Indiana fans probably haven’t been this eager to play Ohio State since 1942, which is the last time the Buckeyes and Hoosiers collided in a game where both teams were undefeated and it wasn’t a season opener.
They’re so excited, in fact, Indiana’s supporters lobbied for ESPN’s Game Day to come to Bloomington for the first time ever…and ESPN actually considered it.
They’re also probably motivated by the memory of last year’s game in Columbus, which they led 20-14 midway through the third quarter, and by the heavy, Ohio influence of the Indiana coaching staff.
What has them most excited, though, is their 4-0 start and their wins over Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, and Wake Forest. Yes, they’ve had to come from behind in three of those four victories. Yes, they’re one of the most penalized teams in the nation, averaging a little more than 8 penalties per game. Yes, they’re giving up 32 points and 360.5o passing yards a contest. But they’re undefeated through 4 games for the first time since 1990.
Obviously, when there are 96 defenses giving up fewer points than yours, it has to be the offense carrying the team, and carrying the Indiana offense is the nation’s current leading rusher, Jordan Howard.
His sophomore season, Howard set the single-season rushing record at UAB with 1,587 yards, but then the Blazers eliminated their football program. The Hoosiers have reaped the benefit with Howard running the ball nearly 28 times a game and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. He’s scored four rushing TDs this year.
At around 230 pounds, Howard can wear down a defense. In fact, his third and fourth quarter numbers (8.0 and 6.0 yards/carry respectively) are better than the numbers he’s posted in the first half of games this season.
Running back Devine Redding of Youngstown is slightly smaller, but has contributed 237 yards and 3 touchdowns of his own.
Indiana can throw, too. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is ranked 16th in the country with 1,143 passing yards. He’s completing more than 61 percent of his passes, and has 7 touchdowns to just one interception.
Already three of his receivers have reached double digits when it comes to receptions, led by Ricky Jones with 18. He is, without a doubt, a threat. There are only 6 players in the FBS right now with 10 or more catches who average more than 22.5 yards/catch. Jones (22.83) is one of them.
Their offensive line has over 100 combined total starts, and not only have they paved the way for the success of Howard and Sudfeld, but they have only given up 2 sacks so far.
For as much as Indiana has struggled defensively, they, like the offense, are especially prolific in the third quarter. The Hoosiers have outscored teams by a combined total of 51-0 coming out of halftime. Plus, they play a 3-4, which Ohio State has struggled with this season. And they do force turnovers, already with 4 fumble recoveries and 4 picks.
Those turnover numbers are somewhat surprising when you consider that the Hoosiers aren’t otherwise very disruptive. They are ranked 123rd nationally in tackles for loss.
Defensive tackle Darius Latham has 5 of those TFLs. Defensive end Nick Mangieri paces the team in sacks with 3. Linebacker, and Hamilton, Ohio native, Oliver Marcus has the lead in total tackles with 28, and he’s forced two fumbles.
The secondary is littered with freshman and sophomores, and they’re still recovering from the offseason dismissal of Antonio Allen, but corner Rashard Fant has shown some flashes with nine pass breakups.
The Hoosiers host the Buckeyes this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on 97.1 The Fan.