For the better part of 40 minutes of football at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State was in trouble.
But in part because of four second-half touchdowns from redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall, the Buckeyes found a way to get out of Saturday’s game against Indiana with a 42-27 win. And now as No. 6 OSU (10-1, 7-0) sets its sights on rival Michigan, the team might have more questions than expected going forward.
The Lantern sports editors picked five of the key takeaways from OSU’s unexpectedly close win as The Game stands less than a week away.
1. Marshall is a game changer, no matter what mistakes he makes
There’s no denying his two lost fumbles against Minnesota were costly, but Marshall is the main reason OSU beat Indiana.
Had he not returned a punt for a touchdown late in the third quarter this week, the Buckeyes still might have won, but that play and his three ensuing touchdown catches ensured a victory. The punt return invigorated the entire team — particularly the OSU offense — and sparked the Buckeyes to a win when a loss would have ended their hopes at making the College Football Playoff.
Marshall has shown his talent on many occasions this season, but never to the extent he did on Saturday. Without sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson in the fold because of a broken foot, Marshall will have a chance to prove he’s truly one of the best weapons on the team in the coming weeks.
2. Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has done enough to prove his play is no fluke
Yes, Barrett threw two first-half interceptions. And yes, overall, he didn’t look sharp against the Hoosiers.
But it’s no mistake that he’s mostly rewritten the OSU quarterback record books in just 11 games as the starter. You can say it’s the system or call it luck, but players simply don’t put up the numbers Barrett has without being very talented.
He now holds OSU records for the longest run by a quarterback (86 yards), the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game (189), the most total touchdowns in a season (42) and the most touchdown passes in a year (33). The first three records were held by currently injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller, while the fourth used to belong to OSU’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Troy Smith.
Regardless of his low points — most notably a three-interception outing in a loss to Virginia Tech — Barrett deserves praise for his play, and has shown he can give Miller a run for his money if there is an open competition at quarterback next fall.
3. The OSU defense is good, but could be much better
Heading into the game, multiple defensive players stressed that winning wasn’t enough. They said the Buckeyes also needed to contain Indiana junior running back Tevin Coleman, and set their goal at keeping him under 100 yards rushing.
Well — on 25 of his carries — OSU held him to just 88 yards and a score on the ground. The only problem is, if you add his other two carries in, his numbers skyrocket to 27 carries for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
The Buckeyes’ biggest problem on defense is that they are really good the majority of the time, but when things don’t go well, they go extremely poorly.
If OSU can find a way to turn the handful of big plays into short gains every game, the team will start having a chance to pitch shutouts instead of scrambling to come from behind.
4. Junior linebacker Joshua Perry might be the Buckeyes’ most improved player
Perry was a starter most of last season, but he’s turned into a key player for the OSU defense in his third year.
He led the Buckeyes in solo tackles (7), total tackles (14), tackles for loss (3) and sacks (2) against Indiana, and yet his name rarely comes up with more well-known players like sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa on the roster.
Is Perry the best player on the defense? Probably not, but he’s still important to the unit’s success.
And he’s proven that by leading the team with 99 total tackles this season. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell is second among Buckeyes, but he’s 37 tackles behind Perry.
5. Ezekiel Elliott is better than advertised
While Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman have gotten most of the attention this season in the Big Ten, Elliott has quietly been a solid replacement at running back, filling the void left by Carlos Hyde.
Elliott has compiled 1,061 yards on the season and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry to go along with eight rushing scores.
He has done all of that while splitting carries with guys like freshman running back Curtis Samuel, Barrett, Marshall and Wilson.
Last year, the entire offense was based on the success of Hyde and then-junior quarterback Braxton Miller.
For Elliott to stand out amongst so many other playmakers on offense has been impressive and is contributing to OSU’s success.
The Buckeyes and the Wolverines are set to matchup on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.