Some wins don’t inspire riotous celebration from the victor.
Ohio State survived its last encounter with Indiana, a top-10 showdown in Columbus 11 months ago, but the visiting team was the clear winner of the final 30 minutes of play. Down 35-7 early in the third quarter, the Hoosiers made a frenetic comeback bid, which included four second-half touchdown passes from Michael Penix Jr. before Ohio State eked out a 42-35 win.
Penix and company came up short on a last-ditch effort to tie things up in the game’s waning moments, but the Buckeyes left the field with their fair share of disappointment as well.
“It did not feel good. Simple as that. It did not feel good,” Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman said Wednesday. “It’s that kind of in between, you came out on top, but then you look at the stats and it’s a whole different story.”
Yeah, definitely, we owe them something. Were excited for it, Im sure they are too.— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) October 20, 2021
Ronnie Hickman says the Buckeyes have a chip on their shoulder after Indiana put up big numbers on the Ohio State defense last year. pic.twitter.com/T8v9CsmIRQ
To label a more convincing win in this year’s rematch “redemption” for the Buckeyes might be stretching things a bit, but Ohio State endured plenty of criticism for the performance a season ago – especially for the pass defense. Penix threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns against the Ohio State secondary in a game that set in motion the defensive skepticism that boiled over in this season’s Week 2 loss to Oregon.
Even if Penix isn’t under center for Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday, some Buckeyes are dead-set on getting revenge regardless.
“It’s a Big Ten matchup at the end of the day, but yeah, definitely, we owe them something,” Hickman said. “We’re excited for it, I’m sure they are too.”
With or without Penix, the 2021 Indiana team has not been its predecessor. The Hoosiers have doubled their loss total from a season ago just halfway through the regular season, and offensive issues might be the chief reason why.
After averaging 250.9 yards and two touchdowns per game through the air a year ago, Indiana has averaged 215.8 passing yards and 0.8 passing touchdowns per game in 2021. Penix and Jack Tuttle, who made his first start of the season in place of an injured Penix last week, combined to throw just five interceptions in 2020. The pair has thrown twice as many already through six games this year.
By contrast, Ohio State’s defense seems to have improved significantly since the last time the Hoosiers got a look at it, with most of that improvement coming in the past three games alone. Buckeye defensive tackle Haskell Garrett said Wednesday that Ohio State can’t let any expectations of a big win cloud the team’s mindset in preparation for kickoff.
“It just comes to what I said in the beginning of the season after our loss. There’s a lot of ball left to play. Everybody thought everything was set in stone in the beginning of the season, like, you still have to play the whole season and get to the championship,” Garrett said. “The goal has always been to get to the Big Ten (championship), and you can’t sleep on any team – at all – because everybody’s good.”
As for Hickman, the added edge created by last year’s subpar defensive showing is all the extra motivation needed to get up for a game in which Ohio State is favored by almost three touchdowns.
“We’ve kind of been focusing on this matchup, but the guys – especially the guys who were here last year and on that sideline – we know what it was like, we know how it felt,” Hickman said. “We came out on top but we also saw how many yards they threw for. So it’s a little chip on our shoulder, we’re excited for it.”
The Buckeye offense is not without errors of its own to rectify from the 2020 meeting.
Ohio State scored only 14 points in the second half against Indiana last year, and the Buckeyes coughed the ball up on three occasions.
“We had a bunch of big plays early on, and then towards the end of the game we were kind of just hanging on,” Ryan Day said Tuesday. “So we got to continue to be aggressive. Some of the decision-making in that game wasn’t very good, but they’re a good defense. They have good scheme and good players, so we’re gonna have to be on our game in terms of execution.”
The Ohio State offensive line gave up five sacks on Justin Fields, and that fact was not soon forgotten by assistant coach Greg Studrawa.
“We’ve been focusing on that even starting last week in the off week, of all the pressures. Because they do it out of a lot of different fronts,” Studrawa said. “They bring everybody; they’ll bring linebackers, they'll bring corners, they’ll bring safeties, they do it all. So we’ve been mindful of that from the time the game was played, and started working on that last week.”
Studrawa said the pocket tended to shrink for Ohio State last season, but with the fleet-footed mobility of Fields at quarterback, it wasn't much of an issue throughout the year. This year, the youth the Buckeyes have at the position with C.J. Stroud meant Studrawa wanted to shore up the pass protection.
Left guard Thayer Munford, who experienced the creative Indiana pass rush a season ago, said his unit is up for the challenge, regardless of the look it gets from the Hoosier front.
“They run around so much, it’s like you got to keep your head on a swivel just because they run around and play hard. We’ve been practicing that blitz as well, but also at the same time, it doesn’t matter what blitz they run,” Munford said. “We’ll be ready no matter what.”
Ohio State has tougher matchups on paper directly after Saturday’s contest. In fact, five of the Buckeyes’ final six opponents are ranked in the AP Top 25, and four reside in the top 10. But if Ohio State doesn’t take care of business in Bloomington, those games will mean a whole lot less when it comes to the Buckeyes’ place in the College Football Playoff picture.
Last year’s Indiana game is a reminder of what can happen if the foot is taken off the gas pedal, and the Buckeyes hope to remedy that gaffe this weekend.
“We just didn’t do a good job of finishing the game. We went up big early on in the game, and a defense that’s designed to stop explosive plays, and we gave up too many explosive plays, let them back in the game and didn’t execute down the stretch on offense,” Day said. “That’s really what happened. So we just gotta play like we did in that first half and continue to play a full 60 minutes.
“We’ve never really been in a game with Indiana where we didn’t have to play for four quarters, and so we’re gonna have to do that again on Saturday night.”