Ohio State football enjoys a number of proud traditions: Script Ohio. “Hang on Sloopy.” Beating Indiana. While the third one is not official, it may as well be. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series with the Hoosiers 70-12-5, including the Scarlet and Gray’s current 19-game win streak. The last IU victory came on October 8, 1988, when the host Hoosiers defeated the Bucks 41-7. Ohio State hopes to extend that run of success to an even 20 W’s this Saturday in Bloomington.
Indiana University is a basketball school. If you saw Hoosiers then you know that the state loves its hoops, and its largest public university is no exception. IU owns five NCAA Tournament Championships, most recently in 1987. The crowd around a Hoosier basketball game rivals any rabid fan base in the nation. The football team, on the other hand, does not inspire comparable fervor. Indiana joined the Big Ten in 1899 and captured the conference crown a scant two seasons: 1945 and 1967. More recently — roughly since the Vietnam War ended — the Hoosiers have struggled to consistently field a competitive team. The Hoosiers’ most recent bowl appearance came in 2007 – a 49-33 loss to Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl. The last IU bowl victory came all the way back in 1991 via a 24-0 Copper Bowl win over Baylor.
College football programs deserve a dedicated wing in every art gallery in the country. The sport’s long history presents a canvas on which countless undergraduates painted their team, school, community, and era. Each week during Big Ten play, we will travel back in time and revisit a program of old. Today’s throwback takes us back to Halloween 1931 when the Buckeyes and Hoosiers tangled at old Tenth Street Stadium in Bloomington. You can almost hear the ballcarrier, “Gee whiz, where did my helmet go? Yikes, that palooka is coming right at me! I better 23 skiddoo to the end zone.” The Buckeyes won the advertised match 13-6.
This weekend surprisingly features a battle of unbeaten clubs. Indiana is 4-0 for the first time since 1990. Ohio State has started 4-0 or better 15 different times during that same span, including this season. Ohio State and Indiana last battled as unbeatens in September 1942. Indiana’s early season success largely reflects its potent offense. The Hoosiers average 38.2 points per game, which exceeds the Buckeyes 34.5 ppg clip. The major difference comes on defense. While Ohio State allows their opponents an average of 12.2 ppg, Indiana generously grants their opponents an average 32.0 points. Indiana owns the third quarter, outscoring opponents 51-0 in the third frame. In addition to taking care of the ball, Indiana shows a knack for taking it away. Their plus-6 turnover margin is best in the conference and tied for seventh nationally. For an Ohio State team that sometimes struggles hanging on to the rock, that could prove trouble if the Bucks play sloppy.
Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld leads an offense that capably puts up points. Through a third of the season, Sudfeld has completed 77-of-126 passes (61 percent) for 1,143 yards, 7 touchdowns, and a lone interception. His favorite target, redshirt junior Ricky Jones, has collected 18 completions for 411 yards and three scores. Many expected the run game to suffer after the loss of Tevin Coleman to the 2015 NFL Draft. Not so, as junior Jordan Howard has handsomely picked up Coleman’s slack to the tune of 675 net yards and 4 touchdowns. Howard runs hard and does not fear contact with a 6.1 yards per touch average.
Sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan knows how explosive Howard can be. “We need to focus on tackling, getting [him] down on the ground and limiting yards after contact,” the Wu-Tang-named linebacker said.
The Hoosier offense portends a legitimate test for the Buckeyes’ Silver Bullet defense. The Buckeyes are allowing 253.3 yards per game, (sixth nationally) comprised of 121.8 rushing and 131.5 passing yards (the latter ranks eighth nationally), while capably forcing turnovers. More importantly, the defense is scoring at a breakneck pace. The Buckeye defense recorded pick-6’s in back-to-back games and recorded a defensive touchdown against Virginia Tech as well.
After a week of hand-wringing Ohio State’s offense showed signs of growth and consistency against Western Michigan. Throughout the club’s offensive doldrums, junior tailback Ezekiel Elliott remains a trusty standby. Zeke averages 113.8 yards per game on the season and owns a streak of nine straight games with over one hundred rushing yards. Through the air, redshirt junior Cardale Jones seemed much more comfortable under center against WMU. He noticeably underthrew a few balls which, while it did not haunt against the Broncos, could prove disastrous against more ball hawkish defenders. When Devin Smith graduated last year many wondered which receiver would emerge as a deep ball threat. So far Michael Thomas seems most ready to take on the mantle. His sixteen receptions lead the team as well as 238 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas also shows an uncanny knack for perimeter catches. His masterpiece remains the double reverse pass in last season’s Sugar Bowl. Against Northern Illinois as well he slyly slipped his sole beside the sideline. In an offense looking for go-to playmakers, Thomas presents a trustworthy option.
Among Urban Meyer’s many accomplishments as Ohio State’s head coach is his record against the Big Ten. Since his arrival in 2012, the Buckeyes are 25-1 against conference opponents. The lone loss came against Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game. Twenty-four straight regular season conference victories stands not only as an OSU record but one for the Big Ten as well. Enter Indiana. Long an afterthought, the Hoosiers hope to make a statement against the top team in the country. Despite a 4-0 start the Hoosiers could not garner a single vote in the AP Poll. The crowd wants blood and history, but they will receive neither. Expect the Buckeye defense to continue their smashmouth ways and push the team’s win overall streak to eighteen.
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