IU MLB John Pannozzo vs. OSU TB Antonio Pittman - The 5-11, 195-pound Pittman has been productive this season, averaging 93.8 yards/game on the ground. That number jumps to 107.5 yards/game in OSU's four wins, while Pittman has been limited to 66.5 yards/contest in losses to Penn State and Texas.
What makes the Pittman matchup important is the significant impact IU's success or failure in stopping the ground game will have on its pass defense. While Ohio State isn't a team that relies a great deal on throwing the ball, it has a pair of dangerous weapons in Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn, Jr. Both have the speed to get behind IU corners Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors, and that will spell trouble if there isn't a safety rolling over to provide help over the top.
If John Pannozzo and the Indiana defense can prevent the Buckeyes from moving the ball and the chains at will with its front seven, safeties Troy Grosfield, Will Meyers and Aaron Mitchell can be ready to provide help to Majors and Porter, both of whom will need it against a pair of wideouts with NFL-caliber skills and speed. If Indiana is forced to commit an extra safety to slowing down Pittman, a big play in the OSU passing game becomes likely. Holmes hit Michigan State for a pair of 45-yard plus touchdowns last week, and OSU fans have been waiting for Ginn's breakout performance.
OSU CB Ashton Youboty vs. IU WR James Hardy - No one has been able to slow down IU's 6'7" receiver yet, but he'll get one of his biggest tests this weekend when he goes up against Youboty, a preseason Thorpe Award candidate.
Expect Youboty to try to jam Hardy off the line of scrimmage, keeping him from getting into his route. Hardy, who ranks second in the nation in nation in receiving yards (124.3/game), has added 25 pounds in the off-season and is now better equipped to fight through that defensive approach than he was a year ago, but the fact still remains that at 6'7", he's a big target for Youboty to try to slow down off the line.
If Hardy can get off the line and get into his route, he'll have chances to make big plays against the Buckeyes. Ohio State likes to blitz, which leaves room over the middle and deep downfield to make plays. Ohio State won't play the same sort of zone coverage that Iowa did a week ago, which allowed Hardy and fellow wideout James Bailey to catch plenty of intermediate and sideline routes and then try to make people miss.
IU O-Line vs. OSU OLB Bobby Carpenter Indiana plays without a fullback, which puts the onus on the offensive line to recognize blitzers and make the proper adjustments to pick them up. More often than not, they'll have to account for the 6-3, 255-pound Carpenter trying to get after IU quarterback Blake Powers.
Carpenter leads the Big Ten with eight sacks, including four a week ago against Michigan State. Both he and middle linebacker A.J. Hawk are explosive athletes who will try to provide additional heat on Powers throughout the game. Expect to see the Hoosiers go with its two tight end sets more often than it did a week ago, in an effort to not only get Chris Taylor and the running game going, but to also provide Powers with some much needed protection against the Buckeye pass rush.
IU TB Chris Taylor vs. OSU MLB A.J. Hawk: Ohio State only gives up 66.2 yards/game on the ground and 2.1 yards/carry, ranking it second nationally. Indiana, meanwhile, has been hit and miss on the ground, going for more than 200 yards against Illinois and more than 300 against Kentucky, but being held largely in check by its other four foes.
The statistics might suggest that abandoning the ground game would be IU's best course of action, but that would be a recipe for disaster against the Buckeyes. Against Iowa, Indiana was able to exploit the Hawkeyes' soft zone and pick up four and five-yard gains in the passing game with a steady dose of sideline routes. But those sort of routes won't be as readily available against the Buckeyes, who will crowd Hardy, Bailey, Marcus Thigpen and Jahkeen Gilmore at the line of scrimmage.
If Taylor isn't used or is ineffective, all that will do is give Ohio State's linebackers carte blanche to bring additional heat on Powers. Ohio State's front four is talented enough, so the IU coaches would like to see Carpenter and Hawk having to sit back and respect the run.
Indiana doesn't need to run for 200 yards against Ohio State to be successful, but they do need to be able to get in the 110-140 yard range just to keep the offense balanced. That responsibility falls on Taylor, who remains IU's best option at tailback, someone who can also make a big play in the running game if he can get in the open field.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Four Days and Counting...
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