The Buckeyes (4-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) had some pep in their step after enduring an overtime loss at Northwestern as well as defeats at the hands of Wisconsin and Iowa. The coaching staff shook things up by moving players around and giving three true freshmen a chance to play for the first time.
"A lot of guys were young and motivated out there today," said flanker Santonio Holmes, who had a 5-yard touchdown catch. "Thomas Matthews, one of our senior linebackers, he got in before the game and he pumped everybody up with his speech. That gave us a sense of urgency. He said he was tired of losing. He wanted everybody to get out there and fight like dogs to win the game."
The Buckeyes enjoyed their first win since their Sept. 18 triumph at N.C. State. Junior linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who had 10 tackles against Indiana, said he was glad to see the Buckeyes turn it loose.
"We just haven't been playing up to our expectations," Schlegel said. "We have to play like we can and not be afraid to make mistakes and play football. We came out and executed. We haven't done that in three weeks.
"The biggest thing was attitude and getting that swagger back. As the game went on, people were making plays. People weren't afraid to mess up and go make plays."
After three straight losses, Schlegel said he and his teammates were thirsting for victory.
"We just needed a win, period," he said. "Just the fact that everybody played extremely hard is a big bonus. This win should springboard us. We beat Indiana, but we still have four games left in the Big Ten. We practiced hard and we went out on the field and executed it. We've just got to keep doing it, keep being physical and playing with violence and velocity."
The win did come against Indiana, which fell to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the conference.
"A win in the Big Ten is a win in the Big Ten," Schlegel said. "There's no being overconfident. We're 4-3. That would be hard to do. We feel like we're the underdogs every week and we have to reestablish ourselves as a dominant football team."
The offense, stuck in reverse since the opener against Cincinnati, piled up 443 yards, including a season-high 282 on the ground.
"I felt like this was the biggest game of the year so far, especially for us losing three straight," said offensive tackle Rob Sims. "To come back and win this one, we responded and it showed that we're men. We're not settling for what happened last week or the week before. We just have to come out there and keep playing.
"It's not so much of us beating Indiana. It's that we did better. That's what I'm focused on. We got a lot of things accomplished. We're taking steps in the right direction and we need to build on that.
"We suffered there for a while. Three weeks at Ohio State without a win is a long time. We're just happy to be back on the winning side."
Afterwards, much of the praise was heaped on quarterback Troy Smith, who made his starting debut in place of the injured Justin Zwick. Smith threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 58 more.
"We needed that win," Smith said. "This win today was very crucial. It was a small steppingstone for the team, but it was huge for us as the Buckeyes. The confidence level that they have just coming off today … 0-3 was a big hump. That was hurting us all deep inside.
"Just stepping up and playing within ourselves and not doing things we can't do as a unit and as a team. And as a whole, we needed to step up and play on the same beat and be the team that we are."
It did not matter to anybody on the OSU side that the Buckeyes had just won their 12th straight against the struggling Hoosiers.
"You can't slight another team," Smith said. "You can't take anything away from (Indiana). They put their pants on just like us. I got hit a couple times today and those guys really want it. They wanted it as bad as we did."
A week earlier at Iowa, linebacker Bobby Carpenter was outspoken about his teammates' desire and attitude. But Carpenter was glad to see the Buckeyes put their best foot forward on homecoming.
"I thought the big thing was the intensity and emotion everyone played with," Carpenter said. "If we had played like this against Iowa, we probably would have beaten them. If we had played like this against Northwestern, we probably would have beaten them. You have to have a passion for the game and love what you're doing.
"After three consecutive losses, this was a big step for us. We had a lot of young guys who stepped up. This may be the key to getting it turned in the right direction."
With no Big Ten championship to play for, the Buckeyes are intent on qualifying for a bowl bid. That would require at least two wins in the last four games (see below). That string begins with Saturday's game with Penn State (noon, ABC).
"We're still 4-3," Carpenter said. "We have a long way to go. We need to take it week by week and it will be all right.
"Penn State is a good team. It will be another challenge. It is now a four-game season for us. We need to get a win and focus on that 100 percent."
The Buckeyes pressed on without senior co-captain Lydell Ross, who was suspended for at least the Indiana game after he was named in a Columbus police report in connection with an incident at a strip club in the city.
Ross allegedly passed fake tokens at the club and, although he has not be charged with a crime, he remains in limbo with the football program.
Kicker Mike Nugent, also a co-captain, said he talked with Ross by telephone following his suspension on Friday.
"He seemed really down," Nugent said. "If he did mess up, we really don't know the details. He's one of those guys who doesn't do anything but the right things, it seems to me, over the four years that I've known him.
"When I heard about it, I didn't believe it. I was like, `Yeah, right. You're joking around.' I hope it's all a big misunderstanding."
Although freshman Antonio Pittman stepped into the opening at tailback and rushed for 141 yards and his first career touchdown, Ross' teammates were still standing behind him.
"Lydell is still our captain," Smith said. "Lydell is still one of my best friends. I don't know what happened and, to tell you the truth, I don't care. I voted him as one of my captains. We're not going to turn our back on him at all."
Carpenter added, "The team needed to come together, have Lydell's back and try to win in his absence."
Carpenter was asked how the Buckeyes are able to play through controversies such as this.
"The easiest way is to just go out and play," he said. "Once you go on the field, that is something that frees your mind of everything else. As a team, we blocked everything out and played pretty well."
* Nugent on whether he believes he has range out to 60 yards -- "I try to tell myself, in my head, that I do. But I would never put that out there any time. I tell the coaches a yard line, where I can be 10 out of 10 and where we can get some points."
* Nugent on his supposed Heisman Trophy candidacy -- "I never really thought much of it anyway. I think it's funny. It's fun hearing people talk about it."
* Holmes on OSU's sudden quarterback controversy -- "Regardless of who throws us the ball, we've still got to make plays. We can't moan and grope around about Justin being hurt. We've got another guy who wants to lead this team just as well as Justin does. We have to catch the ball and make plays for him."
* Holmes on Ross' absence -- "That gave the guys who were behind him a great opportunity to step up. They took full advantage of it."
The Road Ahead
Here is a look at OSU's final four games of the regular season:
* Oct. 30, Penn State (2-5, 0-4), noon (ABC) -- The Nittany Lions have scored two touchdowns in their four Big Ten games and are coming off a 6-4 loss to Iowa before over 108,000 at Beaver Stadium (ouch). Moreover, PSU needs to win out to reach the postseason for just the second time in five years. OSU has won all five of the Big Ten games between the schools in Columbus.
* Nov. 6, at Michigan State (4-3, 3-1), TBA -- The Spartans were on the verge of respectability with wins over Indiana and Illinois in Big Ten play. They made an even stronger case by blowing out Minnesota. OSU won 33-23 last year and has won three of the last four games in East Lansing.
* Nov. 13, at Purdue (5-2, 2-2), TBA -- Purdue's season – and Kyle Orton's Heisman Trophy candidacy – has skittered off course with back-to-back home losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. Now the Boilers need to pull it together with touchy road games at Northwestern and Iowa before hosting Ohio State. OSU has won three straight from Purdue and six of the last seven at West Lafayette in a series known for classic games in recent years.
* Nov. 20, Michigan (7-1, 5-0), 1 p.m. (ABC) -- Michigan has rebounded from an early season loss to Notre Dame to become – along with Wisconsin -- the Big Ten front runner. The Wolverines are doing it with an adequate defense and a freshman, Chad Henne, at quarterback. UM has done most of its heavy lifting. The Wolverines host Michigan State, take a bye week and will then host Northwestern before visiting Columbus, where a share of the Big Ten title and maybe a Rose Bowl berth could be on the line. Tressel is 2-1 against Michigan, although the Wolverines won the Big Ten outright with a 35-21 win last year. The Game has decided a Big Ten championship for one or both teams every year since 1994, except for 1999.