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Indiana Hoosiers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Stepping stone or stumbling block?

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

There’s no question that Ohio State football (5-3, 2-2) vaulted itself into the race for a Big Ten Leaders Division title after its 33-29 upset win against then-No. 12-ranked Wisconsin. The real question is whether OSU can avoid a letdown in its upcoming game.

With a Saturday contest against Indiana awaiting his team, first-year OSU head coach Luke Fickell said Thursday that he is wary of the Hoosiers.

“Not that people believe it, but (Indiana) is a scary crew,” Fickell said. “I really believe that. With the way the offense is going for Indiana, they don’t mind coming (to OSU).”

Indiana is in the middle of the pack among Big Ten offenses and is ranked No. 7 in the conference. The Hoosiers are averaging 23.2 points per game — just 1.3 points fewer than OSU.

“They’ll be in a different mindset,” Fickell said.

Surely, Indiana is in a different mindset compared to when it visited Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. The Hoosiers lost, 38-10, that day but finished the season 5-7 and had a shot at bowl eligibility for parts of the year. In 2011, first-year Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson has led the Hoosiers to a 1-8 overall record and an 0-5 Big Ten record.

Wilson also saw one of his top receivers, senior Damarlo Belcher, dismissed from the team this week.

Co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler’s said he’s currently “extremely frustrated.” His unit has given up 51 points per game in the last four weeks

“…We’ve gone downhill,” Ekeler said of Indiana’s 2011 performance. “I go home and I don’t sleep because I’m not used to this and I don’t want to get used to it. And I’m sick of it and I’m tired of it. It’s the most frustrating thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Though the defense has been disappointing for the Hoosiers, the offense has recently showed signs of life. They’ve averaged 31 points in their last two games and haven’t had trouble moving the ball. But Indiana co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith said that athletically, the Buckeye defense will be tough to match up against.

“They’re big, fast and strong if you like that kind of athlete,” Smith said. “I tell those guys all the time so it’s going to be a challenge each and every snap.”

Wilson has at least remained upbeat, saying his team is looking forward to Saturday’s game.

“We look forward to going into (Ohio Stadium),” Wilson said. “We look forward to going against the Buckeyes and it will be a great challenge.”

Fickell voiced concerns about the Indiana squad on Thursday, but Wilson is also realistic about the challenge presented by OSU.

“(OSU is) coming off back-to-back wins, they’re sitting at 5-3,” he said. “They could have three wins in a row. They played very well at Nebraska and their freshman quarterback (Braxton Miller) has done a nice job.

“They are doing it with good players and a quarterback that can make plays. The last time we won against Ohio State was in the 80’s, so we’re playing a team that’s pretty good. It’s not like all of a sudden I say we have an advantage from playing those guys.”

Both teams head into the contest with injuries. Fickell said Thursday that OSU junior running back Jordan Hall was “doubtful” for the game and Ekeler remarked that the Hoosiers have had so many injuries they are having trouble filling the scout team.

Weary though he may be, Fickell said there would be no let down on Saturday.

“We’ve been through enough,” he said, “and we know what the situation is.”

Kickoff for Saturday’s game at the ‘Shoe is set for noon.

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