COLUMBUS, Ohio — This is a game that won’t be remembered by Ohio State fans, but that sure beats the alternative.
Wins against the Hoosiers aren’t notable in almost any case, but the losses sure are. Nearly three decades after Ohio State’s last loss to Indiana at Ohio Stadium — a 31-10 defeat that Earle Bruce called the “darkest day” of Ohio State football — the Buckeyes managed to avoid a repeat.
Despite some listless play, the Buckeyes came away with a 38-17 win that showed their flaws but also their ability to use sheer talent to overcome those mistakes.
Here’s what we learned.
Five things we learned
1. Ohio State needs Curtis Samuel: Look no further than the first quarter, when Samuel got no touches and the Buckeyes scored just 3 points and generally looked out of sorts. There’s no reason the junior from Brooklyn should be underused because he’s never done anything but generate success this season. Look at his stat line from today, when he carried nine times for 82 yards and a touchdown — a 9.1 yards per carry average. There’s no reason to not reach double-digit carries when he’s running that well.
2. J.T. Barrett is human: Barrett is being pushed as a Heisman candidate but I don’t see how you can make that argument when he so often overlooks open receivers, resorts too much to scrambling and is good for about one inexplicable turnover per game. Ohio State’s passing attack looked a lot like Rutgers’ last week, which is never a good sign. Barrett finished 9 of 21 for 93 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Not great.
3. Then again, maybe the coaches shouldn’t be so quick to stop passing: We saw this last year at times, and Ohio State once again looked hesitant to throw the ball when the game tightened up and Barrett had some misses. Instead of simply relying on a heavier dose of Barrett scrambles along with Mike Weber and Samuel, maybe the Buckeyes should stay aggressive on the passing front and see if it can work itself out. Bailing on it except in must-pass situations hasn’t led to productive results.
4. The defense has some monsters on it: It wasn’t a perfect game from the Silver Bullets but they once again produced when called upon. There were more than enough stops from them for the Buckeyes to win, most notably a goal-line stand after officials botched an Indiana fumble ruling that allowed the Hoosiers to keep the ball in the red zone. Between the 11 starters, there are more than enough playmakers that someone always steps up when it’s needed.
5. But really, give the ball to Curtis Samuel: Apparently this needs to be stressed, so there it is.
In the final minute of the first half, after Indiana cut the lead to 17-10, Parris Campbell returned a kickoff to the Indiana 5-yard line. Two plays later, Barrett plunged into the end zone to give the Buckeyes a two-touchdown lead heading into halftime. Ohio State probably would have been content to take it into halftime had the return been a modest one. Instead, Campbell gave the Buckeyes the cushion they needed with Indiana receiving the ball to start the second half.
Does Ohio State trust its passing game more than last year? That’s a big fat nope. This looked like a replay of the 2015 Michigan State game except against a worse team that wasn’t capable of making the Buckeyes pay for their ineptitude through the air.
Why is Ohio State so bad in the first quarter? That’s three games now with uninspiring first-quarter performances from Ohio State — a 3-3 tie against Tulsa, a 6-0 lead against Rutgers and a 3-3 tie against Indiana.
Five. Ohio State’s aforementioned score late in the first half made it the fifth game in a row this season that the Buckeyes have accomplished that feat. That’s an impressive accomplishment considering Ohio State did that just twice during the entire 2015 season.
What it means
Ohio State’s path to an unbeaten regular season and any championships that might follow won’t be as easy as some might have thought. This team has an abundance of talent but also its share of flaws, and the latter shouldn’t be ignored.