After a dominating shutout of Cincinnati, Ohio State now faces a team it hasn’t lost to since the Reagan administration.
Yet the sixth-ranked Buckeyes were properly respectful of their task of playing at Indiana on Saturday, and not without reason.
Though the Hoosiers have not beaten Ohio State since 1988, they have pushed the Buckeyes close to the limit several times in recent years. The Hoosiers were down only a touchdown and threw the ball into the end zone on the final play in 2015. Last year, they led in the middle of the second quarter.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
“We know going on the road, the first conference game in the Big Ten, every time we play Indiana, it's a tough game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Those guys always come ready to play.”
The Buckeyes have prevailed over Indiana largely because of their superior depth. Ohio State has been able to wear down the Hoosiers by the fourth quarter. Indiana coach Tom Allen has worked hard to recruit a deeper roster, and Saturday will reveal how much progress he’s made.
Indiana is 2-0, with a 34-24 victory over Ball State and a 52-0 rout of Eastern Illinois, an FCS program. The Hoosiers have gotten a boost from the impressive start of redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The left-hander from Tampa, Florida, threw for 326 yards in the opener and 197 before being relieved early last week.
“He's very talented,” Day said. “We recruited him. Very mobile. Very productive coming out of high school. I'm not surprised that he's playing right away there. He's a really smart kid and understands the game.”
Ohio State, of course, also has a talented young quarterback in Justin Fields, who’s making a seamless transition as a starter. Fields has thrown for six touchdowns and run for three more.
He completed 20 of 25 passes against Cincinnati.
“Overall, I thought it was a pretty clean game,” Day said. “He got away with a couple throws that maybe as the competition increases he won't. But overall it was solid, and we’ve got to keep building on it.”
So far, the transfer from Georgia has avoided the glaring mistakes that could be attributed to growing pains from arriving on campus only in January.
“The hard work is paying off, and I think it’s paid off for the whole team,” Fields said. “We worked really hard in the offseason, so seeing this come out on the field is great to see.”
With a clicking offense and a defense that has put last year’s nightmarish performance behind it, the Buckeyes looked to be in midseason form during their 42-0 victory over Cincinnati.
Running backs coach Tony Alford agreed that it was an impressive performance. But he wasn’t satisfied.
“It wasn't flawless,” he said. “Far from flawless. We're not where we need to be. We want to be the best in the country. You don't rest on your laurels.
“Find the things you need to be better at — as a coach, as a player. We identify those things and will go right back to work.”
That’s the approach the Buckeyes appear to be taking.
“Every time we’ve played Indiana since I’ve been here, it’s always been a tough game,” junior safety Brendon White said. “They’re going to give us their best shot, and we have to do the same. We have to lock in and get ready for this week.”