Preview: Ohio State Begins Second Half of 2021 Season with Road Trip to Indiana

By Dan Hope on October 22, 2021 at 8:35 am
Jaxon Smith-Njigba vs. Jaylin Williams

Ohio State will begin the second half of its 2021 regular season by playing the team that gave the Buckeyes their biggest scare during the 2020 regular season.

Since the start of the 2019 season, no Big Ten team has come closer to beating the Buckeyes than Indiana, who lost at Ohio State by just seven points and had the ball with a chance to tie or win the game late in last year’s contest at Ohio Stadium. Even though Ohio State took a 28-7 lead into halftime, Indiana roared back to push for an upset, and the Buckeyes have been reminded of that as they prepare for this week’s game.

2-4 (0-3 B1G)

7:30 P.M. – SATURDAY, OCT. 23


“You gotta play four quarters against Indiana, so we’re gonna have to plan on doing that,” Ryan Day said this week. “We’ve really never been in a game with Indiana where we didn’t have to play for four quarters. So we’re gonna have to do that again on Saturday night.”

On paper, Indiana looks like much less of a threat this season than it was last season, when it entered the game at Ohio State as a top-10 team in the country. The Hoosiers have gone 2-4 so far this year with an offense that currently ranks 107th nationally in both points and yards per game. With three games on the second-half schedule against teams who are currently ranked in the top 10 nationally, including one against Penn State next week, it could be tempting for the Buckeyes to look ahead to what’s coming next.

In a college football season that’s already been full of upsets, Day knows it’s important for his team to stay focused on the task at hand, which is earning a win on the road in Bloomington on Saturday night.

“This team should never be looking at anything other than the game ahead of them. And we’ve learned that lesson,” Day said. “We’re still a work in progress, and we’ve gotta bring it every week. And we know that. We’re not going into this game undefeated. It’s not like that. We got a lot of respect for Indiana, and this is going to be a hard road game. Everybody in the Big Ten’s playing well this year, and you gotta bring it every week.”

The Headlines

Back after a bye week

After beating Maryland 66-17 two Saturdays ago, Ohio State got an extra week to prepare and rest going into this week’s game.

That gave the Buckeyes the opportunity to spend some time self-scouting and working on fundamentals last week, and perhaps most importantly, it gave them a chance to get healthy. Defensive end Tyreke Smith and running back Miyan Williams are both expected to be back Saturday after missing multiple games while defensive tackle Haskell Garrett and cornerback Cameron Brown are also expected to play after leaving the Maryland game with injuries.

Ohio State finished the first half of the season on a wave of momentum, winning its last three games by a combined total of 140 points, and sustaining that momentum can be a bit tougher during a bye week. That said, Day believes the key to Ohio State’s dominant play in its most recent games has been how well it’s prepared during the week, and he said this week that he thought the Buckeyes had another strong week of practice after a weekend off.

“I thought we had a good week of practice, good energy this week,” Day said. “But now we’ve gotta go put it on the field. So we’ll see. And that’s what matters. Playing Saturday night and playing well, starting fast against a good Indiana team.”

Ohio State has a proven track record of using extra time to its advantage, winning its last 31 consecutive regular season games when it hasn’t played the week before, and it will look to continue that trend following its only bye week of the 2021 regular season.

Indiana still chasing first B1G win

If you’re feeling confident that Ohio State will win in blowout fashion again this weekend, Indiana’s record probably has a lot to do with that. The Hoosiers are just 2-4 so far this season; they’ve lost their first three Big Ten games of the year, with their only wins coming against Idaho and Western Kentucky.

That said, the Hoosiers’ schedule so far this year has been as difficult as any team in college football, as all of the four teams they’ve lost to – Iowa, Cincinnati, Penn State and Michigan State – are currently ranked in the top 11 of the AP Top 25.

Unlike last year, Indiana hasn’t yet shown that it’s capable of winning big games. The Hoosiers were competitive against Michigan State last weekend, though, as they held the Spartans to just one offensive touchdown and 241 yards in a 20-15 game.

So while the Hoosiers have real issues on offense – they’ve scored just one touchdown in three Big Ten games – and will need to play better than they’ve played in all of their other Big Ten games to have a chance to beat Ohio State on Saturday, they shouldn’t be judged solely by their losing record.

“They’ve played some good teams. They’ve played some really good defenses,” Day said of Indiana. “So when you combine all those things and you’re off by a little bit here or there, a team that maybe doesn’t have a great record is a lot better than you think, and I think this team is much better than their record indicates.”

Hoosiers banged up at key positions

While Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns against Ohio State last year, he’s not expected to play against the Buckeyes this year. Penix separated his shoulder in Indiana’s loss to Penn State earlier this month, and while Indiana coach Tom Allen has described Penix’s status as “week-to-week,” there have been no indications that Penix will be able to return this week.

Jack Tuttle, who has completed just 36 of 70 passing attempts for 356 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in four games for the Hoosiers this season, is expected to make his second consecutive start in Penix’s place. True freshman Donaven McCulley, a dual-threat quarterback who ran the ball twice for eight yards against Michigan State, could also see increased playing time this week, though Tuttle is still in line to start with McCulley as the No. 2 quarterback.

Indiana could also potentially be without one or both of its starting cornerbacks, as Tiawan Mullen (a first-team All-American in 2020) has missed Indiana’s last two games while Reese Taylor was only able to play one series against Michigan State due to injury.

Allen said Thursday that both Mullen and Taylor had been able to practice some this week but that it was still uncertain whether they’d be able to play on Saturday. He’s certainly hoping they’ll be able to, as not having them could be a big problem against Ohio State’s star-studded receiving trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

“Would love to get those guys back, we definitely need them,” Allen said.

Keep An Eye on These Guys

Indiana WR Ty Fryfogle

Fryfogle had a monster game against Ohio State last year, catching seven passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns, so the Buckeyes should certainly be aware of the threat he can present to their secondary.

As Indiana’s passing game has struggled, Fryfogle hasn’t made as many big plays this year, gaining just 337 yards and one touchdowns on 33 catches in Indiana’s first six games after gaining 721 yards and seven touchdowns on 37 catches in eight games in 2020. If Ohio State’s defensive line can take advantage of Indiana’s struggling offensive line and put consistent pressure on Tuttle, that could go a long way toward neutralizing Fryfogle as a receiving weapon.

Nevertheless, covering No. 3 will certainly be a priority in Ohio State’s defensive game plan after he consistently burned the Buckeyes’ defense last year.

Indiana LB Micah McFadden

The Hoosiers’ best player this season – not that that’s any surprise, as he was already a first-team All-Big Ten linebacker last year – has been McFadden, who leads the Hoosiers with 36 total tackles, is tied for second in the Big Ten with nine tackles for loss and is tied for first in the Big Ten with two forced fumbles.

Projected Starters
Ohio State Pos Indiana

A third-year starter in Indiana’s linebacker corps, McFadden is an instinctive player who always seems to be around the ball. He’s graded by Pro Football Focus as one of the top 10 linebackers in college football so far this season. 

The Hoosiers are aggressive in how they utilize McFadden, often sending him on blitzes, so Ohio State’s blockers will need to be aware of where he is at all times and be prepared to block him. McFadden had 10 tackles against Ohio State last year and played a big part in making Justin Fields, who threw a career-high three interceptions in last year’s game against Indiana, look as uncomfortable as he ever looked in his two years as a Buckeye. 

Ohio State left guard Thayer Munford expects the offensive line to be more prepared for the challenge of going up against Indiana’s blitz-heavy defense this year, though, which will be important as C.J. Stroud tries to stay in a rhythm after back-to-back five-touchdown, zero-interception games.

“We’ve been practicing for the blitz, but also at the same time, it doesn’t matter what blitz they run, we’ll be ready no matter what,” Munford said this week.

Indiana DE Ryder Anderson

While many of Indiana’s top players are familiar names from previous Ohio State/Indiana games – tight end Peyton Hendershot and linebacker Cam Jones are among the other names we could have included here that have already played in several games against the Buckeyes – Anderson is one new face who’s made a big impact for the Hoosiers this year.

An Ole Miss transfer, Anderson has emerged as the star of Indiana’s defensive line, recording 31 total tackles – the most of any Big Ten defensive lineman so far – and seven tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks.

One of two graduate transfer starters on Indiana’s defensive line along with Northern Illinois product Weston Kramer, Anderson is a top playmaker for the Hoosiers as both a pass rusher and run defender and is another player who’s capable of giving Ohio State’s offensive line some challenges on Saturday night.

Game Week Talk

“We owe them something … We came out on top, but we also saw how many yards they threw for. So there’s a chip on our shoulder. We’re excited for it.”– Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman

Hickman didn’t play any defensive snaps against Indiana last year, but was watching from the sideline – and many of his teammates were on the field – as the Buckeyes gave up 491 passing yards. So they’ll have something extra to prove as they look to shut down Indiana’s offense this year and show they’re continuing to improve as a defense.

“Obviously we know who they are, what they have done in the past. But we're playing the Ohio State team that's on this field in 2021. That's the group we're attacking, that's the film we're studying. It's a great opportunity, great challenge, one I expect our team to be fully prepared for.”– Tom Allen

Ohio State has won 26 straight games against Indiana dating back to 1991, but Allen says the Hoosiers aren’t worrying about their history against the Buckeyes this week. They’re just trying to do whatever they can to give themselves the best chance of ending that losing streak this year.

“Usually we do travel well, so hopefully we’ll see some Buckeyes in Bloomington.”– Ryan Day

Even though Saturday night’s game at Memorial Stadium is sold out, that doesn’t mean the stands will be completely full of Indiana fans. Ohio State’s road games at Indiana typically attract plenty of Buckeye fans to Bloomington, which is only about four hours away from Columbus, and Day hopes that will be the case once again this year.

Get Smart

  • Ohio State is unbeaten in its last 28 games against Indiana, including a tie in 1990. Its last loss against Indiana came in 1988, in the first season of John Cooper’s tenure as Ohio State’s head coach, when the Hoosiers beat the Buckeyes 41-7 in Bloomington.
  • The Buckeyes have a 77-12-5 all-time record against Indiana.
  • Ohio State has won its last 11 road games, the longest road winning streak in the country, including a Big Ten-record 10 straight road wins by double digits.
  • Ohio State’s roster includes four players from Indiana: starting right tackle Dawand Jones, backup offensive linemen Josh Fryar and Zen Michalski and safety Craig Young.
  • Indiana’s roster includes five players from Ohio: starting long snapper Sean Wracher, backup tight ends AJ Barner and Sam Daugstrup and backup offensive linemen Zach Carpenter and Luke Lane.
  • This week’s game will be the first of two straight 7:30 p.m. ABC games for Ohio State, as next week’s home game against Penn State will also be featured on ABC’s Saturday Night Football – though this week’s game will be commentated by Dave Pasch, Dusty Dvoracek and Tom Luginbill rather than the usual Saturday night crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Holly Rowe.
  • Ohio State’s status report of unavailable players will be released at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -21, O/U 59

Ohio State is a three-touchdown favorite for the second game in a row, and once again, the Eleven Warriors staff is confident that the Buckeyes will cover the spread.

While the Hoosiers gave the Buckeyes a scare in Columbus last season, they don’t appear to have the offense to keep up with Ohio State this year. Although questions remain about this year’s Ohio State defense, the Buckeyes have been better against the pass than they were last year while the Hoosiers have had minimal success running the ball, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.

Indiana’s defense is better than the Rutgers and Maryland defenses Ohio State picked apart in its last two games, but it’s been far from dominant, currently ranking second-to-last in the Big Ten with 26.8 points allowed per game. While the Hoosiers have faced a lot of top teams, Ohio State is on a different level from all of those teams offensively, giving reason to believe the Buckeyes should be capable of putting another big number on the scoreboard this week.

The Hoosiers have given Ohio State their share of competitive games in recent years, so the Buckeyes need to show up ready to play their best, but this game has plenty of blowout potential if Ohio State can pick up where it left off before the bye week and continue to make big plays on both sides of the ball.

Eleven Warriors Staff Prediction
49   17
View 42 Comments