Indiana has often played the Buckeyes close during the Urban Meyer era but still hasn't beaten Ohio State since 1988. Will this be the year?
Vegas doesn't seem to think so, as the Buckeyes are 21-point favorites over the undefeated Hoosiers. But Indiana is off to its best start since 1990, so how have the Hoosiers gotten there? We check in with Justin Albers, publisher of our IU site, All Hoosiers.
1. It seems the return of Nate Sudfeld has helped the offense find its groove. How well has the Indiana passing game done this season and Sudfeld in particular?
You know, the Indiana passing game has been good, but it hasn't been spectacular. I think what has really helped the Indiana offense, as it pertains to Sudfeld, is the defense now has to defend against the threat of the run and the pass, something that wasn't always true with Zander Diamont last season. Indiana's receiving group isn't as good as it has been in years past, so Sudfeld is still working to find a good chemistry with some of those guys. But Sudfeld has made plays when he's had to, and there's no doubt he brings a certain level of comfort to everyone else on the offense. The big positive for Sudfeld is he is not turning the ball over. In the last two games, against Western Kentucky and Wake Forest, he has five touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
2. Jordan Howard has also been a nice addition to the cause. What has stood out about his play so far and how does he compare to Tevin Coleman?
What has stood out about Howard is his consistent approach. There has been no drop off after losing Coleman, which is hard to believe. Howard's running style is much different, though. Coleman broke off a number of 70-, 80-, 90-yard touchdown runs, and Howard isn't going to do that. He picks up 5, 6, 7 yards every carry, and by the fourth quarter, he's running over tired defenders. Howard wears on a defense, and that style has actually really helped IU. The Hoosiers are holding onto the ball longer, keeping their suspect defense off the field more than ever before. They're huddling up more and taking much more time off the clock before they score than in years past.
3. There was a thought this could be a better defense than in past years for Indiana, then I remember there were a number of suspensions the team dealt with during the early season. How has the defense progressed and is it at full strength, manpower wise, heading into the OSU game?
I think this defense is better than in past years, but not by a whole lot. They had several defensive suspensions in the opener against Southern Illinois, but that's still no excuse for giving up 47 points to an FCS opponent. The defense has been exposed less, though, because the offense is possessing the ball for longer periods of time, like I mentioned before. They've taken on a sort of bend but don't break mantra, and they've mentioned to stick to that for the most part. They didn't force Western Kentucky to punt one time, but they came up with two interceptions in the second half and snuck out with a win. They're a little more opportunistic defensively than they have been in years' past, but they've only faced one good offense. We'll see how they fare against a unit like Ohio State's.
As far as manpower, starting defensive tackle Darius Latham was suspended indefinitely on Tuesday. He's the top recruit Kevin Wilson has brought to Bloomington, so that's obviously a significant loss.
4. Who have been some of the unsung heroes for Indiana's hot start this season other than names like Sudfeld and Howard?
Offensively, wide receivers Simmie Cobbs and Ricky Jones have stepped up when the Hoosiers really needed somebody to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Cobbs is an impressive young sophomore, and Jones spent the last two years recovering from injuries and trying to earn a spot in the starting unit. Jones has caught a number of deep balls from Sudfeld and has a team-high three receiving touchdowns. I'd also give a shoutout to the entire offensive line, which is a really experienced group and a big reason why Howard has looked so good.
Defensively, keep an eye on safety Jonathan Crawford and linebacker Tegray Scales. Crawford had two interceptions against Western Kentucky and also has 24 tackles. Scales is the best player on the IU defense. He has 14 tackles and two sacks in two games this season (he was suspended for the first two games).
5. Is there a buzz about the team right now at 4-0 or are people still taking a wait and see approach given the level of opposition Indiana has played thus far?
There's a buzz about this game with Ohio State, for sure, but I wouldn't say a large number of people are buying into this team yet. The 4-0 start is unique for this program, hasn't been done since 1990, but the Hoosiers haven't really beaten anybody yet. Play competitive with Ohio State, I think they'll gain some more fans. But there will be a big-time buzz in Bloomington on Saturday. Local radio host Dan Dakich is hosting his own "College GameDay" like show, and the game is nearing a sellout. Should be an electric atmosphere, which is certainly good for a program looking to grow like Indiana.