After running out of ways to say that the Ohio State offense was under performing, this week I get to talk about the offense of the opponent. The kicker is that I have been switched over the week the Buckeyes face perhaps their weakest challenge of the season, 1-6 Indiana.
Some guys have all the luck…
In his second year, Gerry DiNardo finds himself at the helm of a team that is struggling. Their only victory this season came against Division I-AA Indiana State (33-3), and every Division I-A team has scored over 30 points on them.
For the record, the Indiana administration should be taken behind the woodshed and flogged for ever (and I do mean EVER) firing Bill Mallory.
Offensively, Indiana is looking to hang its hat on a strong running game in 2003. In their last contest, a 37-31 loss to Northwestern in overtime, the Hoosiers had two backs break the 100-yard barrier. Freshman BenJarvus Green-Ellis racked up 136 on 25 carries and Brian Lewis, a senior, managed 107 yards touching the pigskin just 20 times. Like Wisconsin, they go three deep at the running back position with another true freshman, Chris Taylor, also averaging around four yards per carry.
Ohio State players and coaches have taken notice. Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Mark Dantonio noted, "They have done a great job running the football. They have run for 1,100+ yards. (They) have three tailbacks who really pretty much share the responsibilities there, and they all have had good games and established themselves as runners. It will be a good challenge for us. They keep getting better and better and the tight end is a good blocker. The fullback will really come at you. The quarterback is a threat running and throwing, so they have some guys and just like any Big Ten team. They have found a way to be successful, and I know they have struggled a bit in certain areas but offensively they are moving the football."
Fred Pagac, Jr. echoes those sentiments.
"They look pretty good right now. We've already watched a bit of film, and Indiana looks pretty good. They have a good tight end who can block, their quarterback is obviously a great quarterback. Their fullback looks pretty good, (and) their offensive line looks pretty solid. I think they have rushed for over 1,100 yards already…They look pretty good on film, so it is going to be a challenge to stop the run."
For any tempted to scoff with the remark, "Yeah, but this is Indiana after all!" Perhaps it might be wise to remember that Ohio State's offense has managed only 761 net yards rushing this season and was held to just 125 yards on the ground against the same Northwestern team on which IU rolled up 327 yards.
Completing the backfield is former Notre Dame starter Matt Lovecchio. A highly touted prospect in High School, Matt's future seemed all but assured as the next big name in Notre Dame sports when he started the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately for him, that game unraveled faster than a ball of yarn in a room full of kittens. Oregon State blew out the Golden Domers, and Lovecchio eventually transferred to Indiana, where he now starts and is 101 for 194 with two touchdowns and six interceptions in 2003. Completing 52.1% of his passes, he averages 185.9 yards per game.
"I really think he has the poise under pressure thing going for him," said Pagac, Jr. "He knows how to handle himself. He knows how to make plays when he has to, and he is definitely a huge leaders on their team. He has all the tools I think."
Returning at wide receiver for the Hoosiers are Courtney Roby and Glenn Johnson. This dynamic duo combined for nearly 1,900 yards in 2002. While they are not getting the number of touches they did last season, they are still regularly torching defenses. Expect Travis Haney to play in 3 wide receiver sets, and then there is the tight end which several buckeye defenders alluded to – Aaron Halterman.
What Indiana will try to do…
From a pass happy offense in 2002 to a bust you up the chops rushing attack in 2003, Indiana will look to establish themselves right out of the gate. Look for them to run the football and test the middle of the Ohio State defense with their trio of backs in Taylor, Green-Ellis, and Lewis. Simon Fraser is not taking this aspect of their offense for granted and has a healthy respect for their offensive line. "They're tough, they're physical, they have great technique," he said.
If all goes as planned for him, expect DiNardo to sprinkle in pass plays. In this way he will selectively call on Lovecchio to try and loosen up the Ohio State defensive pressure and make the rushing attack even more effective. The weapons are there for him to use, especially Courtney Roby, his favorite target with 59 grabs last season.
Will Smith noted that the Buckeyes would be waiting for this approach. "This is Big Ten football, and that's the key. You have to stop the run; everybody's going to try and establish the run on you and then get off their passing (attack)."
How it will play out…
It all sounds so simple. Run the football.
However, look for Indiana to find out rather rapidly what every other team has discovered. The Ohio State defense is as good as advertised. In the last two seasons, only Wisconsin has managed to get one of their running backs over the 100-yard mark. Perry, McGahee, and a host of others have tried and failed.
If they cannot establish the running attack, the Hoosiers will have to resort to throwing the football. While Lovecchio has weapons to burn the Buckeyes, his 52.1% completion ratio and only two touchdowns against six interceptions indicate that he has accuracy issues. Accuracy issues against a secondary as intent on turnovers as Ohio State's can mean turnovers and turnovers translate into losses.
In short, look for the Buckeye defense to eat the IU offense alive.