Only in 2020 would a game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Ohio State Buckeyes be the most important game of the Big Ten regular season. Alas, that’s where we are Saturday, with the No. 3 Buckeyes favored by 20.5 points at home over the No. 9 Hoosiers with the over/under set at 66.5 points.
Before last week’s game against Maryland was canceled, it was business as usual for the Buckeyes. They knocked off Nebraska, Penn State, and Rutgers in consecutive weeks to start the season 3-0.
Granted, Ryan Day’s team hasn’t looked as dominant as last year. But the Buckeyes know that if they win out, they’ll be in the College Football Playoff.
Meanwhile, outside of the coach’s son suffering a season-ending injury last week, this has been a dream season for Tom Allen’s Hoosiers. In fairness, Indiana was a little fortunate to upset Penn State to open the season, as it was dominated statistically.
But the Hoosiers have grown more impressive with each week and now get a chance to take down the Buckeyes and turn their dream season into a fantasy come to life.
Slow and Steady
On paper, the Hoosiers have put together a suitable offense that’s averaging close to 34 points per game. However, the Indiana offense has been far from a well-oiled machine.
Despite coming up big in clutch situations, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is barely completing 60% of his passes and averaging seven yards per pass, which are modest numbers. The Hoosiers have also struggled in the trenches, making it difficult to establish running back Stevie Scott.
Even with Penix providing a running threat, the Hoosiers are averaging just 2.7 yards per carry on the season.
The caveat is that the Ohio State defense isn’t quite as solid as last season. They let Penn State hang around deep into the fourth quarter and gave up a lot of garbage-time points against Rutgers. It’s not that the Buckeyes have been bad defensively, but they shouldn’t be expected to carry the team this season.
Fields of Dreams
The Justin Fields Show is back and better than ever in 2020. In three games, Fields has thrown 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions while averaging close to 11 yards per pass attempt. He’s also completed 72 of his 83 passes.
That being said, his supporting cast has taken a slight step backward this year. The Ohio State running game has been inconsistent, while the offensive line has allowed Fields to get sacked seven times in three games.
Against Indiana, things will likely fall on the shoulders of Fields once again. The Hoosiers have done a nice job of stopping the run this season, although they have struggled some with mobile quarterbacks.
There’s a good chance the Indiana defense can slow down Ohio State’s running backs, leaving it up to Fields to win the game with his arm as well as his legs.
Indiana may not want to get its hopes up for an upset. However, the Hoosiers are well-positioned to beat the spread. They’ve been able to beat the likes of Michigan and Michigan State handily, and Penix gives them a crafty quarterback who can improvise and make plays on his own.
That should be enough for the Hoosiers to beat the 20.5-point spread.