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OPINION: IU football needs to make Justin Fields a thrower


IU kicks off the ball after scoring a touchdown Sept. 7 at Memorial Stadium. Alex Deryn

Why has IU football failed to beat Ohio State — or rather THE™ Ohio State University — in the last 24 tries? A lot of reasons that would take too long to list.

But throughout the almost 31 years of losing to the Buckeyes, one statistic has been consistent. IU has given up 27 or more points in 22 of the 24 contests and have failed to keep the Buckeyes under 20 points since that 41-7 victory in October 1988.

While OSU’s ludicrous attempt to trademark the word THE will have roughly the same affect as the last 24 contests will have on the 2019 game. IU will likely not have a chance to win Saturday if it fails to hold Ohio State under 27 points. 

The best chance IU head coach Tom Allen has of holding the Buckeyes under that magic 27 is for the Hoosier defense to have success defending the run. 

Yes, in his first two games as a Buckeye, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields has exceeded the extremely high expectations that were set for him in the Georgia transfer’s first campaign in Columbus, Ohio. With a 76% completion percentage, 458 yards on just 50 pass attempts, six touchdowns and a total quarterback rating of 93.6 in seven quarters of action, Fields has been a force throwing the football.

However, if IU is to compete with No.6 Ohio State on Saturday afternoon, Allen and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack will have to make the former top prospect beat IU with his arm, rather than his legs.

“Everybody knows that the skill level and firepower and the scheme that Ohio State has is elite,” Wommack said. “Fields and [running back J.K.] Dobbins do a phenomenal job in the run game. At any given moment you have to focus on [them].”

The combo of Fields, Dobbins and freshman running back Master Teague have rushed for 444 yards on 78 carries, 5.69 yards per carry, and have been the heart of the Buckeye offense so far this season. 

The Buckeyes have used their ground game to dominate opponents with big gains on first down to keep the offense ahead of the chains and have used the rushing attack to set up explosive plays both on the ground and in the air.

The explosiveness that takes the OSU offense from good to great comes from both the run game and by completing passes that were set up from a strong ground attack. So to slow down the Ohio State offense, IU will have to have to limit OSU to one dimension.

In an awkward turn of events, IU can take some lessons learned in its season opener with Ball State University when it faces the Buckeyes.

In Lucas Oil Stadium, Ball State overcame its smaller front by crowding the box defensively to eliminate holes and space for sophomore running back Stevie Scott and the rest of the Hoosier running backs. The result was IU struggling to run the ball. Aside from redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr., Hoosier backs rushed for fewer than three yards per carry.

Now the script has flipped. When compared to the behemoths Ohio State will field on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, IU will be the team undersized up front this weekend. To counteract, Wommack will have to bring extra men into the box to try to plug gaps and eliminate big plays on the ground.

The risk factor here is that IU’s defensive backs will be left in one-on-one coverage with Ohio State’s speedy receivers.

But in a game of pick your poison, IU’s only shot to compete is if Fields is trying to win the game by beating IU’s secondary, which is the most experienced position group defensively, rather than being able to dominate the game from the point of attack along with Dobbins and Teague.

If IU fails to contain the mobile Fields and his backfield mates, it will be a long Saturday afternoon for the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

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