When No. 6 Ohio State takes on its first Big Ten opponent in the first road game of the season Saturday, it will do so against an Indiana team it has beaten in 80 percent of their all-time meetings.
The Hoosiers may not have beaten the Buckeyes since 1988, but with a slew of close home matchups in recent memory, a dual-threat quarterback and the No. 2 passing attack in the Big Ten, Ohio State will have enough considerations to nullify the notion that the contest is a foregone conclusion.
“[Indiana redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix] is very talented,” head coach Ryan Day said. “We recruited him. He’s out of Tampa. Very mobile. Very productive coming out of high school. I’m not surprised that he’s playing right away there. He’s a really smart kid, understands the game.”
In 2018, then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey threw for the third-most yards per game in the conference with 239.5. Still, Indiana went 5-7, and Penix was able to beat out Ramsey for the starting position after just a year in the program.
During Indiana’s season opener against Ball State, Penix showed why.
The left-handed Florida native passed for 326 yards in his first career start — more than any game of Ramsey’s career except one. Add in Penix’s 67 yards on the ground against Ball State, and he accounted for more total yards than Ramsey in any of his 20 previous games at Indiana.
Penix added another two scores and completed 70 percent of his passes in Indiana’s 52-0 demolition of Eastern Illinois this past weekend, playing only in the first half before Ramsey took over.
They may have played one MAC and one FCS opponent to begin the season, but the Hoosiers’ 86 points thus far are 28 more than they put up in two games a season ago.
Regardless, Indiana has just one winning season since 1993, But the Buckeyes’ margin of victory is nearly half as large when playing in Bloomington instead of at home since 2012.
In the past three meetings at Indiana, the Hoosiers lost by three points in 2012, seven points in 2015 and even led by a point at halftime in 2017.
Indiana was No. 10 in the Big Ten in scoring defense in 2018 and has allowed Ohio State an average of 43.7 points in their past seven meetings, but it returns six starters this year, and Day said its schemes are getting more complex.
“They got the same system, but they got a lot in the system –– lot of different looks, coverages, pressures,” Day said. “As you get into year two, year three into a system, you can start to get more intricate. That’s where they are right now.”
Indiana operates in the system of head coach Tom Allen, who current Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson hired as his defensive coordinator when he was the Hoosiers’ head coach in 2016. Allen was promoted to head coach when Wilson resigned before the final game of that year.
Leading Allen’s defense is redshirt junior defensive back Marcelino Ball, a hybrid player in a position similar to that of Ohio State’s bullet. Ball was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer in 2018, when he was top three on the team in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and forced fumbles.
“They have some guys in there. Obviously Ball is really good at what he does,” Day said. “He does a lot of things for them. Their secondary is really, really strong.”
Despite dominating Cincinnati 42-0, Ohio State dropped a spot in the AP Poll and is only a 14-point favorite against Indiana. The odds are one thing, but the Buckeyes present a steep incline in quality of opponent for the Hoosiers this week.
That being said, when the game kicks off at noon Saturday, it will be Ohio State sophomore quarterback Justin Fields’ first time starting a game on the road, and his first test against a Big Ten rival.