Passing game almost non-existent against Indiana … Two-touchdown win stalls momentum for Buckeyes … Closing stretch of schedule suddenly looks a lot more daunting.
COLUMBUS — Stop the hyperbole and quit all the gushing. Yes, Ohio State may yet prove to be the class of the Big Ten and a national title contender. But after being involved in a nerve-jangling tussle with Indiana for most of the day, all the love being sent the Buckeyes’ way certainly doesn’t seem justified.
ESPN analyst David Pollack called them the best team in college football earlier this week. But after their 38-17 win over the Hoosiers, he probably would like to retract that statement.
ABC commentator Todd Blackledge had them No. 1 while picking his four playoff teams going into Saturday’s games, but he’ll likely want to reshuffle that lineup after seeing them take a Mother-May-I giant step backward.
The offense sputtered, putting a dent in J.T. Barrett’s Heisman campaign. The defense, forced to carry Barrett’s lagging crew, didn’t look like the unbending unit we’ve seen all year. And 107,420 fans, expecting another blowout and an early exit, had to stay to the end and never could get comfortable until a touchdown with 3:51 left made it a three-score game.
When the Buckeyes lost to Indiana at home in 1987, Earle Bruce called it “the darkest day in Ohio State football.” This wasn’t anywhere near as dark as that, but it was a dim afternoon for the Scarlet and Gray.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer warned us not to expect the same ol’ Indiana, a team with a potent offense and a defense that gets abused more than crash dummies.
The Hoosiers haven’t been the pushovers they’ve been in the past. They may have given up 33 points in a home loss to Wake Forest, but they also clamped down on Michigan State in a 24-21 overtime win last week.
Meyer said his team would be facing the toughest defense it’s encountered all year. Maybe we should have believed him.
The inability to connect on a single deep pass allowed the Hoosiers to crowd the line and prevent the running game from doing major damage.
The Buckeyes scored two of their TDs after getting the ball inside the Indiana 10-yard line on a fumble recovery and a 91-yard kickoff return by Parris Campbell.
They did put together a 13-play, 85-yard drive in the third quarter when their lead was cut to 24-17. But they went into a shell after that.
A pass that deflected off tight end Marcus Baugh’s hands was intercepted and gave Indiana prime field position while trailing by 14 early in the fourth quarter. But a goal-line stand ended the threat.
The Buckeyes’ lack of a passing attack was especially alarming. Barrett finished 9-for-21 for 93 yards with one TD and one interception.
They had been averaging 244 yards per game through the air. And Barrett has had only two other games as a starter where he’s thrown for less than 100 yards — 74 against Penn State in 2014 and 46 against Michigan State last year.
From the 11:25 mark of the second quarter to 12:53 in the fourth, they didn’t complete a pass.
More telling, they went ultra-conservative when it was time to put away an inferior foe. On third-and-6 near midfield early in the fourth quarter, leading by 14, they called for a Barrett run up the middle. Huh? It was like the Michigan State game in the sleet last year when the play-callers didn’t trust their QB to complete a simple pitch-and-catch.
Five-star receiving recruit Donovan Peoples-Jones of Michigan was at the game on his official visit. After that exhibition, no one could blame him if crossed the Buckeyes off his list.
The goal this year was to limit hits on Barrett, but he ran 26 times (some on scrambles) for 137 yards. Curtis Samuel had nine carries for 82 yards (9.1 average) and Mike Weber 15 for 71 (4.7). Seems like giving the backs a bigger load was warranted and probably would increase the likelihood of keeping Barrett in one piece.
Maybe an occasional clunker is to be expected with such a young team. If they go on to sweep their remaining road games with Wisconsin in prime time next week, followed by Penn State, Maryland and Michigan State, this drab effort will be a distant memory. But that’s become a much taller task than it once seemed.
After that dark day nearly 30 years ago, Bruce lasted just a few more games before being fired. John Cooper took over and lost to IU the next year.
Since then, the Buckeyes have ripped off 22 straight wins in the series, including Saturday’s slog.
Yes, they managed to extend the streak, but they undoubtedly had designs on doing a lot more than just that.
Bumpy beginning: Barrett is building a reputation as a slow starter, and he had another blunder on the opening series against Indiana.
After one first down, he made a bad pitch to Weber, and the Hoosiers recovered the fumble at the 30-yard line
Barrett started the opener against Bowling Green with a pick-six and had an interception on his first series against Rutgers last week.
But given a short field, Indiana could only muster a chippie field goal. Unlike those previous games, though, Barrett wasn’t able to brush it off. He had 14 TD passes in the first four games but just one against the Hoosiers.
Creating a din: In an ESPN poll of coaches, Ohio Stadium was ranked the fourth-toughest place to play after the home digs of LSU, Texas A&M and Oregon. And Indiana probably wouldn’t disagree.
With the game tied 3-3 late in the first quarter, the Hoosiers had a third-and-6 at the Ohio State 36-yard line. The defenders waved their arms for more noise, and the more they flapped, the louder it got.
Rattled Indiana was flagged for delay of game. And they had to take a timeout before their next snap with the play clock about to expire.
After a seven-yard pass play, they were ready to gamble on fourth-and-4 at the 35, but they were called for a false start as the crowd was screaming itself hoarse. After that, they punted.
They didn’t get that boisterous again until safety Malik Hooker returned an interception for an apparent touchdown with 2:39 left in the game. Alas, it was called back on a penalty for a low block that probably wasn’t needed.
It would have given the Buckeyes a program-best fifth defensive TD for the season. But with seven games still to go, that’s a record that seems destined to fall.