Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Week Five: Ohio State Buckeyes
Date and Time: Saturday, October 8, 2016
Venue: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH (Capacity: 104,944)
Buckeyes at a Glance
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
15th season as head coach, 5th at Ohio State
Overall Record: 154-27
With Ohio State: 50-4 (30-1 in B1G)
Last Year: 12-1 (7-1)
Buckeyes Returning Leaders
Passing: J.T. Barrett (93-147, 992 yards, 11 TDs and 4 INTs)
Rushing: J.T. Barrett (714 yards with 6.3 yards per carry and 11 TDs)
Receiving: Curtis Samuel (22 catches for 289 yards and 2 TDs)
Defender: Raekwon McMillan (88 tackles, 4 TFLs and 4 PBUs)
Athlon: 1st in the Big Ten East
Lindy’s: 1st in the Big Ten East
Phil Steele: TBD
Sporting News: 1st in Big Ten East
WHY THE BUCKEYES WILL WIN
There are some very simple and easy answers for why the Ohio State Buckeyes will knock off the Hoosiers when the two square-off in early October. First, Ohio State is loaded with four and five-star talent (although much of it is currently inexperienced) and they will be superior at most positions on the field. Second, the Buckeyes have not lost to IU in Columbus since 1987 (IU last defeated Ohio State in 1988). Third, Urban Meyer is now 30-1 in conference games since arriving as the head coach at Ohio State (the lone loss came in last season’s sloppy and shocking loss to Michigan State). Fourth, Ohio State has J.T. Barrett, the explosive running quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate that is capable of taking games over with his legs. Finally, Ohio State is unlikely to underestimate Kevin Wilson’s squad because his Hoosiers have given Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes some very difficult games since his arrival in Columbus.
Now that those “big picture” reasons are on the table, let’s dive in to the personnel for the Buckeyes and preview the matchup. Ohio State is replacing sixteen starters after mass defections due to graduation and early entry into the NFL Draft. While that would spell doom for all but a few elite programs, the Buckeyes have the promise of top talent waiting in the wings. J.T. Barrett takes over as the undisputed leader at quarterback and his mobility and dynamism with the ball in his hands will be a tremendous challenge for Tom Allen’s defense. Ezekiel Elliott nearly single-handedly defeated the Hoosiers in the second half of last season’s nail-biter but he is now a Dallas Cowboy. They can’t replace “Zeke” but the starting running back will be decided this fall by a battle between redshirt freshman Mike Weber and fifth-year senior Bri’onte Dunn. Neither is as explosive as Elliott but they could get some big plays from hybrid backs Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel to help make up for the loss of Elliott’s “home runs”. With Barrett and a number of backs that should be at least capable, Ohio State’s running game will be as tough a challenge as IU’s front faces all season. Barrett hasn’t been the best of passers in his previous two seasons and he’ll be throwing to a young and unproven crop of receivers. Noah Brown is a big target that is returning from injury and many think he is capable of a breakout season in which he emerges as a star. Other targets include Curtis Samuel (the top returning pass catcher), Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin and Torrance Gibson plus true freshman Austin Mack. The offensive line has to replace three starters including an All-American. Billy Price (right guard) and Pat Elflein (center) return as starters while Jamarco Jones (left tackle) and Isaiah Prince (right tackle) look penned is as the starting tackles. There are a number of candidates but no clear answer for the left guard spot. While I don’t think the offense will be as explosive as what we saw in 2015 and there is no depth behind J.T. Barrett, this is still a very explosive offense that will be a huge test for IU’s reworked defense.
The Buckeyes defense ended up carrying the squad for much of the 2015 season (not that the offense was bad, it just never quite clicked as well as expected) but much of that unit now resides on NFL rosters. Sam Hubbard is poised for a breakout season as he steps in for Joey Bosa as the edge pass rusher alongside the proven Tyquan Lewis. The interior of the line is a concern after the departure of Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt. Tracy Sprinkle is a redshirt junior that will need to step up because the only depth on the inside of the d-line will likely be redshirt freshmen. The secondary must be entirely rebuilt and safeties like Damon Webb and Malik Hooker must make strides as new starters. Marshon Lattimore returns after missing much of 2015 with an injury and he’ll be joined by the lone returning starting corner, Gareon Conley. Top tackler Raekwon McMillan returns to lead the linebackers. While many loved Tom Allen’s hire, the hire that has been universally lauded is the addition of new defensive coordinator and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Bucs head coach Greg Schiano to OSU’s staff. He’ll be leading a rebuilt defense but there’s still plenty of talent and this will be a very tough nut for Richard Lagow and the IU offense to crack consistently.
WHY THE HOOSIERS WILL WIN
IU hasn’t won at Ohio Stadium since 1987 and the Buckeyes are picked by many as a top ten team for this coming season. This is not an easy case to make. That being said, this is not the juggernaut many saw the Buckeyes as last season and they have some areas of concern that could be exploited. In addition, IU gave Ohio State all they could handle last year in Bloomington and they should have confidence that they belong on the same field and that they can challenge the hosts in the Horseshoe.
The first potential weakness is the running game. While J.T. Barrett is a very dangerous weapon capable of burning even the best of defenses with his legs, the running backs (Mike Weber, Bri’onte Dunn and potentially Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson) will not rise to the level of the departed Ezekiel Elliott. If IU can contain Barrett and force the Buckeyes to pass, they may be able to keep the Buckeyes from getting into an offensive rhythm. The second noticeable weakness that may play into IU’s favor is the interior of the defensive line. As I wrote earlier, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are gone and their replacements are not considered to be sure-fire elite level guys. The strength of Indiana’s team is the offensive line and the running game and it’s very possible that Dan Feeney and the O-line establish themselves and allow Devine Redding (and potentially Camion Patrick) and the running game to get rolling. Once the running game is established, the Hoosiers could pick on an inexperienced secondary. Lagow would have some time to find Ricky Jones, Mitchell Paige and Simmie Cobbs and IU could take the Buckeyes to the limit (again) and have a chance in the fourth quarter. A few weeks prior to this contest, the Oklahoma Sooners will play host to Ohio State in a huge out-of-conference clash. The Sooners will likely try to use their dominant running game to test the Buckeyes on the interior and then take shots down the field with Baker Mayfield. That game will be an early indication of how this strategy may work and how close Ohio State is to the nation’s elite in 2016. IU is not Oklahoma and the scenario I dreamed about is not a likely one. However, I don’t think this version of Ohio State will be anything close to unbeatable and a great game from the Hoosiers, plus a bit of luck here and there, could see them pull off a shocker.
The Ohio State Buckeyes will be heavy favorites in this contest and many like them to take the B1G East division title back from Michigan State despite having to replace a nation-high 16 starters. This is either the toughest, or second toughest, game on Indiana’s schedule and winning will take a monumental effort from all involved. That being said, there are a couple of potential weaknesses for Urban Meyer’s squad and those weaknesses happen to line up reasonably well with IU’s likely strengths. I’m only giving the Hoosiers a 10% chance to walk away with a win but crazier things have happened and I do give IU a real opportunity to make this game a scary one for the Scarlet and Gray.