Sixth-ranked Ohio State is set to take on Indiana at noon Saturday in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers, like most teams facing the Buckeyes, are seeking the type of game that could change the trajectory of their program.
Third-year coach Tom Allen did not shy away from speaking about that this week.
“There's no question that they're who this whole conference has been chasing,” Allen told reporters in Bloomington on Monday. “Playing in this league creates those opportunities.”
He re-upped the last word as he continued.
“It also creates a tremendous opportunity, and that's how I look at it,” he said. "Yeah, it's tough. There's no doubt. Your margin for error against teams like this is right there. Every mistake you make gets magnified. They expose you in a lot of ways. That's why you have to play so hard and so well together and have a complete offense, defense, special teams game.”
After a decade as a doormat, the Hoosiers have been more competitive with Ohio State in the last 10 meetings.
From 1997-2006, only one game between the teams was decided by less than 20 points, but five of the last 10 games have been decided by 19 points or less, including two one-score games.
That’s big contrast from the first part of the last decade.
From 2002-04, the Hoosiers were the team Ohio State would break out of offensive doldrums against, the IU defense a Cream and Crimson oasis for some of Jim Tressel’s teams to get well before returning to the regularly scheduled Big Ten grind.
Even a 27-14 win against Indiana in 2001, Tressel’s first season, felt like an offensive explosion after a dreadful 13-6 loss at UCLA the week before.
Since 2009, Indiana not only has kept it close more often but genuinely pushed the Buckeyes on multiple occasions, most notably in 2012 when Urban Meyer’s first team got out of Bloomington with only a three-point win (52-49).
Two years later, the Hoosiers led the eventual national champions in the fourth quarter before Middletown’s Jalin Marshall led a scoring onslaught that resulted in a 42-27 win, and in ’15 arguably the Buckeyes had to hold off the Hoosiers until the final play in a 34-27 victory for one of the most-talented Ohio State teams in memory.
Last season in Columbus, Dwayne Haskins threw for 455 yards as Ohio State had to keep the pedal to the floor until the end of a 49-26 victory.
“I've been some places where you don't have an opportunity to play many of those places and those teams,” Allen said. “And it is a great chance for us to be able to take that next step as a program, as we always like to say.
“Those are definitely program-changing, program-defining wins that affect recruiting and affect the trajectory of your program.”
Here are four more things to know about the game:
1. This is the Buckeyes’ first road trip of the season.
First-year Ohio State head coach Ryan Day was not around for the close shaves of the early Meyer era, and he has said he wants his players to worry more about what’s happening in front of them anyway.
For this week, that means dealing with their first game away from home.
“When you go on the road, it's different because you're not in your normal routine, first off,” Day said. “The noise will be an issue on third down, things like that. You can't ride the emotional rollercoaster. You have to play each play as it goes.”
On the bright side, Memorial Stadium has often felt almost like The Horseshoe West thanks to all the Ohio State fans in the stands.
“It's amazing no matter where we go, whether it's Dallas when we were at the Cotton Bowl, even when we played TCU (in Dallas) last year or we played out at the Rose Bowl, Buckeye nation has traveled,” Day said. "To feel their support on a road game is unbelievable.”
2. Indiana’s quarterback situation is uncertain, but the Buckeyes should not be caught off guard.
After Allen told reporters redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will be a game-time decision because of an unidentified injury, Day said his team has been preparing for both Penix and backup Peyton Ramsey all week anyway.
“Ramsey is a good player,” Day said of the team’s 2018 starter. "He played good against us last year.”
Though he was overshadowed by Haskins’ near-record day, the Cincinnati Elder grad threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns at Ohio Stadium last season, dinging the Buckeyes for four plays of 30 yards or more along the way.
Penix, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound redshirt freshman from Florida, has completed 38 of 60 passes for 523 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions on the season. He also has 79 yards rushing.
He and Ramsey are both dual-threat quarterbacks, but Penix is regarded as having a stronger arm.
“He's very talented,” Day said of Penix. “We recruited him. He's out of Tampa. 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, understands the game.”
3. Ohio State will still be missing two senior captains.
Defensive end Jonathon Cooper remains out with an undisclosed injury, as is reserve receiver and fellow senior captain C.J. Saunders.
They also missed the first two games.
Scholarship players also listed as unavailable for the Indiana game are receiver Kamryn Babb, tight end Cormantae Hamilton, safety Ronnie Hickman, defensive tackle Taron Vincent and defensive back Jahsen Wint.
4. One of their classmates is back and playing a new role.
The depth chart Ohio State released Friday morning included Justin Hilliard in Wint’s place as the backup to Brendon White at the hybrid strong safety/linebacker position known as the Bullet.
Hilliard, a five-star recruit from Cincinnati St. Xavier, is coming back from a reported Achilles injury suffered the spring. That was the latest in a string of health setbacks that have limited his contributions mostly to special teams since he arrived in Columbus with high expectations.
The other notable depth chart change from the previous week is Tyreke Smith being listed as a co-starter with fellow sophomore Tyler Friday at the defensive end spot opposite star Chase Young (which would normally be Cooper’s position if he were healthy).
Smith missed the first week of the season while still recovering from an offseason surgery, but he looked explosive coming off the bench against Cincinnati in Week 2, logging his first college sack.
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