Bloomington – Indiana has a lot going for it as it prepares for Saturday night's 7 p.m. match-up with No. 9 Ohio State.
First of all, on Monday the Big Ten Conference suspended starting free safety Kurt Coleman for a helmet-to-helmet hit in last week's Illinois game. The team's second-leading tackler (29) and a team captain, Coleman will be replaced in the starting lineup by senior Anderson Russell, a veteran who lost his starting job after a poor performance in OSU's week one 31-27 victory over Navy. His absence could press redshirt freshman (and former IU recruiting target) Orhian Johnson into duty for his first significant action in the secondary.
Then, the Buckeye offense took a hit Thursday when Coach Jim Tressel announced that starting tailback Dan "Boom" Herron would sit due to an ankle injury. He'll be replaced by Brandon Saine, who's seen plenty of action this year with 32 carries for 187 yards (5.7/carry). But Herron's absence should be noticeable, particularly in the red zone where Herron has scored a rushing touchdown in eight consecutive games dating back to last season.
That would be a big blow to most teams, but it won't affect the Buckeyes in the same way that it would affect a team like IU if it were to lose the equivalent (Nick Polk and Darius Willis). Ohio State is as capable of handling injuries as anyone in the league thanks to an abundance of quality depth.
"They will just bring another one in and they have great players everywhere," said IU Coach Bill Lynch about Coleman's absence. "They have had great players for a long time. I am sure the back-up will be a great player as well."
If the absences of Coleman and Herron don't have much of an impact on the Buckeyes Saturday, then what sort of chance does Indiana have of beating Ohio State for the first time since 1988? Odds are that if Indiana is going to spring the upset it's going to need to get off to a fast start.
An early lead would give the Hoosiers some confidence against a team that has won 15 consecutive conference road games and is clearly the best they've faced to date. It would free them up to continue to try to run the ball and shorten the game and not force Ben Chappell to try to play catch up against a defense that doesn't give up many big plays or points.
If Indiana falls behind early, it faces not only the difficult task of coming from behind against the Buckeyes, but also the choice of how long it wants to extend players that it can ill afford to lose to injury with some very big games coming up on the schedule against Virginia and Illinois. While beating the Buckeyes would rank among the great wins in the program's history, being healthy for a couple of upcoming games that are huge as far as Indiana's postseason bowl hopes is important as well.
I'm expecting Indiana to be competitive early on and be within striking distance in the second half. But without a couple of big plays on offense or special teams, Indiana will be hard pressed to keep pace with a team that looks like the Big Ten's best. A couple of late Buckeye scores will make this game appear more lopsided than it actually was.
Hoosier Nation's Prediction: Ohio State 34, Indiana 16
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
OHIO STATE: One Day and Counting
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