A 4-0 record with wins over big-time programs has skyrocketed Indiana to the No. 9 ranking in the country, but its biggest test of the season lies ahead on Nov. 21.
The Hoosiers have come close in the past, losing by one touchdown in 2015 and trailing by nine entering the fourth quarter in 2018, but haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since a 41-7 blowout in 1988. However, the last time Ohio State saw a number in front of Indiana’s name was in 1990 when the two sides played to a 27-27 tie.
Can the Hoosiers finally break through to beat Ohio State, or have Indiana’s wins been misleading due to down years from its opponents? These three matchups will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday’s Top-10 matchup.
WR Ty Fryfogle vs. CB Shaun Wade
Before the season, Whop Philyor was seen as the top target for Michael Penix Jr., but the past two weeks have proven Penix might have two No. 1 receivers to choose from. Fryfogle has feasted on the weak secondaries of Michigan and Michigan State, resulting in his addition to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, which is given to the nation’s top wide receiver.
Fryfogle has used his combination of height, speed and precise route running to emerge as one of the top breakout receivers in the country. In Indiana’s 24-0 win over Michigan State, Fryfogle hauled in 11 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns. He also played a key role in Penix’s 342-yard performance versus Michigan, catching seven passes for 142 yards and one touchdown.
But like Indiana as a whole, Fryfogle will face his biggest challenge of the year this week against Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade. Wade could have entered the 2020 NFL Draft after his junior season, where he was projected as a first round pick, but he decided to return to Columbus to pursue a championship.
Wade’s return this season also came with a bit of a change in his role on the Buckeye defense. As a junior, Wade mainly played in slot coverage, totalling 24 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, nine pass break-ups and an interception. But as a senior, Wade has primarily been positioned on the outside.
— Shaun Wade (@shaunwade24) September 17, 2020
This means more one-on-one matchups will likely come between Fryfogle and Wade, as opposed to Philyor and Wade like it would have been last year with Wade covering the slot. In a slightly new position, Wade’s role has been more focused on pass coverage and less on blitzing, stopping the run and defending slot receivers. On the season, Wade has 10 tackles and one pass break-up.
The Hoosiers have struggled to build a consistent rushing attack this season, making the Penix to Fryfogle even more important on Saturday.
CB Tiawan Mullen vs. WR Chris Olave
This matchup is similar to the first, but with reversed roles.
Tiawan Mullen has become the leader of an Indiana secondary that has intercepted seven passes this year. Mullen is also tied for second on the team in tackles with 21. The sophomore cornerback has also been lethal when blitzing off the edge, sacking the quarterback two and a half times this year.
This theme may start to sound repetitive, but yet again, this is the biggest challenge Mullen will have faced at this point of the season. But that’s just what will happen against Ohio State: constant tests against some of the best athletes in college football.
And that is exactly the kind of opponent Mullen will match up with most often on Saturday. Chris Olave is a 6-foot-1 junior receiver, who experienced a breakout campaign as a sophomore. In his second season as a Buckeye, Olave caught 48 passes for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns.
⏪ It was just another 2️⃣-TD performance from @chrisolave_ his last time out 😴
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) November 17, 2020
He hasn’t had quite the electrifying campaign Ohio State fans might have hoped for going into the season, but Olave remains a huge threat because of his speed and chemistry with standout quarterback Justin Fields. Olave has 18 receptions for 288 yards and four touchdowns this season.
The Hoosiers benefit from great depth in the defensive backfield, and each player must recognize where Olave is before each play in order for the Hoosiers to have another successful defensive performance.
RB Stevie Scott vs. Ohio State’s D-Line
Indiana has tried each game to establish the run game, but simply hasn’t had much success.
Tom Allen said in his Thursday press conference that tackle Caleb Jones and guard Mike Katic are “progressing,” but remain game-time decisions for Nov. 21. This leaves a number of question marks around the Indiana run game, putting some pressure on the experience of Stevie Scott to pull through.
Scott hasn’t had a bad season, but the running game certainly hasn’t been a strength for Indiana. The Hoosiers rank 12th in the Big Ten in both rushing yards per game at 95.3 and yards per carry at 2.7. Scott has rushed 88 times for 319 yards, which is good for 3.6 yards per carry.
A strength for Scott has come in the red zone, where he has punched in all five of his touchdowns. In the second half against Michigan State, it was pretty clear the Hoosiers were trying to run the clock out, keep Penix on his feet and work on certain areas of the run game, but each Hoosier possession resulted in either a punt or turnover on downs. This didn’t end up mattering because Indiana was already up 24-0, but it remains an area of concern.
Ohio State has been slightly above average amongst Big Ten teams in rushing defense. The Buckeyes rank sixth in the conference, allowing 131.7 rushing yards per game and sixth in yards per carry at 4.2. While these numbers don’t jump off the screen, the Buckeyes have a number of players who can disrupt a shaky Indiana offensive line.
Tommy “T” Togiai and the T stands for tackle. 💥
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) November 2, 2020
The Buckeyes lost star defensive end Chase Young to the NFL Draft last season, but haven’t seemed to miss him too much. Junior defensive tackle Tommy Togiai sacked Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford three times en route to being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.
Jonathon Cooper has been a mainstay of the Ohio State front seven, as he plays his fifth season as a Buckeye. Cooper has appeared in 32 games and provides speed off the edge. Against Penn State, Cooper recorded a career-high five tackles.
This game could get ugly fast if Indiana cannot run the ball consistently and is forced to become one-dimensional on offense.