COLUMBUS, Ohio – Generically speaking, if you are part of a football program that has beaten your opponent 20 straight times, it could get pretty easy to overlook them. That’s what could happen with Ohio State and Indiana, because the Hoosiers haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since 1988. But that’s definitely not what’s happening.
Indiana (3-1) will enter Ohio Stadium on Saturday coming off of a potentially season-defining win against Michigan State last Saturday. Michigan State had knocked off Indiana seven straight times. Indiana’s win — combined with three closer-than-expected games in the last four against the Hoosiers — has the Buckeyes wide awake.
“I see an outstanding team,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said about Indiana during his Monday news conference. “What is it, our fifth year? I mean, for four years in a row it’s been a swing-as-hard-as-you-can, because that’s (what kind of) game (it) is going to be. This is by far the best team, and that is being very respectful of the other teams we’ve played against.”
After squeaking out a 52-49 shootout in 2012 in Meyer’s first meeting against Indiana, the Buckeyes rolled the Hoosiers pretty well in 2013, winning 42-14. But their 42-27 win in 2014 was still a game in the fourth quarter, and a year ago in Bloomington the Hoosiers were just a few inches away from a last-second, game-winning touchdown in a 34-27 nail-biter.
That has stuck with this group of Buckeyes.
“It came down to the wire. It was a hard-fought game,” Ohio State captain Pat Elflein said when asked what he remembers most from last year’s close call. “Those guys don’t lay down. They always play us tough.”
Indiana’s win against the Spartans resonated with Elflein.
“I was pretty shocked that Indiana beat (Michigan State),” he said Monday. “Michigan State is always tough, and they always play us tough. I just watched some Indiana film, and they’re a good team, they’ve got a good defense and a really good offensive line. They always play us tough, too. The last few years they’ve played us pretty tough. I expect the same this year.”
Last season, the Buckeyes struggled with the Hoosiers offense — and that’s the bread and butter of Kevin Wilson’s Indiana teams. Now Indiana owns one of the country’s most improved defenses under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen. A year ago, the Crimson and Cream surrendered 37 points per game; this year, it’s allowing just over 21 per game. Indiana gives up almost two yards less per carry in 2016 than it did a year ago, which could be key against a run-heavy Buckeyes offense: Ezekiel Elliott had three touchdown runs of over 50 yards in the second half against the Hoosiers last October.
Though Ohio State has lost to only one Big Ten team — Michigan State (2013, 2015) — since Meyer’s arrival at the end of the 2011 season, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell says the Buckeyes know Indiana has pushed them to their limit regularly, in the same way that Michigan and Michigan State have.
“It came down to the last play of the game last year. Two years ago, obviously was a heck of a football game out here,” Fickell said. “They had some huge plays and they ran the football on us really well. Again, they’ve played as good as anybody in the conference – Michigan State and the team up north being the other two – but the reality is they’ve got a heck of a football team. They’ve got a good scheme, they know how to attack you and they’re going to run the football. They’re a physical group.
“That’s the thing that you can ultimately look at and say, the best – or one of the best – offensive lines we played all last year, was Indiana. That’s a compliment to not just their offensive line, but to the culture and the program they have. There’s a philosophy definitely behind it, and you can see it. When you can turn on the film and know exactly who they are, and what they do and what they pride themselves on? You know they’ve got the makings of a program.”
The Buckeyes have a program, and part of their success since Meyer’s arrival has been predicated on not overlooking any opponent. Meyer and Ohio State aren’t looking to be a part of another streak-ending game.
“I think (Indiana has) got an excellent coaching staff and you can see some really positive, really good things on videotape,” Meyer said. “Their game Saturday, that was a great win for that program.”