With Ohio State’s long-awaited season opener set for 8 p.m. Thursday, The Lantern breaks down what to expect between the Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers.
Ohio State offense vs. Indiana defense
A season ago, the Buckeye offense had no trouble putting up points against the former team of Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson, as it ran away early to a convincing 38-17 victory.
With Wilson coaching the offense, the team has gained knowledge of many of the top defensive players for Indiana.
“He recruited all those guys so he knows them very well. He was there for a couple years, so I guess understanding the strengths and weaknesses and just trying to attack them, so it’s definitely valuable,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said.
The Hoosiers return several key contributors in the defensive backfield, including safeties Marcelino Ball, Jonathan Crawford and Tony Fields as well as cornerback Rashard Fant, who combined for 10 of the team’s 13 interceptions last season.
The team also returns one of the premier linebackers in college football in Tegray Scales, who led the team in tackles and sacks a season ago and was placed on the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list this preseason.
And the man leading those returning defensive stars will be the team’s former defensive coordinator, Tom Allen. In one season as defensive coordinator of the Hoosiers, Allen was able to improve a defense that had placed either last or second to last in the Big Ten for total defense in each of the past three years before Allen’s arrival.
He introduced a unique defensive scheme known as a 4-2-5 (four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs) a linebacker is placed in the secondary.
Having that extra member in the secondary could pose a challenge to the wide receivers to get open as it is far different from a more typical 4-3 or 3-4 defensive alignment, but Barrett isn’t worrying about the atypical defensive shift.
“I would probably say with that kind of hybrid type of guy, understanding he can’t play coverage. Just making sure that you just account for him at all times and know that he’s not just a matchup that we could exploit,” Barrett said. “Just kind of know where he’s at on the field, like I said, because they do like to blitz him, just know where he’s at, make sure we account for him in the run and passing game.”
Ohio State defense vs. Indiana offense
The change of head coach is not the only major alteration Indiana underwent in the offseason.
The Indiana offense will come into this matchup against the Buckeyes with a new play-caller in the booth, as Mike DeBord, the former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, will operate under the same role in Bloomington.
With the Volunteers, DeBord ran an up-tempo offense that was always quick to get the play off, and that style doesn’t figure to change at Indiana as the Hoosiers ran a similar up-tempo offense a season ago under Wilson.
“Identical schemes, fast tempo, lot of screens. Quick game, [run-pass options], just different things like that,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “Not much has changed based on what we’ve seen on film. They have O-line changes as far as I know, but that’s about it.”
The tempo might not change, but the style of quarterback certainly will.
At Tennessee, DeBord coached a dual-threat quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. This season, however, he will be instructing a pure pocket-passer in Richard Lagow, a senior starting his second season after finishing 2016 with 253 completed passes in 438 attempts, with 3,362 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Lagow finished 23rd in the FBS in passing yards last season, though he was prone to turnovers, ending the season second in interceptions.
“The guy is [6-foot-6], 240 [pounds], I don’t think he’s trying to get out of the pocket and run,” Lewis said. “But he can definitely throw. He has a great arm and he can make the throws down field, I mean I think he’s a pretty decent quarterback in the pocket.”
Lagow lost two of his top receivers over the offseason, but his favorite target from last season, wide receiver Nick Westbrook, is returning to the Hoosiers this season.
However, this is not the best matchup for Indiana. A season ago, Lagow completed only 50 percent of his passes against the Buckeyes (14-for-28) with 182 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. A team that has always been heavy on passing, Indiana is going up against a team that held opponents to the sixth-fewest total passing yards and allowed just 10 passing touchdowns last season.
The Buckeyes have lost three key members of their secondary to the draft in cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley and safety Malik Hooker, but the team remains deep in the secondary with Denzel Ward returning for his second season in the corner rotation, with Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield joining him there. Damon Webb is the lone returning player at safety, but Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller have potential to be the replacement to Hooker that Meyer is looking for.
Edward Sutelan: Ohio State wins 48-20
Colin Hass-Hill: Ohio State wins 38-24