straight wins against Indiana), but it's only playing the 11 players who are on the field at one time. Said at the end of the day, a game all comes down to “who's going to play high-level football for 60 minutes and find a way to make more plays than the other team, and that's what we have to do ... We're going to walk off that field knowing that we prepared the best we could prepare, we played as hard as we could play, and the team that plays the best on that day for the more amount of snaps is going to win. And that's our goal is to be that team.”
Michael Penix Jr.
- Penix said Indiana still has a “1-0 mindset” this week even though it's such a high-stakes game. “Coach Allen says every week that the next game is the biggest game, and that's simply because it's the next game.”
- Penix said the Hoosiers have “a lot of confidence” after winning their first four games. “We just got to come out and prepare, make sure we have great practices this week and just go play our game.” He said they don't pay much attention to the rankings, they just want to play “Indiana football, which is tough, physical football.”
- On being a three-touchdown underdog: “It's nothing new to us. We were like that with other teams we played earlier in the season, but we don't really pay attention to that ... We really don't pay attention to that too much, we just go out and play our football.”
- Penix said he met Justin Fields at a recruiting camp in high school. “He's a great guy, he's a great quarterback ... he's going to have a great future.” Penix is excited for the opportunity to match up with Fields on Saturday.
- Penix said his preparation for this week isn't going to change at all from any other week, because he believes the way he has been preparing for each game this season has been great. “We all put our shoulder pads on the same, we all put our cleats on the same, so we don't really look at who's this and that, we just go out and play our football, play at a high level.”
- Sheridan said that's what happened in previous weeks or last year has no impact on this week's game. You have to start over and have a great week of preparation every week.
- “When you're playing the caliber of team that we are this weekend, there are very little weaknesses that they have.” He says the Hoosiers are confident, but they know they have to earn it if they want to win on Saturday. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for the program and the team and the coaching staff that we're going against this week.”
- On Fields: “I think what makes Justin Fields so dynamic is his ability to extend plays ... his eye progression is good, he sees coverages and he can recognize things and anticipate ... but at the same time, I think he has elite pocket awareness ... it makes him a very special quarterback, and that's something that we have to do a great job of finding a way to affect him.”
- Wommack said Indiana has faced other mobile quarterbacks this season, but Fields “is truly a difference-maker when it comes to his ability to extend plays for his offense.” He said the Hoosiers have to “find a way to execute and get that sucker on the ground.”