While not impossible, Indiana's mission on Saturday is a difficult one, to say the least.
Fourteenth-ranked Ohio State arrives with a run-stuffing, in-your-face, fly-to-the-ball defense that will undoubtedly be the best unit Indiana has faced this season. Offensively, Ohio State ranks at the very bottom of the conference standings in total offense (359.7 yards/game) and is tenth in scoring (26.5), but don't let that fool you – Coach Jim Tressel has a couple of the league's most dangerous playmakers in wide receivers Santonio Holmes (27 catches, 475 yards, 4 TDs) and Ted Ginn, Jr. (20 catches, 270 yards, 2 TDs), and quarterback Troy Smith is a threat to throw it (806 yards, 6 TDs) or take off running with it (59.6 yards rushing/game, 6 TDs).
There are a slew of things that have to go right for the Hoosiers to knock off the Buckeyes for the first time since 1990 – turnovers, special teams, and red-zone efficiency are all important. But in an effort to simplify things, I'll single out thing that's a must for Coach Terry Hoeppner's squad if it wants to have a chance:
Indiana can't give up any touchdowns on big plays. For the sake of argument, I'll set the number at 30 yards – if Ohio State scores any touchdowns of 30 yards or more, Indiana is in for a long afternoon. If it can keep the Buckeyes from hitting those sort of home runs – on offense, defense or special teams – Indiana will keep the game close and have a chance in the fourth quarter.
Of course, limiting big plays hasn't exactly been IU's specialty. Indiana has given up touchdowns of 80, 79, 63 and 42 yards this season, and Illinois nearly had another 50-yard plus touchdown play, but it was called back after review showed the Illini wideout had stepped out of bounds. In last week's loss to Iowa, the Hawkeyes scored four of their five touchdowns from at least 26 yards out, and they had five plays that went for at least 30 yards in the contest.
Ohio State, meanwhile, is made for the big play. Holmes and Ginn are blazers who can get behind cornerbacks and won't be caught from behind. Both are also involved in the return game and are a threat there as well. While Ginn's averages of 18.8 yards on kickoff returns and 6.9 yards on punt returns are modest to say the least, this is the same player that returned four kicks for scores a year ago.
Indiana wants to make the Buckeye offense put together long, sustained drives to put points on the board. Ohio State has put produced only four touchdown drives of 10 plays or more this year, compared to nine for the Hoosiers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Buckeyes have had eight touchdown drives that took five plays or less, and another two scores courtesy returns (one interception, one blocked field goal).
If the IU defense can eliminate the big play from the Buckeye arsenal – a tall order, indeed – don't be surprised if 52,324 fans leave Memorial Stadium happy.
Well, at least 35,000 of those fans…
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Ohio State 31, Indiana 14
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - – Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Four Key Matchups
On Thursday - Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
One Day And Counting...
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