The only way to truly alleviate that pain requires a return trip to Indianapolis and a different outcome. That’s been the goal for Ohio State all season long, win the Big Ten East and earn a shot to redeem itself in the Big Ten Championship this year. A win this weekend over Indiana clinches a spot in that game.
“Everything we did was to get another shot at the Big Ten Championship,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “Everything, and that's at the doorstep.”
A victory over the Hoosiers (3-7) would secure the Buckeyes (9-1) at least a 6-1 league record, and since they have the tie-breaker over Michigan State thanks to their head-to-head win, would lock up the Big Ten East Division.
Ohio State is coming off back-to-back road wins over ranked opponents and their annual date with Michigan looms following the Hoosiers. The fact that a win over Indiana secures a return trip to the conference title game has helped to ensure the Buckeyes don’t look past their next opponent.
“I made it there and I already know what it’s like and what it takes,” senior linebacker Curtis Grant said. “We can’t get complacent as a team. We can’t overlook anybody. Like I said, any day and time, anybody can be beaten. We have to just stick together and just keep focusing and keep getting better each and every week.”
A win would get the Buckeyes to Indianapolis for the second straight season, joining Wisconsin as the only teams to repeat as representatives in the conference championship game. Despite the success that Ohio State has had since Meyer took over the program, no senior on this year’s roster has won a championship of any kind. They lost the Gator Bowl as freshman before a year of postseason ineligibility. Then last season ended with losses in the Big Ten Championship and the Orange Bowl, a crushing end to the 24-game winning streak.
Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said that the seniors’ legacy is incomplete without a championship, and a win over Indiana would be another step in that direction.
“It’s huge, that’s what you work for, especially being a senior, that’s how you want to go out,” he said. “You want to go out being a Big Ten champion as a senior, especially as a senior captain. Going back there is going to be huge for us. Like coach Meyer says all the time, we’re not going to swing and miss. We’re going to give it our best shot, you’ll see that.”
Another Week, Another Running Back
Standing between Ohio State and their return to Indianapolis is Indiana and star running back Tevin Coleman, the nation’s second leading rusher with 167.8 yards per game.
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson said Coleman has done a little bit of everything in amassing 1,678 yards in 10 games this season, despite being one of the only offensive weapons the Hoosiers have.
“He’s got it all, he’s got great vision, great power, he’ll run through tackles and he’s deceptive,” he said. “He can go the distance. I think he’s a really great running back.”
The Buckeyes are getting used to facing top-flight running backs, having dealt with the Spartans Jeremy Langford (21st in the nation) two weeks ago and Minnesota’s David Cobb (seventh) last week. Langford had 137 yards on the ground against the Buckeyes while Cobb tallied 145 yards.
Meyer said despite the numbers that Cobb was able to put up, the Ohio State run defense was serviceable in Minnesota.
“You know, we played much better than I anticipated watching the film,” the coach said. “We had some missed tackles, safety position missed a few tackles, bad ones, and we have to work on that. But I thought our defensive front – Mike Bennett played one of his best games as a Buckeye, Joey Bosa was ridiculous, Steve Miller was going hard and Adolphus didn't do bad.
“We just got to make sure we're gap sound, be very smart, and we're facing one of the best rush teams certainly in the Big Ten, and we're just I think we're comfortable with the style of defense we're planning to go play Indiana and stop that run limit that run offense.”
The Buckeyes front seven said the goal is to limit Coleman to less than 100 yards rushing Saturday. That has happened just once this season for Coleman, as the junior was limited to just 71 yards in a 13-7 loss to Penn State. The Nittany Lions boast the top ranked rushing defense in the country, so Ohio State is looking to put itself in impressive company.
“We have to do our job or this guy is going to run all over us,” Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee said. “It comes down to assignment football, really, when it comes to stopping the run. He’s good. They’re a good running team. They average about 270 per game rushing, which is really good. So we’re going to get in there for practice and watch film and get our assignments down and just work to execute our assignments so we’ll stop the run.”
If the Buckeyes are able to stop the run, they stop the Hoosiers. Indiana is on their third string quarterback and over 64 percent of their yards this season have come on the ground.
Too many turnovers
Despite back-to-back road wins over ranked opponents, keeping a hold of the football has a concern for Ohio State over the past two weeks. The Buckeyes turned the ball over a combined five times against the Spartans and the Gophers, losing four fumbles in two weeks.
“We've fumbled it more this year than we have, and we've had a little conference about that, our offense coaches, myself and our players yesterday,” Meyer said Nov. 17. “I think we got lazy a little bit in practice, and that's my fault; I've got to hold these guys accountable.”
The main culprit against Minnesota was Jalin Marshall who lost one fumble fielding a punt and another on his way into the end zone on offense. The offensive fumble came when the Gophers defender got a helmet on the ball despite Marshall having good form holding the football, both Meyer and wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. The muffed punt was less excusable.
Marshall did record five receptions for 95 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, and had one rush for 12 yards.
Meyer continued sending Marshall out there to field punts and said that they haven’t lost confidence in him. The coach doesn’t want his players worrying about making mistakes while they’re on the field.
Receivers coach Zach Smith said he lobbied for Marshall to continue to return punts going forward.
“This last game he had two hiccups,” Zach Smith said. “I don't want to jump to any conclusions, it was just kind of a bad day for him, so we're just going to work really hard to make sure he doesn't have another bad day like that. But the positives that he brought before, he still brings, and so we're excited about it.”
- Ohio State moved up to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff Rankings released Nov. 18, one of five Big Ten teams in the top 25. Michigan State is No. 11 while Wisconsin (16th), Nebraska (23rd) and Minnesota (25th) also represent the conference in the rankings.
- Meyer said Nov. 19 that nickel back Armani Reeves is good to go this week after missing multiple weeks with an undisclosed injury. The coach said the junior should slide back in to the starting role.
“He had a good week of practice,” Meyer said. “I think he’s ready to go. Armani’s a great kid and a heck of a player, an emotional guy that gives us a little spark, so I’m glad to have him back.”
- Reserve running back Bri’onte Dunn is also back in the fold this week, Meyer said.