Top-ranked Ohio State is set to go on the road and square off against another undefeated team in the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in Bloomington, Indiana.
Here are five things The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz are watching for in Saturday’s game.
For three consecutive games, the OSU defense has scored a touchdown.
Last week against Western Michigan, senior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington intercepted a pass and trotted 20 yards for a score.
In the two games prior, redshirt sophomore Darron Lee had a game-clinching pick-six against Northern Illinois and junior safety Vonn Bell had a fumble return for a touchdown versus Hawaii.
With the offense not yet clicking on all cylinders, these three boosts from the defense on the scoreboard have been key for the Buckeyes.
In case the offense struggles again on Saturday, the defense might need to find a way to put points on the board. But that may prove to be more of a challenge as the Hoosiers have only turned the ball over twice in four games.
However, junior defensive end Joey Bosa said it would be “nice to continue” the streak this week.
But as for the defense keeping it up and scoring in every game?
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that,” he said laughing. “But it’s awesome any time a guy on the defense can make a big play.”
Can the defense contain Jordan Howard?
The OSU defense struggled at times last week against Western Michigan as the unit surrendered its highest rushing total to an opponent this year.
The “Silver Bullets” will have their hands full on Saturday at Memorial Stadium as Indiana’s Jordan Howard is off to a hot start in 2015.
The junior running back, who is in his first year with Indiana after transferring from UAB, has accumulated a nation’s best 675 yards in four games so far.
Members of OSU’s defense said they respect what Howard can accomplish.
“He’s the real deal,” Washington said. “He can move and he’s not afraid of contact.”
The threat of Howard on the ground opens up the play-action pass for senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who has passed for 1,143 yards and seven touchdowns through four games.
The first step for the Buckeyes to secure a victory over Indiana is to slow down Howard. It’s easier said than done, but if they can do find a way, the Buckeyes should not have trouble moving to 5-0.
He Cam, he punted, he conquered
OSU’s punter Cameron Johnston has been lights out kicking the ball this season as the junior has been essential to the dominance OSU has had on special teams.
Using his rugby-style punt, the Geelong, Australia, native has been able to pin teams down under in their own territory all season.
In last week’s game alone, his punts — combined with the solid coverage from other players on special teams — resulted in WMU starting inside their own 20-yard line three times, one of which was at the 1-yard line.
When opponents start drives back up against their own end zone, putting points on the board means they have to find a way to go at least 80 yards on the Buckeye defense — which is no cakewalk.
Johnston is instrumental in creating said scenario. If he can continue his success against the Hoosiers and force their 18th-ranked offense to have to drive nearly the length of the field against the nation’s sixth-ranked defense, the final scoreboard should favor the Buckeyes.
What will Marshall’s encore look like?
Last year against the Hoosiers, H-back Jalin Marshall had his collegiate coming-out party.
Then a redshirt freshman, Marshall — a quarterback in high school — took a shaky late-season performance by the OSU offense into his own hands.
Trailing 20-14 late in the third quarter, the Middletown, Ohio, product returned a punt 54 yards to retake the lead.
He then padded the lead in OSU’s next drive by pulling in a six-yard touchdown from then-redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.
Later in the quarter, Barrett found Marshall for 15 yards and a score. Then, to put the exclamation point on what was then a blowout, Marshall caught his third touchdown pass of the quarter, a 54-yarder.
That game counted for three of his six receiving touchdowns, and four of his eight overall scores during his redshirt freshman season.
Against Western Michigan last week, Marshall had two catches, including a 37-yard touchdown grab, his first of the year.
OSU coach Urban Meyer has raved about Marshall recently, even rewarding him with Marshall’s request number change from No. 17 to No. 7.
As OSU continues to fill the deep-ball void left by Devin Smith, Marshall could be emerging as a main weapon on the offense.
Where is Cardale’s arm strength?
While the Buckeyes easily dispatched Western Michigan 38-12, Meyer acknowledged his disappointment that many more points could have been scored.
On Monday, Meyer said after looking at tape from the game that redshirt junior Cardale Jones underthrew “at least six” deep balls that could have resulted in more points on the scoreboard.
“Fundamentally he wasn’t sound,” Meyer said. “The way he transferred back to front, dragging his back leg, and that’s (quarterbacks coach) Tim Beck, and they’ll work at it.”
Jones’ ability to bomb the ball deep is his calling card and is one of the main weapons in his arsenal, and that’s a major reason why he secured the starting quarterback job over Barrett.
However, if he can’t get the ball ahead of his targets, whether it is due to an injury or just a fundamental problem as Meyer alluded to, his capabilities and that of the OSU offense decreases significantly.
The Buckeye offense is loaded with weapons, but the less of a threat there is 40 yards away from the offensive line, the less space players like junior running back Ezekiel Elliott will have to work with.
Jones’ game management and vision was much improved against Western Michigan, but, especially against an Indiana defense that has allowed the second most passing yards in the country, he will have to show enough confidence and ability to lead the OSU offense closer to its peak in Big Ten play.