This year, Indiana (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) is much improved under first-year head coach Terry Hoeppner. The Hoosiers have the No. 57-ranked total defense in the country, giving up an average of 367.3 yards per game.
Ohio State is ranked No. 71 in the nation in total offense (359.7 yards per game) a figure that is somewhat skewed by the fact the Buckeyes have played two of the top defenses in the country in Texas and Penn State.
The matchup between IU's defense and OSU's offense looks even on paper. But this could be a week – much like two years ago – when the Buckeyes click offensively and enjoy a big game.
"We hope so," senior center Nick Mangold said. "We had a pretty good game offensively last week, but we've struggled putting back-to-back good weeks together."
But Mangold knows that Indiana is not the same team he faced the last three years. It hasn't taken Hoeppner – formerly the coach at Miami University – very long to turn things around.
"They've got a renewed sense of energy around there and you can see it as you watch them," Mangold said. "I don't know if it's coaching staff, or the seniors they have on that team, but they come out and come after you this year."
Ohio State defeated Michigan State 35-24 last week. Michigan won a 27-25 thriller over Penn State and every team in the Big Ten now has at least one loss. Ohio State's dreams of a Big Ten championship are still very much alive, but Mangold said he wasn't paying too much attention to the Michigan-Penn State game.
"To be honest, we didn't really worry about it," he said, "We were worried about our game. We had to win against Michigan State and now we have to go out and get a win over Indiana. Not even worried about it (the Big Ten championship) right now. Worried about going out and winning each week. The chips will fall after the season. Right now, just want to go out and win each week."
In past seasons, Ohio State fans have outnumbered Indiana fans inside Memorial Stadium. The O-H-I-O chant broke out at least four or five times during the 2001 and 2003 games and it basically turned into a home game for the Buckeyes.
But things could be just a little bit different this year. Ohio State fans will still be represented in droves, but it might be more like half and half this year.
"Oh, it always feels like a road game when you go over there," Mangold said. "We're just blessed that we have great fans that want to travel and follow us. We're close to home, so they're able to get over there. But whenever you go into somebody else's stadium, it's always tough. I think there's going to be a little more opposition (more Indiana fans) than in years past."
Mangold was asked what Indiana's defense is doing well this year.
"They're attacking," he said. "I think that's a big difference that you see from years past and this year is that they are coming at you. They've got a lot of seniors on that defensive front seven and it's a challenge for us. They've been doing real well so far."
For the most part, OSU's offensive line has played well this year. Mangold is clearly one the top centers in the country, Rob Sims has played well and the rest of the line has held its own. Yes, there have been breakdowns from time to time, but overall, the unit has been solid.
Mangold was asked for his assessment of the O-line and whether he was happy with the way it has played.
"No, I'm not happy until the end of the season, but right now I feel better," he said. "We have guys out there doing a great job and doing the right assignments and really getting after people. I feel good right now, but I think it will take until after the season until I feel happy."
Ohio State is last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at minus-6. The Buckeyes committed four turnovers last week against MSU.
"I don't know if there's any cure, other than the guys that are holding the ball have to be mentally prepared to hold onto the ball," Mangold said. "I know every time I've got the ball, I want to make sure that snap gets back there. When it's raining, that's when my focus adds even more. So, I think it's just a matter of making sure you're focused on holding onto the ball."
Earlier this week, OSU head coach Jim Tressel said Mangold is as good of a center as he's ever coached and should be headed for All-American honors.
"That's awfully nice of him," Mangold said in his classic sarcastic voice. "I don't think I'm where I really want to be. I've been able – for the past year – to really watch LeCharles Bentley's film from when he was here and now in the pros (with the New Orleans Saints). He just amazes me every time I watch that film, even though I've already seen it multiple times. Just striving to get to that level. I don't think I'm to that level yet, but we're working to get there."
"Well, this past week we had close to 400 yards, so obviously I didn't need the ball, because we did just fine," Gonzalez said. "The previous week (against Penn State) was a little frustrating, but nothing was clicking. That was frustrating because we lost, not because I didn't get the football. I've always said that I'll take zero catches any day if we win the football game."
One of the reasons the Buckeyes were successful against Michigan State was their balance offensively. They had consistent success running and throwing the ball.
"Yeah, exactly. That was the key last weekend," Gonzalez said. "Our ability to make plays, both in the run game and the pass game. We were pretty consistent all game. So, I think as an offense we feel pretty good."
Gonzalez is looking forward to making the trip to Bloomington and seeing (and hearing) all the fans in Scarlet and Gray.
"I remember by redshirt freshman year I went to the game because my brother (defensive back Joe Gonzalez) was on Indiana's team," he said. "There were way more Ohio State fans than there were Indiana. And they were louder.
"But they are better from a record standpoint than they were that year. At 4-2, I would imagine they will put some people in their stadium."
Ohio State's offense is often criticized – and at times rightfully so – for being too predictable and conservative. But Gonzalez says the offensive game plan changes each week and the Buckeyes are always looking for ways to attack the opposing defense.
Last week against Michigan State, OSU used a lot of two-back power sets. Could that be a signs of things to come?
"We try and exploit different things with different defenses," Gonzalez said. "Whoever we are playing, we try and exploit whatever thing we think we can. That happened to be two receivers and two running backs this past weekend. So, that's why you saw that the majority of the time.
"Each week we have a fair amount of passes and runs in the game plan. Now, what the coaches decide the strategy is going to be, that is more up to them. I have no idea."
After each game, Ohio State's players are graded on their performance. The goal is to grade out a "winning performance."
"For me, being graded is a very good thing, because I'm the type of person that likes feedback," Gonzalez said. "I always have an idea of how I'm doing, but you never really know how the coaches feel you are doing. The grades help me out a lot in that respect. "And it helps you develop a pattern. For instance, I've noticed that I get a lot of my minuses in the first two or three series of the game because it takes me a while to get warmed up. So, then you see something like that and you know that you have to improve on the first few series of the game."
Gonzalez has been solid this year in the grades department.
"I think I've graded out pretty well," he said. "The majority of the time I've had a winning performance, which is 85 percent or better."
The strength of OSU's offense might be the corps of wide receivers. Junior Santonio Holmes is one of the best in the country, Ted Ginn Jr. is having a sophomore slump, but could breakout at any time, junior Roy Hall is a good possession receiver, and Gonzalez can do a little bit of everything.
"I think so (the coaches have been happy with the receivers)," Gonzalez said. "In general, you see our grades as winning performances. Now, some games we're not as strong. Like Penn State I don't think we had any winning performances out of our group. Overall, I feel that we've done a good job."
Do the players ever complain about their grades? Do they ask for a recount? A second opinion?
"Yeah, Roy and I sometimes will complain about it, just as a joke, nothing serious," Gonzalez said. "But you can argue a point here and there, I guess."
Gonzalez thinks that Indiana's defense will try and stop the run and make the Buckeyes throw the ball to win.
"What they generally have shown us is they are a two safety team," he said. "They'll put their two safeties in and try and get down and try and stop the run as well as possible."
And like Mangold mentioned, the Buckeyes would like to, finally, have back-to-back good games offensively.
"That's always frustrating for me, because I kind of think of myself as a perfectionist," Gonzalez said. "So yeah, that has been frustrating because I personally don't think we've had two consistently strong games in a row. But that's a challenge for this week, I suppose."
White was a part of OSU's outstanding 2002 recruiting class, ranked No. 2 in the country behind Texas by most recruiting services. He played tight end and linebacker in high school and was initially recruited to OSU to play outside linebacker. But White is happy that he ended up on offense.
"I knew coming in here with four great players – A.J. (Hawk), Bobby (Carpenter), Mike D'Andrea and myself – that there was a good chance I would go to offense," he said. "Really, what I've been doing hasn't changed much, just what they call me. I still do a lot of motion stuff, line up in the backfield. So, you can call it whatever you want, but I just play football."
As a fullback, and sometimes an H-back, White likes nothing more than to see the Buckeyes go to a two-back power set.
"It's been exciting for me to see that slight evolution," he said. "The opportunity to be in what we call ‘regular personnel' which is two backs, two receivers and a tight end, we've made some big plays. So, they're going to keep doing that as long as we keep making big plays.
"Our coaches always try and take advantage of what they can see. Offense is always about balance and seeing what the other team is going to give you. And our coaches try as best as possible to try and take advantage of that."
White was asked about OSU's turnover woes. Fans aren't used to seeing this from a Tressel-led team.
"As running backs, the first thing we did (Tuesday) was do a ball drill when they try and rip the ball out and as much as possible you have to try and hold onto it," White said. "We're not going to win the Big Ten if we don't hold onto the ball and win the turnover margin."
White recorded his first career reception in the 17-10 loss to Penn State two weeks ago and he wasn't letting go of the ball for anything.
"I think it was 11 yards, so pretty good rate there. Keep doing that – 11 yards down the field – I mean, just keep throwing to the fullback," he quipped.
White's father – Stan Sr. – was an All-American at Ohio State under Woody Hayes. The younger White enjoys being a second-generation Buckeye.
"Growing up, I always liked Ohio State," he said. "Unlike some other out-of-state guys, I understood the passion that's involved with Ohio State. And I understand some of the traditions. I just feel blessed to be able to … I mean, you look around the walls here (at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center) and all the great players that have played here and just to be able to wear that same jersey is a blessing."
White gave the "Cliff's Notes" version of his father's playing career.
"Well, it's kind of funny, because he started off as a tight end here," he said. "And then moved to defensive end, then linebacker. So, it's kind of the opposite that happened to me. His junior year he had a great year and was preseason All-American and ended up making All-Big Ten that year. Got hurt a little bit, but ended up getting drafted into the NFL in the 17th round. Real late. Couple guys got hurt for the Baltimore Colts and he ended up making the team and played 13 years of pro ball with the Colts."
White enjoys playing fullback. He knows he's not going to get the ball much in OSU's offense, but he just likes the contact that is involved with playing the position.
"Oh yeah, in the offseason I put on 10 pounds," White said. "I weigh 250 now and I feel very comfortable running in there and bashing heads and knocking over linebackers."
And White also has a lot of respect for Johnson. He knows they will have to split time, but he understands it's good for the team.
"Yeah, Dionte's done a great job this year and it's definitely a blessing for the coaching staff to have two guys that can do the job at fullback, for sure," White said.