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Who? Indiana Hoosiers (3-1, #49 S&P+) at #2 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0, #1 S&P+)
When? Saturday, 10/8, 3:30 PM, Columbus, Ohio
Vegas? INDIANA +29.0
S&P+ Projection? OHIO STATE, 44.8 - 19.2 (93%)
Indiana's current schedule rotation is a bit of a bummer. Last season they had the opportunity to take on Ohio State and Michigan in Bloomington, with each game ending with the Hoosiers just a matter of yards away from getting the opportunity to tie or win the game. Unable to cash in either ticket, the 2016 outfit must now hit the road to take on the two best teams in the East, making an already difficult task nearly impossible.
First up is Ohio State in Columbus. Vegas likes them by over 4 touchdowns, and S&P+ isn't much more optimistic, I wonder why that is?
(% indicates how often a team wins the game if they win that battle. Explanation here.)
Field Position (75%)
Finishing Drives (72%)
Turnover Margin (73%)
INDIANA (#48 Offense)
OHIO STATE (#6 Defense)
Field Position (75%)
Finishing Drives (72%)
Turnover Margin (73%)
INDIANA (#37 Defense)
OHIO STATE (#10 Offense)
It's probably because Ohio State is basically great at everything. They grade out in the top-20 for all five factors on offense and defense with the lone exception of being rather pedestrian when it comes to explosive offensive plays. While that can hurt teams as it forces them to stay on schedule and not get behind the chains, the Buckeyes demoralizing efficiency (unmatched by anyone in the country through five weeks) means they're rarely, if ever, behind schedule. In Standard Down situations, their offense is practically unstoppable. Things get a little sideways if you can get the offense off-track, but good luck trying to do that with any consistency.
It starts with JT Barrett, who is completing nearly 70% of his passes and averaging 8.4 yards per attempt through the air and 5.2 yards per carry on the ground. He's got 17 total touchdowns against 3 turnovers and essentially never gets sacked. His ability to avoid negative plays is what makes Ohio State so deadly. They aren't typically going to explode for big yardage downfield, but they're always getting something. In fact, the entire Ohio State rushing offense only gets stuffed (stopped for a loss or no gain) 8.4% of the time, best in the nation.
Their passing offense (40th overall) isn't statistically as good as the rushing attack (3rd overall), but JT Barrett will be the best quarterback Indiana faces all year and he can beat them through the air or on the ground. For a defense that struggled keeping Tyler O'Connor in the pocket last week, it's tough to think about what Barrett might accomplish. Barrett's favorite target, running back Curtis Samuel, has caught 23 of his 24 targets and turned them into 345 yards and three touchdowns while also chipping in 328 yards and two scores on the ground. Dontre Wilson and Noah Brown are the only other members of the team with double-digit targets and catches, with the 6-2 Brown being a literally huge challenge for an IU defense that has historically struggled to defend big wideouts.
Freshman Mike Weber leads the backfield, and while his standard numbers (495 yards, two scores, 7.3 YPC) are eye-popping enough, his 6.7 highlight yards per opportunity puts him among the nation's best at creating yards for himself in the open field. Indiana's defense answered the bell at the line of scrimmage last week and they will need to replicate that success, at the very least, to have a chance at slowing down the Buckeyes' offense. Corralling Weber in the open field is a significantly harder task than LJ Scott.
The defense is ranked 7th against the run and 6th against the pass meaning Indiana is going to have their work cut out for them no matter what they try to do. Michigan State has a pretty good defense and flummoxed Indiana for most of last week's game before the Hoosiers found their rhythm in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, Ohio State's is leaps and bounds better than that pretty good Spartan unit. The Buckeyes are 10th overall in Havoc Rate lead by Robert Landers (6.0 TFL / Sacks) and Joey's younger brother Nick Bosa (4.5) in the front seven while Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore have three picks apiece in the secondary.
Indiana has begun to settle into their identity on both sides of the ball. With Dan Feeney still on the shelf, the running game has lost its potency but the passing game has surpassed last year's in both efficiency and explosiveness, ranking 8th overall in the country (14th last year). After the Wake Forest game we had several discussions about whether the good outweighs the bad with Richard Lagow and, to the dismay of many on Twitter, the answer has been a resounding yes. Turnovers are going to be a part of the game, sure, but the explosive downfield plays and general reliability have been more than worth the occasional bad throw / decision.
While much has been made about what the absences of Feeney and Camiel have done to the running game, it's certainly worth pointing out that the pass protection hasn't missed a beat. Lagow is only being sacked on 5.9% of his dropbacks, which is pretty good when you're not comparing those numbers to Ohio State. One would think Feeney isn't going to miss much more time with his concussion, and his return could spark a renaissance for the running game that had dominated through the first couple of weeks, allowing the offense to reach its full potential.
Defensively, I don't see how we could be asking anything more of Tom Allen's outfit in year one.They're 22nd against the run and 80th against the pass (dragged down by their sub-80 explosiveness rating, which is what happens when you let Tyler O'Connor throw 90 yard touchdowns over the top of your defense) but they grade out well in passing success rate (28th) meaning if they can continue to keep the explosive plays to a minimum, they could very well end the year as a top-40 unit in college football. The defense is also making sure they play their best football late, with their 4th Quarter S&P ranked 33rd in the country.
Run Less. The Hoosiers are 59th in Standard Downs run rate and 40th in Passing Downs run rate; that's an awful lot of running for a team that has seen their efficiency numbers plummet since the entire right side of the line headed to the trainer's room. Lagow can sling it just about anywhere on the field and probably won't be adversely affected by heaving it 60 times a game. I know coaches want to avoid becoming one-dimensional, but when only one dimension of your offense really works- what choice do you have?
Paging Camion Patrick? I did this with Ricky Jones a couple of weeks ago and he's exploded ever since. Patrick has enjoyed the biggest hype train of any Indiana football player in recent history and has been dressed and warming up for a couple of weeks. I know the passing offense isn't hurting for weapons, but we're dying to see what this lad can do.
Play loose. Both S&P+ and Vegas are predicting blowouts on Saturday, so it's not as if there's a great deal of pressure on the Hoosiers to go out to Columbus and get a win. They may not spring the upset by playing loose, but they certainly won't do it by playing tight. There is no amount of points Indiana could lose this game by that would change my season prediction of eight wins, and you should feel the same way. Draw up some plays on the sideline. Get weird with it. Don't get hurt. Please do not let anyone get hurt.
Eventually I was going to be forced to pick Indiana to lose a game, and while I think the Hoosiers have a very good team, I just can't see them pulling out a victory in Columbus. I'll happily eat some crow to be wrong here. Ohio State: 42, Indiana: 17
The No. 2 Buckeyes (4-0) host Indiana (3-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Redshirt sophomore Kyle Trout and redshirt junior Evan Lisle replace Knox at backup right guard on this week's depth chart. That is the lone change from last week's two-deep. Trout played late in Ohio State's 58-0 win against Rutgers.
Joe Burger remains in place of Hilliard at backup WILL linebacker. Ohio State still lists Jerome Baker and Dante Booker as a co-starters at that position. Booker missed Ohio State's wins against Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rutgers with a sprained MCL but Meyer said on Monday he is "probable" for Saturday's game.
Baker remains Chris Worley's backup at SAM linebacker.
Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes remain co-starters at defensive end opposite of Tyquan Lewis.
Marshon Lattimore remains a co-starter at one cornerback spot with Denzel Ward despite being tied for the team lead with three interceptions.
Ohio State still lists nine starting positions with an "OR."