Following the IU football team’s historic 52-0 win over Eastern Illinois University, the IU coaching staff and select players met with the media Monday.
IU had just pulled off the largest margin of victory in Memorial Stadium history and program history since 1944, but all eyes were on Saturday’s matchup against No. 6 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes bullied their first two opponents at home, a combined 87-21 effort but will hit the road for the first time under first-year head coach Ryan Day. IU and OSU, both 2-0, will meet at Memorial Stadium this weekend to begin their 2019 Big Ten campaigns.
1. O-Line settles in for its biggest test yet
Through two games, IU’s offensive line has surrendered zero sacks and has limited quarterback pressures against opposing defenses.
Redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. has hardly been knocked around in his first two starts under center, but that’s destined to change against Ohio State.
“That’s so nice as an offensive line, I mean that’s our job,” senior offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak said. “That’s our biggest priority, is to keep him safe and clean.”
The Buckeyes’ pass rush features multiple NFL-caliber talents in Chase Young and Jonathan Cooper, among others. The defensive fronts that IU lined up against in the first two games come nothing close to the size and prowess of Ohio State that the offensive line is tasked with blocking Saturday.
Senior offensive linemen Coy Cronk, Hunter Littlejohn and Stepaniak, the undoubtable veteran anchors of the unit, have fought in the trenches against top 10 opponents in the past, but junior Harry Crider and sophomore Caleb Jones will need to stay in check.
Of all starting offensive linemen, Jones plays the biggest role at right tackle blocking the blindside of Penix. Though it’s his biggest start as a Hoosier, the senior starters up front are confident in Jones’ preparation leading up to this weekend.
“Big Caleb, he’s not a guy that’s going to shy away from anything,” Stepaniak said. “This dude knows what he’s getting into and he knows how to attack every day, so it’s not like babying him along. It’s kind of just like saying, ‘Hey, man. Let’s get after it today.’”
2. Maintaining OSU’s speed will be a focal point for IU’s defense
It’s no secret that Ohio State has an extensive number of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, but it all starts with junior running back J.K. Dobbins and sophomore quarterback Justin Fields.
“Everybody knows that the skill level and firepower and the scheme that Ohio State has is elite,” IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. “Fields and Dobbins do a phenomenal job in the run game. At any given moment you have to focus on [them].”
Dobbins has a compact frame and he makes defenders pay with his strength. The running back’s first collegiate game and start came as a true freshman two seasons ago at Memorial Stadium against IU. Dobbins finished his first NCAA game with over 200 total yards on 31 touches.
Fields, a transfer from the University of Georgia, is a dynamic playmaker that can execute on the ground and through the air. The highest rated player in his recruiting class, Fields displayed some of his talent late in games last season at Georgia, but has already notched nine total touchdowns in two games as Ohio State’s starter.
Clean tackling was a point of emphasis for IU’s defense last week in practice after the 34-24 win over Ball State University. According to Wommack, IU missed out on nine tackles against Eastern Illinois, compared to 23 missed tackles against Ball State.
The Hoosiers' aggressive defense will have its hands full going up against such an explosive offense. One way or another, we’re going to learn a few things about Wommack’s mentality of the "Swarm D" this weekend, as IU will need a full defensive effort to slow down Ohio State's offense.
3. IU finished off late in the last two OSU meetings
The Hoosiers’ last two games against the Buckeyes have played out the same. Two unranked IU teams capitalized on early mistakes before squandering leads to top-3 ranked Ohio State squads.
Two seasons ago, the Buckeyes visited Bloomington as the No. 2 team in the country. College GameDay came for the contest, which was played on the first Thursday night of the season. IU took advantage of a rusty Ohio State team in the first half but fell apart in the second. The Hoosiers were outscored 36-7 in the third and fourth quarters.
IU maintained a 17-14 lead on the road in Columbus, Ohio, last season before allowing a pair of Ohio State touchdowns inside the final five minutes of the first half. The Hoosiers hung around a little bit in the third quarter before the Buckeyes ran away with it, 49-26.
IU’s newfound depth across the field could be on its side against a team like Ohio State, though it’s unclear how frequent position rotations will come into play Saturday. Wommack said he thinks the Hoosiers are capable of competing with the Buckeyes, but it takes more than that to pull off an upset of this stature.
“It’s important for us to understand that you just keep chipping away at the execution, nobody has to do anything special against these guys,” Wommack said. “The goal is that we’ve got to be able to line up and do it for 60 minutes.”