Students were lined up waiting to get inside Memorial Stadium the last time Ohio State came to Bloomington two years ago. Signs filled the student section as the crowd yelled behind the set of ESPN’s College GameDay waiting for the Tom Allen era to begin as IU was ready for a fresh start.
In that game, IU looked strong in the first half moving the ball effectively against a top-5 ranked Ohio State team as the Hoosiers took a 14-13 lead into the half. The crowd inside Memorial Stadium was filled with hope that they were about to witness one of the biggest upsets in college football.
Instead, the Buckeyes ran away with the game in the second half as they steamrolled IU in a 49-21 defeat for the Hoosiers. However, what came out of that game was the optimism that IU would be able to compete on a weekly basis in the Big Ten.
The same mindset exists for the Hoosiers on Saturday.
“These are program-changing opportunities,” Allen said.
Ohio State rolls into Bloomington as the sixth-ranked team in the country, led by a two-headed monster on offense with sophomore quarterback Justin Fields and junior running back J.K. Dobbins.
The Buckeyes have dominated the first two games of the season, outscoring Florida Atlantic University and the University of Cincinnati by a combined 87-to-21.
While leading the offense, Fields has quickly launched himself into the conversation as an early season player of the year candidate. In the first two weeks of the season, Fields has completed 76% of his passes, thrown for 458 yards and has accounted for nine total touchdowns as he’s been a walking highlight reel.
An athletic quarterback who can compete in the air and on the ground potentially poses a major problem for IU’s defense, which has struggled at times bringing runner to the ground.
“Any time you get a young man that can run and throw the ball with equal effectiveness, it always creates a lot of challenges,” Allen said. “That really does create a lot of problems for the defense, and so we’ve got to do a great job of being able to contain that and not giving up those explosive plays.”
While IU comes into Saturday’s game as a heavy underdog, its ability to compete will be an important indicator for the team’s success the rest of the season.
Ohio State marks a significant increase in competition compared to IU’s first two games of the season and is indicative of the caliber of opponents the Hoosiers will face throughout the Big Ten.
IU has been able to move the ball consistently to open the season, generating at least 470 yards of offense in its first two games.
If the Hoosiers are able to march up and down the field against a top defense like Ohio State's it will be a big boost to their confidence in their ability to drive the ball against any team they face on their schedule.
The biggest goal for IU this season is to become bowl eligible for the first time in Tom Allen’s tenure as head coach, and the way the Hoosiers play against Ohio State on Saturday will go a long way in setting the tone for if that goal is achievable.
“We’re all looking forward to it,” said freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. “We’re all just working extremely hard, and it’s just another game for us. We know it’s a big one, and we’re just going to come out and execute like we always do.”
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