Keys to the Ohio State-Indiana football game

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

The 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. 

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.

How can Ohio State do what Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Rutgers couldn’t and beat the Hoosiers? Here’s how:

Indiana will try to exploit Ohio State's young secondary with receiver Ty Fryfogle (3), who has 18 receptions for 342 yards in the past two games.

Turnover battle

Through four weeks, no Big Ten team has forced more turnovers than Indiana, and the takeaways have been huge for the Hoosiers in their unbeaten start. A third of their total points this season have been off turnovers, including 17 in last week’s 24-0 win at Michigan State. While IU's defense has been opportunistic, the Buckeyes have been careful while on offense with only two turnovers — both lost fumbles. Quarterback Justin Fields has not been intercepted, boasting a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11:0. Something will have to give on Saturday.

Pressure on Penix

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. might be the favorite to be the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year if not for Fields, the Buckeyes’ star junior. Penix, however, is particularly susceptible to pressure. His NFL-adjusted passer rating is 121.6 while protected in the pocket, but 29.6 when facing pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. Among the starting quarterbacks in the conference, only Michigan State’s Rocky Lombardi sees a bigger drop-off in efficiency when under duress.

Talent gap between OSU-Indiana

The difference in the roster makeup between Ohio State and Indiana is significant. The Buckeyes boast 66 four-and-five-star recruits, while the Hoosiers have only five, the third-fewest in the Big Ten. With the gap in talent, the Buckeyes were installed as heavy favorites for the matchup and maintain an advantage, perhaps none as clear as in the trenches where they have three starting offensive linemen who were former five-star recruits, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Key matchup

Ohio State defensive backs vs. Indiana receivers

An inexperienced Buckeyes secondary has at times allowed big plays, and that includes Shaun Wade, the lone starting defensive back from last season. Moving from slot corner to outside corner, Wade allowed three touchdowns in the previous two games against Rutgers and Penn State. The Hoosiers have a pair of senior receivers in Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor who will look to take advantage of some of the youth. They each have caught 24 passes this fall, tied for third-most in the Big Ten.

Key stat

Justin Fields has not thrown an interception in Ohio State's last 10 games against Big Ten teams, dating to a win over Michigan State in October 2019. It was the one time he has been picked off in 13 conference games.