The specter of last year’s letdown after Penn State hung in the air this week, as much as Ohio State tried to fight it.

Such an emotional victory takes a toll, and the Buckeyes were wary of Indiana, even if the Hoosiers hadn’t beaten them since 1988. Ohio State remembered the Iowa debacle last year, and for a time on Saturday, it looked like such an upset wasn’t out of the question.

But the Buckeyes’ passing game and improved defensive play in the second half allowed No. 3 Ohio State to pull away for a 49-26 homecoming victory in front of 104,193 at Ohio Stadium.

 

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“I’m not going to lie,” quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. said. “We were probably still tired from last week. Definitely it was a little low in energy in practice during the week.

“The best thing about today is we found a way to win. Even though it wasn’t pretty at all times, football is about overcoming adversity.”

Ohio State’s passing game was the only part of its game that clicked consistently, but that was enough. Haskins completed 33 of 44 passes for six touchdowns and 455 yards. That matched an OSU record for touchdown passes in a game — tying him with J.T. Barrett and Kenny Guiton — and was only 3 yards short of the school record for yardage set by Art Schlichter against Florida State in 1981.

In some ways, this was similar to recent Ohio State victories over Indiana. The Hoosiers led at some point in the second half of three of their last four games against the Buckeyes.

On Saturday, Indiana’s latest lead came midway through the second quarter when it took a 17-14 lead. Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) regrouped to lead 28-20 at halftime and scored quickly in the third quarter on a 71-yard reception by Parris Campbell, who was left wide open on a swing pass.

But Indiana (4-2, 1-2) hung around for much of the third quarter. The Hoosiers scored to make it 35-26, but their hope of making it a one-possession game was foiled by an interception by Malik Harrison on the two-point conversion.

After that, Ohio State’s defense stiffened. Indiana started its next two possessions in Ohio State territory. The Hoosiers were stopped on downs on the first and missed a 50-yard field goal on the other. Indiana gained only 89 yards in the second half.

It was a needed turnaround after a first half in which the Hoosiers gained 317 yards. A week ago, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley had a school-record 461 yards of offense, including 175 running.

Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey is also a dual-threat quarterback, but the Hoosiers elected to have him do much of his work in the passing game. He threw for 322 yards, including 239 in the first half.

“Defensively, it was not what we expect in the first half,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “(Their) guys were making plays. It was a combination of a poor pass rush and not locking on your guys.

“We’ve been fine against the run, but the pass has been killing us. That’s going to bite us. That’s something we have to get that fixed.”

Meyer also was displeased with the Buckeyes’ running game for the second week in a row. Ohio State averaged only 3.2 yards per carry in gaining just 154 yards.

But with the passing game as potent as it is, balance isn’t essential. Haskins mostly threw short passes, letting his fleet receivers do work in the open field. But he and the wideouts delivered a couple of knockout blows on longer throws.

The Buckeyes took a 14-3 lead on a 39-yard pass from Haskins to Johnnie Dixon early in the second quarter.

After Indiana scored consecutive touchdowns to take the lead, Haskins hit Campbell on a crossing route and he outran the coverage for a 18-yard touchdown to put the Buckeyes back ahead with 4:39 left before halftime.

After Indiana’s lone score in the second half, Haskins threw touchdown passes to Terry McLaurin and Binjimen Victor, both of whom made nifty catches, to end any doubt.

It was far from a perfect performance, but it sure beat the 55-24 disaster at Iowa last year after the Penn State game.

“You never want to lose a game,” Haskins said, “but last year we referenced how we lost to Iowa after we beat Penn State and how everyone had their hands down going into the ring. We focused this week on not letting the game get away from us.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch