Perhaps that's the best news for Ohio State after its 34-20 win over Indiana Saturday in a game that couldn't have been harder to watch. But the end result for Ohio State was a victory – the team's third in a row – and it has the Buckeyes one step closer to achieving a berth in the inaugural Big Ten title game.
"In the end, we got the win," sixth-year senior defensive back Tyler Moeller said. "We're happy about that. We're not happy about how we played. We have to do a better job. But we got the win, and that's what we came out to do."
The worst news for the Buckeyes, however, is breezing through the last three games as if winning is a forgone conclusion isn't going to be the case. This team isn't like this recent Ohio State squads that can simply over-match any team and cruise to the BCS.
The team has the talent to run the table, but perhaps playing a close game against Indiana – a team that undoubtedly has miles to go before it is a contender – was a combination of both the hangover effect and simply not being good enough to make things easy.
Ohio State has three games left on its schedule that it could potentially lose if it isn't playing it best football – whether that means on the road at Purdue, home against Penn State (who currently controls its own destiny) or in The Game in Ann Arbor.
But for at least another week Ohio State is on track to potentially accomplish something many wrote off weeks ago after the loss to Nebraska. Before we look forward lets take a look back at the Indiana game and break down some of the things that stood out in the latest version of Sunday Observation:
• The hangover effect – There's a reason it has been years since I've written a story about taking the opponent seriously leading into games against teams Ohio State should blow out. It is a fun angle to play each year and everyone says the right things during the week, but all those comments about driving the point home about respecting the opponent mean nothing. I am not saying Luke Fickell hasn't tried to reinforce respect for the opponent, but sometimes it isn't that easy. Players are very keyed in with who they're playing. They watch ESPN. They read the Internet. Sometimes it isn't even conscious, but its easier to get through the week when seeing the opponent has one victory and has been blown out repeatedly.
Ohio State came out soft and uninspired in the first quarter and spotted Indiana 10 points and a ton of confidence. The Hoosiers are far too bad to have won the game, but there's no questioning that Ohio State came out lacking energy. Of course they escaped with the win, but it is time for the team to get refocused and start concentrating for the last three weeks. This team isn't good enough yet to sleep through any of the final three games and expect to win.
• The offense wasn't supposed to look like this — When talking on the radio on Friday night I was asked to provide the type of offensive philosophy I expected to see. I said since Indiana hasn't shown any ability at stopping anyone all season that it could be different this week. I thought it would be best for Ohio State to experiment more with the pass, get Braxton Miller more experience running different types of plays and to really expand its playbook a little bit. After falling down 10-0 in the first quarter, that didn't happen. It was back to the same old story we've seen all season.
So what does that mean? It was more of Ohio State relying on Miller to move the ball with his legs on passing downs and a running backs to get the gritty yards. There's nothing wrong with that because that's, well, Ohio State's identity. I bring this up for only one reason – it is a small concern that Ohio State couldn't muster up enough of a game plan to hurt Indiana with what it has struggled with the most – defending the pass.
Fickell expressed concern over Miller and the quarterback running the ball 15-20 times a game, but to me that seems like what needs to happen for the Buckeyes to win football games. No respect to Indiana, but its defense is terrible. And Ohio State had only 55 yards passing on the Hoosiers. If the time comes where Ohio State can't run – see the Michigan State game – it could turn into another loss.
• That's where Boom Herron comes in – The biggest difference from now and the Michigan State game, aside from the fact that Miller seems more comfortable making plays with his legs, is the reemergence of Herron. Though he missed half of his senior season, he's had a big enough impact early to help Ohio State get on the board more efficiently. In fact, it isn't even out of the question that the running back could reach 1,000 yards rushing after the bowl game. Averaging nearly six yards per carry, the hard-nosed senior has again put Ohio State in position to overpower teams on the ground. As long as Ohio State can do that – and I think they can against the last three teams on the schedule – it may be in a good position heading into December.
• Carlos Hyde makes most of his opportunities - The running back caught some flack for Tweeting out of frustration after the Illinois game for not getting carries, but every time he has had an opportunity this year he's made the most of it. Though if there are carries to be had and Herron is ready to go I give them to the senior every time, its hard not to question when Ohio State sends Jordan Hall on the field before him to get carries. It's not a knock on Hall, but perhaps the team would be best served feeding Hyde the ball when Herron needs a breather while finding different (and more creative) ways to get Hall involved.
• Put your hands together for Drew Basil - In just a matter of six weeks Ohio State's place kicker has gone from being a liability to one of the most consistent players on the team. Since his slow start Basil has nailed his last 12 attempts in a row. The only knock on the kicker at this point was that his first kickoff went out of bounds against Indiana (and his last one against Wisconsin did, too) but as of right now he's pretty automatic on his field goal attempts. That's big for Ohio State, who's going to be playing in close games the final three weeks of the season and it won't be in a position to leave any points off the board.
• Wideouts haven't stepped up – Part of the blame for Ohio State's 55 passing yards has to go on the wideouts shoulders. I watched them carefully in the game and a lot of the time nobody was getting open. There are a lot of future stars in the receiving corps between Devin Smith, Philly Brown and Evan Spencer, but right now there hasn't been one receiver can rely on to get open. Only three Ohio State receivers or tight ends – Jake Stoneburner, Brown and Smith – have caught double-digit passes this season and Brown is the only player on the team that has hauled in more than 100 receiving yards during Big Ten play. Perhaps DeVier Posey could bring a similar lift that Herron did when he returns for the Penn State game, but right now the output in the passing game is far from satisfactory.
• The speed in which Johnathan Hankins moves laterally in pursuit never stops amazing me. If he continues to progress on this trajectory, it's hard not to imagine he'll be a Buckeye for one more season after this and jump to the NFL. He's simply that talented and big bodies that move that quickly are a rare breed.
• Hankins isn't the only defensive lineman on this team that has a future in the NFL. John Simon, who registered a career-high 10 tackles against the Hoosiers, looked even more unblockable than he has all season and that's quite a statement. There isn't another player on this team that has made an impact at his position the way Simon has.
• What happened to Stoneburner? It looked like the tight end was going to be the top target for Miller and he has almost dropped off the face of the earth recently. He is the most consistent pass-catcher on the team and there are a lot of short patterns they can run with him to help Miller gain confidence. I think they should get him more involved.
• Ryan Shazier players with emotion that just has my dying to see him in on defense during key snaps. Neither Storm Klein or Etienne Sabino have blown me away, which begs the question – what does he have to do to get on the field for defense? Shazier has been nothing but impressive in all of his opportunities all season.
• People were surprised with who trotted on the field when senior right tackle J.B. Shugarts got banged up, but offensive coordinator Jim Bollman sent Antonio Underwood onto the field. Though they could have gone with Marcus Hall, Andrew Norwell or even Corey Linsley in the game, they threw the freshman out there. Watching him in his first few plays out there and he did more than a serviceable job. He must have really come on strong in practice to get on the field before some of the aforementioned names.