In order to try to combat Chappell and his aerial show, Ohio State's secondary will have to overcome the loss of Tyler Moeller, the Buckeyes' star in the nickel defense. In his place will be true freshman Christian Bryant, who replaced Moeller after the senior went down with a torn pectoral muscle last weekend at Illinois.
Knowing all this, one might think Ohio State's secondary will have the toughest task Saturday at Ohio Stadium when the Hoosiers come calling. But Dexter Larimore sees it a different way. The fifth-year senior defensive tackle thinks the game will come down to how he and the rest of the Buckeye defense line fare when it comes to getting pressure on Chappell without committing to extra rushers.
"That's going to be the key to the game," the Merrillville, Ind., native said. "If you can't get four-man pressure against these guys, our back end is going to have one of the longest days ever. They're going to pass it all over the place and just name their score."
The defensive line has gotten its share of pressure on opposing quarterbacks in Ohio State's five games this season, but the sacks have not been there. The Buckeyes have recorded eight sacks this season, good for only 79th best in the nation and tied for sixth in the Big Ten. Conversely, Indiana's use of screens and quick-hitting passes has kept Chappell's uniform clean for the most part. The Hoosiers have allowed four sacks in their four games, including two last week against Michigan.
Larimore said he has seen Chappell take some hits in film study and knows that simply hitting the QB as he throws won't be enough.
"He's got a real knack for finding the open receiver and even finding them when he's getting crushed," said Larimore, who has 1½ of OSU's sacks. "I've seen plays where he's getting his head taken off and he's still completing the first down. He gets up, shakes it off and runs down to throw another one."
Ohio State does boast the best Big Ten pass defense, leading the conference by allowing only an average of 161.8 yards per game through the air. That secondary will not only be tested by the Hoosiers but because of the absence of two players who were starters at the beginning of the year in safety C.J. Barnett and Moeller. Orhian Johnson has had ups and downs in replacing Barnett, who was injured in win against Miami (Fla.) in September, and Bryant held his own against the Illini when Moeller left the game after only three plays.
Bryant recorded five solo tackles and earned praise from coaches and teammates following the game. Even with a secondary in flux, the Buckeyes did not sound concerned about its back end.
"Our secondary is going to be fine," Larimore said. "I think we're going to have guys come in and play well."
Moeller was among those who were certain Bryant had the necessary play-making ability to play his position well and will only get better with more playing time.
"He's going to be something special here," Moeller said. "He's one of the best tacklers on defense, as you guys saw in the Illinois game. He's young. He needs to get the playbook a little bit and learn and get experience, but he's a great player."
"I'm not at all worried about how he's going to play," Moeller added. "I'm 100 percent confident that he's going to do a great job."
That confidence in the secondary was also echoed by Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes, who said the need for defense to get front-four pressure was not any higher for this game than any others.
"With our front four we sometimes get that pressure without having to send (extra blitzers)," he said. "We're going to do what we do. If we have to send (more), we'll send it. I wouldn't say that it's extra or anything. It's just what we do."