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Game Five Preview: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Who, When, Where: This Saturday, Indiana leaves Bloomington for the second time this season to visit The Ohio State Buckeyes at the Horseshoe in Columbus. Kickoff is 3:30pm, and Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard have the call for ESPN, aided by Allison Williams on the sideline. Last time these teams met, Indiana came up 7 yards shy of knocking off the #1 team in the country with their backup quarterback and running back in Bloomington. The last time these teams met in Columbus, Ohio State came away 42-27 victors in a game that was closer than its final score reflects. The Hoosiers are just 60 straight victories from tying up the all-time series between these two teams.

Big Men on Campus: Mitchell Paige tossed a touchdown pass to his quarterback, making him the first Hoosier wide receiver to do so since 1998 (Lagow is the first Hoosier QB to catch a touchdown pass since 2007). On the defensive side of the ball, Tegray Scales continues to rack up games with 10+ tackles, tying a career high with 13 against the Spartans. Marcus Oliver tied the IU school record for forced fumbles in a career with his ninth against Michigan State, and don’t expect the redshirt junior to rest on that accomplishment.

Everything You’d Ever Want to Know about the 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes, But Were Too Afraid to Ask, by GoForThree: In case you missed us…

Ohio State’s season is going about as well as it could be, minus a few injury hiccups. It’s hard to say what the bigger surprise is…that Ohio State is so lights-out impressive on offense, or that the defense is one of the top units in the country—despite being “pretty basic” in the estimation of an Oklahoma pine-polisher. In case you haven’t watched much of Ohio State this year, here’s what you need to know…

1. The Smashmouth Spread is firing on all cylinders. Ohio State is a spread-to-run-to-pass offense. Urban Meyer and his understudies like to spread defenses wide and then beat them up at the point of attack with leverage/gap schemes. This has resulted in freshman running back Mike Weber leading the B1G in rushing average with 123 yards per game, and more than 120 in three out of four contests. Curtis Samuel, the scary H-back, is averaging 80 per game with an 8.0 ypc average. Add in the running of J.T. Barrett on the RPO/inverted veer sequences and you get the nation’s third-best rushing offense at 244 yards per game.

2. J.T. Barrett is the best QB in the Big Ten. Yes, other QBs have more yards throwing. But through only four games, Barrett has thrown for 14 touchdowns, including four first half TDs against Oklahoma. This, on a team that prefers to run the ball on about 2/3 of its snaps and sits at 112th in passing yards per game. When he throws on you, it usually hurts a lot. Against Rutgers he surpassed both Joe Germaine and Bobby Hoying to become the Buckeyes’ all-time passing leader in touchdowns. Factor in the three rushing TDs he’s notched and you’re looking at the B1G’s touchdown production leader.

3. Ohio State has a basic defense. Basically, they stop whatever you try. Greg Schiano picked up where Ash left off, keeping the Buckeyes’ base set of a 4-3/Cover 4 defense intact. Instead of relying on a lot of disguise schemes like Aranda was known to with the 3-4 hybrid system at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are content to sit in a base set and rotate between quarters coverage and cover-1/man-free schemes. The Buckeyes’ success thus far has hinged on the young but talented interior line being able to hold ground, leaving the Mike and Will linebackers—Raekwon McMillan and the pair of Dante Booker/Jerome Baker—free to scrape and take good pursuit angles to make plays and limit cutback lanes. Sam linebacker Chris Worley frequently comes upfield on run blitzes, which the solid line play has enabled thus far. At other times, boundary corner Gareon Conley will handle run blitz duties from the short side. The takeaway is that OSU feels they have the talent to slide into man cover packages or a Cover 3/2-under look to get more men in the box and still beat you if you try to make them pay with play action.

One of the few wrinkles we’ve seen this season is a tweaked version of last year’s successful “Rushman” package, featuring either an odd front or adjusted even look with Nick Bosa and Jaylyn Holmes playing a 2i-technique/ A-gap look. The bottom line is that OSU’s defense has been great at taking away the explosive plays and limiting offenses to a rare big gainer or a long slog down the field, where their athleticism grinds offenses to a halt.

4. The offense is frightening. Since moving Ed Warriner to the press box after last season’s November woes, Ohio State has averaged just over 52 points per game on more than 540 yards of offense. Curtis Samuel, who lived in the shadows last year, has emerged as the next “Next Percy Harvin” for Urban Meyer. Last week, the Buckeyes took the chance to deepen the film coffers for opposing defenses by switching the script and using Samuel in split backs from the backfield (which we first saw on a great touchdown run against Oklahoma) instead of just relying on Mike Weber. Urban Meyer is a sly fox and knows that formation tendencies give defensive coordinators the power of prediction, so he basically used Rutgers as a proving ground to show that what you see isn’t always what you get out of his formation sets.

Does all of this guarantee a win? No, of course not. But for those Indiana fans who haven’t had a chance to see the Buckeyes in action this season, this is the Urban Meyer machine you can expect to see. So the question is…what will Indiana show us?

How This Game Might Go During Basketball Season: The only regular season matchup between these teams is the finale, March 4th in Columbus. By that time, we’ll probably have a good idea of just how good these teams are, and whether or not they’ll be dancing in the NCAAs. Being in Columbus might make this a tough game for Indiana, certainly tougher than playing in Assembly Hall. It probably comes down to who’s healthier by that point in the year, and whether anything more than pride is at stake. This far out, it’s crazy to predict anything definite, but I will say that whoever wins probably does so by double digits.

Prediction: There are very few games that fans are happy watching their teams lose. I will be disappointed if Indiana doesn’t somehow pull out this game, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t. And while the smart folks in Vegas also don’t have faith in Indiana (either the 29 or 29.5 point underdog across the board), I do think they’ve left it a bit too wide open. The last time the Buckeyes beat Indiana by that many points was 2006. It’s certainly possible that they could do so again, but much worse Hoosier squads than this one have played tougher than that. So, while I do think Ohio State wins, I’m predicting something like 45-28 as the final. Anything closer than that, and I’ll be happy. If the unimaginable happens...

Next Week: Indiana welcomes one of the few teams it holds a lifetime winning record over to Bloomington for the first time since they joined the Big Ten. Hello, Nebraska! 9-7-3 NEVER FORGET