Coming off a bye, or open week, or whatever you call it, Ohio State gets back at it tomorrow with a roadie in Bloomington against Indiana under the lights.
The Buckeyes took some serious momentum into the open weekend after crushing Rutgers in Maryland in back-to-back weeks. Now the Buckeyes must show the focus of a team with eyes on the prize.
The Hoosiers are 2-4 with all four losses coming to ranked teams so maybe they could be dangerous? Or maybe Ohio State rips them to shreds?
Indiana's offense has put up just 21 points against its three Big Ten opponents to-date and ranks No. 107 nationally in total offense (340 ypg). Can we learn anything about the continued evolution of Ohio State's defense on Saturday? What kind of day do you expect from the defense and what are you watching for?
Griffin: By all metrics, accounts and measures, the 2021 Indiana offense should not give Ohio State more trouble than Maryland. At minimum, the Terps had a pass attack capable of putting up big numbers, and even though that was a calling card of the 2020 Hoosiers, that has not been the case this year. With Jack Tuttle likely to start in place of Michael Penix Jr., Indiana may be even less dynamic than usual on offense.
Given all that, what can be gleaned from the defensive performance of the Buckeyes is just how consistent the group can be. The Hoosiers have scored just 21 points in three games against Big Ten competition, and if the Ohio State defense wants to prove that it can limit some of the top offenses in the conference down the road, it better have a stifling showing in Bloomington.
Johnny: I want to see a complete and total shutdown of Indiana's running attack. Not because I think it's any good; in fact the Hoosiers are hovering somewhere around 100th nationally. No, I want to see the Buckeyes stuff the Indiana rushing game because a) their passing attack might as well be nonexistent, b) it'd show an evolution of play from the linebackers, and c) doing so would likely lead to a shutout, and shutouts are extremely cool and good.
Garrick: Indiana's offensive line is poorus. Couple that with a quarterback that, let's put it kindly, is not very good, it should be an opportunity for the Rushmen to feast. If there isn't multiple sacks of Jack Tuttle, there's a problem.
On the other side of the ball, a 2020 Hoosiers defense that sacked Justin Fields five times has been decent in limiting yards (36th in total defense) but is giving up 26.8 points per game (76th) this year. Any reason Ohio State's offense won't throw up big yards and point totals Saturday? Give us one Indiana defender or facet to watch for.
Garrick: The most points Indiana has given up this year was 38 in a loss to Cincy. Ohio State is probably the best offense the Hoosiers have seen this season, so no, I don't see a reason the Buckeyes won't dominate on that side of the ball. As for a player, let's see how senior linebacker Micah McFadden does against that sturdy offensive line and a running back of TreVeyon Henderson's caliber. McFadden leads Indiana in sacks, forced fumbles, and tackles for a loss.
Griffin: The two things to watch from the Indiana defense are the creative blitzes it loves to throw at opposing offensive lines, as well as the all-around play of standout linebacker Micah McFadden. Thayer Munford said this week that the Buckeyes will be ready for any blitz that comes their way on Saturday, and Ohio State has been excellent in pass protection for most of the season, which should give fans confidence despite the tricks it should expect from the Hoosier pass rush.
McFadden already has 36 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks through six games, and the veteran Hooiser threatens to be a disruptor for the Ohio State offense. However, the nation’s No. 1 total offense hasn’t really given much indication recently that any opposition in the Big Ten will be enough to limit it for very long – if at all.
Johnny: I think this is big play time for Ohio State's passing attack. Indiana will want to try to shorten the game as much as possible, especially early, and it's important that Ohio State doesn't play their game. And by "important," I mean "important to me" because I want to see the Buckeyes put up pinball machine points and not kind of screw around until the third quarter when they finally pull away by 17 or something irritatingly disappointing.
This means taking early shots deep, which might run contrary to Ryan Day attempting to get C.J. Stroud into a rhythm. But he should do it anyway.
Excluding freshmen, which player's impact, in a good or not so good way, stands out as most notable through the first half of the year. Do you expect more of the same down the stretch from this player?
Johnny: Big Thanos, baby! He's been very, very good, and while I think there are a number of factors that have led Stroud to not take as many sacks as Fields tended to, Dawand Jones is a big/significant part of an offensive line that for the most part is doing a great job.
Garrick: Dawand Jones. I did not expect him to be this dependable at right tackle. The way he's playing, I don't think there's any reason he couldn't keep it up the entire season.
Griffin: If I’m leaning not-so-good for this one, I’d have to point to the bothersome lack of sack production from the Buckeyes’ corps group of veteran defensive ends. If there’s one player to point to in particular, it is probably Zach Harrison, who has yet to record a sack since the season opener despite widespread expectations of a true breakdown junior campaign entering 2021. However, Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste have a combined 0.5 sacks to show for the season so far as well, even if both have dealt with injury issues.
I expect this group to come alive and step things up from a sack standpoint through the second half of the season, and there’s no time like the present, with a weak Indiana offensive line standing in its way this weekend.
From what you've seen so far, which team in the Big Ten has the best chance to beat the Buckeyes?
Griffin: This might not be a popular pick, particularly on the heels of last week’s underwhelming 20-15 win against Indiana, but Michigan State poses an interesting threat to the Buckeyes. Its offense has a more well-rounded attack than the likes of Iowa, Penn State or Michigan, averaging better than 250 passing yards and 200 on the ground, with dynamic playmakers in multiple phases.
Kenneth Walker is a Doak Walker Award candidate at running back, Payton Thorne has some of the best quarterbacking numbers in the conference, and Jalen Nailor is two games removed from a monster 221-yard, three-touchdown performance against Big Ten competition. Would I favor the Spartans over the Buckeyes? No, but I have more faith in the potential of their offense than I do some of the aforementioned teams, and I don’t see anyone’s defense being the key to victory against Ohio State.
Johnny: Michigan State. Their offense is good enough to attack Ohio State in ways that would allow them to have a puncher's chance, particularly if the Buckeyes suddenly stopped being pretty good at limiting big plays. Weirdly, I'm not really worried about Michigan even though I think they're much improved from last season. The problem the Wolverines have is that their strengths really aren't all that great and their weaknesses play directly into Ohio State's hands.
Garrick: Well, I don't really like the chances of any of them doing it quite frankly, but if I have to pick one, I'll go Michigan State, mostly because I think Kenneth Walker III is a stud.
Ohio State enters the game as a 19-point favorite on the road in Bloomington. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score and game MVP.
Garrick: I'm sure the night home game will give Indiana a lot of energy early, but that will quickly fade as Ohio State proves too much for the Hoosiers to handle. The Buckeyes cover, and win 38-13. C.J. Stroud continues his Heisman campaign with four touchdowns and 300 yards through the air.
Johnny: Big honking win, 56-13. Indiana is just godawful offensively and an Ohio State receiver (probably Olave because that'd be the most entertaining narrative) has 150+ yards receiving to seal the MVP for themselves.
Griffin: The Buckeyes cover this week with a 49-17 beatdown in Bloomington, and Haskell Garrett returns from an injury scare to have a big impact against a suspect run game and offensive line. He’s your MVP on the evening.