This is not what Big Ten teams do to Ohio State, which is why any panic in Buckeye Nation must be mixed with a significant dose of respect for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Ohio State survived Saturday in a 42-35 win over the Hoosiers, with hearts in the throats of OSU fans across the country. Everything about Indiana was better than expected, though the Hoosiers came in ranked in the top 10. Quarterback Michael Penix was even more on target, receiver Ty Fryfogle more dynamic and the blitzing IU defense more effective than during Indiana’s 4-0 start.
But the Hoosiers are gone now. Ohio State will not have to worry about Indiana again, which frankly, should be a bit of a relief. Because Indiana played like a true top-10 team Saturday. By the way, Game 9 of the 2021 season is scheduled to be Ohio State at Indiana on Nov. 6, and Penix will be back for the Hoosiers.
This is about Ohio State right now, though.
Any idea about how a close win might affect Ohio State in the College Football Playoff rankings, with the first one to be released on Tuesday, is nowhere near the point. If the Buckeyes win out, they are in the playoff, no question. If they lose once but still make the Big Ten Championship Game and win, they are almost certainly in. We’ve talked about style points for the committee more often this season, with a pandemic canceling games and creating unequal schedules. But this isn’t a style discussion.
What did we see Saturday that might hurt the Buckeyes down the line? This is a national title or bust kind of season, with a quarterback like Justin Fields in his last season as a Buckeye. So what might bust it?
Fields won’t. He made more mistakes Saturday (throwing three interceptions) than he has almost in the rest of his OSU career combined. He was clearly frustrated during his postgame news conferences. But Fields is still why the Buckeyes win. The boom-bust discussion he will continue to have with Ryan Day will be fascinating, but the outcome of that discussion may benefit Ohio State long-term. But we all know the truth — to beat Alabama and Clemson, Fields will have to boom. To hold Fields to the expectation of near-perfection that he created through the first three weeks is unrealistic.
Then there’s the run game. The Buckeyes leaned on it at critical times, and Master Teague (26 carries for 169 yards) delivered. However, needing a fourth-and-1 to put the game away in the red zone late in the fourth quarter, Day called a play-action naked bootleg for Fields that was there, but was difficult, and the ball fell incomplete when a pressured Fields threw too high for Luke Farrell.
The Buckeyes aren’t perfect, but their top end is clear. There isn’t elite talent at all 22 starting spots, but there is enough talent for the Buckeyes to win it all, especially with Fields and receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. It’s up to the coaches now to bring all of that out.
Fields said that Day talked in the postgame locker room about not finishing games — Ohio State led 35-7 before the Hoosiers finished on a 28-7 run.
“We gotta figure out a way to close out games,” Day said.
Day maybe got a little too fancy with some play calls at times, especially as the Buckeyes had trouble protecting Fields against the blitz. And the defense might have to make some changes in the lineup.