Is the swagger back, dare I say? Or should I be mindful not to jinx this 2011 Ohio State team, which still retains essential elements of awful performances against Toledo, Michigan State and Miami and the meltdown against Nebrasky.
Ohio State peels the page off the calendar for October, where they finished 2-2. The two games they won were not games I had pegged them to win preseason. The two games they lost were games I actually did expect them to win and, in all honestly, they should have won. If 2-2 on the month is the good news, the better news is that the schedule arguably “clears up” in November. The Buckeyes are known as a November squad in conference play. You can count on a single digit the games they have lost in November in the past several years. It starts with Indiana at home, before proceeding to @ Purdue, Senior Day against Penn Shtate, and the finale at That Team Up North.
However, it is the Hoosiers that concern us here. They are previewed in the usual fashion hereafter, even though it has been a month since I’ve written one of these and I might be rusty.
When Indiana hired Kevin Wilson from Oklahoma, where he had served as offensive coordinator, the optimism was that the Hoosiers could be the B1G TEN’s Sooners. They have the offensive coordinator from Bob Stoops’ dynasty in Norman and, hell, the colors are even similar. However, the results have mirrored Rich Rodriguez’ first year in Ann Arbor. Nothing has gone right. With Minnesota winning last week against Iowa, the Hoosiers are now the lone B1G TEN team without a conference win. In fact, they have just one win on the entire season, against South Carolina… State. Minus a cripple fight against the B1G’s worst offense (seriously, it’s not us), the games have not been close. These include final scores of 41-20 (Illinois), 59-7 (Wisconsin), 45-24 (Iowa, mostly a second half result), and 59-38 (Nerdwestern). How bad is it? Indiana returned its leading receiver and all-purpose back from last year. Its leading receiver, Damarlo Belcher, was just dismissed from the team this week. Its tailback, Darius Willis, wants to be a pro wrestler now. It’s been that kind of year.
It doesn’t help that Indiana had to replace Ben Chappell, a serviceable distributor of the ball at the quarterback position. Replacing him as not been easy and it’s probably fair to say that Indiana’s best quarterback is still in high school (and might not come to Bloomington anyways). At the risk of boring the reader with all the gory details, the Buckeyes’ defense will see Tre Robertson (#5) first in the Horseshoe. Yes, true freshman Tre Robertson. The sound you just heard was Hungry Hungry Hankins searching for his bib and fork. Robertson will be tested by the better defense of Ohio State, though he did perform well in his two starts this season. The hope, though, is that the Silver Bullets make it (painfully) clear that their unit is infinitely better than what Robertson saw against Iowa and Nerdwestern. The Buckeyes will need to be mindful that Robertson, more than the other quarterbacks Kevin Wilson has used, is a better scrambler.
The tailback rotation has also featured a fair bit of shuffling, another indication of lack of quality, and quality depth. Stephen Houston (#12) will start. Houston, originally from Little Rock, ArKansas before finishing his senior year of football at Lakota West in Cincitucky. He has actually performed well of late for the Hoosiers, starting the past three games and already totaling 577 yards on the season. He had over 100 yards against Wisconsin and Nerdwestern, though that statistic might be qualified by noting the blowout nature of the Wisconsin game and that Nerdwestern is the worst defense in the B1G not located in Bloomington. At 6’1, 228lbs, Houston gives a decent power option to complement plays that will hope to use Robertson’s legs. Robertson is the second-leading rusher on the team.
So, Damarlo Belcher is gone from Bloomington, which will take a huge chunk of what I was going to say about the receiving options. Belcher had not played in the past two games before being dismissed outright. He’s still #2 on the team in receiving, now behind Kofi Hughes (#13). It’s worth noting that Hughes, despite leading the team in receiving now, has just one catch in four of five B1G TEN games. The lone exception there is a 3 reception, 34 yard performance against Iowa. True freshman Cody Latimer (#3) will replace Belcher at the X receiver position. The true freshman from Dayton has only 12 catches and 141 receiving yards on the season. Jamonne Chester (#84) is the third wide receiver, but expect Belcher’s dismissal to possibly create more opportunities for true freshman Shane Wynn (#1). That name should sound familiar; he’s a Tarblooder.
To be fair to Indiana, Wilson has offset much of the youth and inexperience in the standing wide receiver corp by bringing the tight ends into the offense. I don’t think the Hoosiers go double-tight much, but they do use two tight ends with frequency. Max Dedmond (#41) will start. He has only five catches on the season, but is as viable as 6th blocker as he is a downfield receiver. Ted Bolser (#83), from Indian Hill in Cincitucky, is the downfield threat at 6’6 and 245lbs. He has 14 catches for 165 yards on the season.
I don’t have the Hoosiers’ offensive line scouted well, beyond what I knew of them last year. A lot of pieces are still there. Andrew McDonald (#72) is still the undersized left tackle, relying more on footwork than size and strength to execute his assignments. Will Matte (#60) is still center, still fairly light for his position. Justin Pagán (#70) is still there, but now playing right tackle to replace James Brewer. Pagán was the right guard last year, and still splits time between right tackle and right guard. I would be mortified if we were in a similar situation. The new faces on the line — Bernard Taylor (#73) and Colin Rahrig (#74) — are at left guard and right guard respectively. They’re new faces for a reason; both are freshmen.
We know we have a meek offense in Columbus. Even the fireworks we saw against Nebrasky and Wisconsin seem unusual and worthy of significant qualification. Still, Indiana is the worst defense in the B1G, 112th nationally, allowing 458 yards a game. The poison of choice for opposing offenses has been the run, as Indiana is the 117th worst rushing defense in college football (allowing 234 yards a game). If that doesn’t get Jim Bollman excited for some Walrusball, I don’t know what will and I pray for this month.
It’s hard to say Indiana’s defense is good at anything, but the “strength” of the unit might be the defensive line. Which is not saying a whole lot. The “teeth” of the line consist of defensive tackles Adam Replogle (#98) and Larry Black Jr (#97), both of Southwest Ohio. Replogle is the top performer of the unit, second on the team in TFLs (5.5) and first on the team in sacks (4.0). Black is a big body at 305lbs, but lacks some of the production you would like at the position (2.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks). Flanking both Replogle and Black are, yes, freshmen. Bobby Richardson (#95) and Ryan Phillis (#25) will get the start on Saturday. Neither have any noteworthy stats beyond Richardson’s 1.5 TFLs in 6 games this season. The name to watch is Darius Johnson (#44), the senior who I noted last year was their pass rush specialist. He is not listed as a starter, which is characteristic of his nagging injuries that have hindered him late into his career.
The Hoosiers have a busy middle linebacker in Jeff Thomas (#53), a senior originally from California. Thomas missed last week’s game against Nerdwestern, but still leads the team in tackles (58), solo tackles (tied with 34), and TFLs (8.5). These are all things you would like out of a middle linebacker committed to stopping the run. Chase Hoobler (#47) flanks Thomas on the strongside. That name might sound somewhat familiar as he is the younger brother of former Buckeye (and subsequent Ashland transfer) Chad Hoobler. Hoobler is 9th on the team in tackles and has 1.5 TFLs to his name, which is not terribly productive. The good news for Indiana fans is Leon Beckum‘s (#48) return. Beckum has just recovered from a knee injury suffered in Week 1 against Ball State.
Indiana’s secondary is not very good, though it does have a bright spot in Mark Murphy (#37). The true freshman and former high school teammate of Doran Grant might be the leader of the unit. Is that a good thing in the short term, though? Murphy is second on the team in tackles (50), tied for first in solo tackles (34) and has a pick-six to his name (against North Texas). He could have a great career in Bloomington before he is done, Cornerback Greg Heban (#9) is a busy bee as well, adding 45 tackles. However, this unit is very young, and not terribly good. Heban, a sophomore, is the only non-freshman of the group. Safety Drew Hardin (#8) and corner Michael Hunter (#17) round out the unit. Hunter, like Murphy, is a true freshman. Hardin has at least a year as a redshirt freshman.
Indiana wins if… it punishes Ohio State’s secondary for peeking into the backfield. Robertson had some success against Iowa doing this. Houston and Robertson would gain yards on the ground through the zone read, prompting Iowa to get impatient and bite on the run action. Thereafter, Iowa’s secondary would lose sight of an Indiana receiver and pay the price for it. Ohio State’s secondary would probably need to get nuked in order for it to result in a loss, but you get the very real drift Ohio State does not want to get into a scoring contest with teams. Even if it’s Indiana. Holding both Roberson and Houston combined to less than 100 yards rushing through three quarters would probably make this so much easier. Both combined for 156 yards against Iowa and 271 yards against the Nerds.
Ohio State wins if… ceteris paribus. Can I say that? I want to, so I will.