Don't count Ryan Day among those surprised by Indiana's success

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Coach Ryan Day and Ohio State left Indiana's Memorial Stadium last season with a 51-10 victory over the Hoosiers, an aberration in the recent series between the two teams.

Ryan Day isn’t surprised by Indiana’s success this season.

His Ohio State football team may have beaten the Hoosiers by 41 points last year and hasn’t lost to them since 1988, but this IU team is different. Objectively, Indiana is the best team the No. 3 Buckeyes will face in the regular season. Yes, 2020 is one bizarre year.

The No. 9 Hoosiers sit atop the Big Ten East at 4-0 thanks to the cancellation of last week’s Ohio State-Maryland game because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Terrapins. First place is unfamiliar territory for IU, which has won only two Big Ten championships, the last in 1967.

Who saw this coming?

“I guess depends on who you ask,” Day said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “I think if you asked Indiana, they're not that surprised. I'm not that surprised. I think they have a really good scheme on both sides of the ball. They do a good job coaching. They've upgraded their personnel. And like you said, in 2020 anything can happen.”

Indiana has already beaten the other traditional powers of the Big Ten East — Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. That might say more about the state of those programs than it does about the Hoosiers, who are a three-touchdown underdog Saturday.

But Indiana has combined an explosive offense led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and an opportunistic, blitz-oriented defense that leads the conference in forcing turnovers. Perhaps most important has been a burgeoning confidence, thanks to coach Tom Allen’s relentless enthusiasm, that hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of the Hoosiers program.

“You're getting a team that really is playing at a high level and hasn't made a whole bunch of mistakes,” Day said.

Indiana has often played Ohio State tough in recent years. Last year was an exception. The visiting Buckeyes cruised 51-10 in the Big Ten opener, their most lopsided win ever in Bloomington.

Day and the Buckeyes believe that game, and their overall dominance over the Hoosiers, is irrelevant to Saturday.

“Last year is last year,” Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford said. “That doesn't mean anything. We focus on today, not the past and not on what their history is against us. We respect them, and we can't wait to play them.”

One significant difference from last year is that Penix was injured for that game. The Hoosiers’ offense improved significantly when he returned, and that progress has continued this year.

“He's made some really big-time throws in tight spots, and he’s fearless,” Day said of Penix. “He's playing almost perfectly. So that's a big challenge for us. He’s a very competitive player, and you can tell he's got some really good weapons around him.”

While Indiana looks to continue its roll, Ohio State (3-0) is trying to regain momentum stalled by the cancellation of the Maryland game.

Day said the Buckeyes tried to keep their routine as close to normal as possible. Instead of a game on Saturday, they practiced in pads.

“They've handled it really well,” Day said of his players. “First, they were disappointed, and they were angry. Then we just went to work.”

Usually by the second half of November, coaches know what type of team they have. This year, the Buckeyes have played only three games. Day said he has a good feel for his team based on the program’s culture and the way the team has handled adversity and embraced sacrifice.

But as a football team, Day is still figuring out exactly what he has.

“We just haven't played a lot of football, and that's the crazy thing,” he said. “There's no way to replace playing games.

“So we're just going to keep moving on and take every day and every game as it comes and understand that every game is a blessing and try to get better.”

On Saturday, in this unlikeliest of years, it’ll be the Indiana game that probably will reveal just how good Ohio State is.


Next game

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Indiana

When: Noon Saturday

TV: Fox (Ch. 28)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)