TreVeyon Henderson stumbled in the open field, but still beat the Indiana secondary to the pylon. That was his first touchdown.
On Ohio State’s following drive, the Buckeye offensive line escorted Henderson down the field on a screen pass. Henderson broke a tackle, planted his foot to make a cut that fooled Indiana’s defense and ran over three Hoosiers at the goal line. That was his second endzone appearance.
The Buckeye tailback added a receiving touchdown to his stat line before the night was over, carving the Indiana defense with a video game-like performance. Henderson finished the night with 95 total yards in a 54-7 blowout win at Memorial Stadium.
“It was ugly,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “That’s the best way to describe it.”
What made Henderson’s performance even more impressive was that it happened on just nine carries and one reception. Ohio State didn’t have to work to establish a running game across handfuls of carries each drive. The ground game was established from the first snap as Henderson and the Buckeyes made quick work of the Hoosiers.
“We couldn’t really get our feet on the ground early,” Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden said.
Indiana has leaned on its defense to stay in games, but against the nation’s top offense, that was impossible. With 1:25 remaining in the first quarter, Ohio State led 14-7. The Hoosiers were still in the game according to the scoreboard, but it was clear they couldn’t hang with Ohio State without a strong defensive performance.
The Buckeyes scored four touchdowns and added a safety on a mishandled punt attempt by Indiana, exploding for a 30-point second quarter. Ohio State balanced chunk runs from Henderson with pinpoint accuracy from quarterback C.J. Stroud – who finished with a 201.9 quarterback rating – thanks to an offensive line filled with future NFL talent.
Indiana’s front seven has been its biggest strength in 2021, but the likes of Ryder Anderson, Weston Kramer and Demarcus Elliot were rendered ineffective on Saturday. Against an explosive offense like Ohio State, Indiana was in a no-win situation, defensively.
“With that quarterback playing the way he is, they’re really impressive,” Allen said. “…It really came down to not getting pressure on him.”
If the Hoosiers chose to blitz, fewer defenders remained in the secondary to cover the likes of All-Big Ten receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
Indiana was without All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen for the third straight game, and Reese Taylor didn’t play for the second straight game due to injuries. Allen said not having two starting cornerbacks makes a major difference.
But when Indiana rushed three and dropped more defenders in coverage, Stroud was given all day to throw, meticulously picking apart Indiana’s defense.
“They did a good job picking up our blitzes and knowing when we were going to come,” McFadden said.
That’s the reality of playing the team that has gained more yards than anyone in 2021. And when Indiana is forced to rely on near-perfect defensive efforts each week, eventually everything falls apart, leaving the Hoosiers hopeless.
Hopeless was also the sentiment exuding from Allen after the game. The always-energetic Allen who usually answers each question with enthusiasm was left searching for explanations. When the defense that has won Indiana games throughout Allen’s tenure was diced up for 539 total yards, Allen was left with little to say.
A season that began with Allen aggressively stating aspirations to contend for a Big Ten championship has turned to discussions on whether the third or fourth-string quarterback is a better option for Indiana’s struggling offense.
The singular bright spot for Indiana on Saturday night came at the cost of losing starting quarterback Jack Tuttle. Tuttle released the ball quickly, but was driven to the ground by three Buckeye linemen as his pass reached Peyton Hendershot in the endzone on Indiana’s first drive of the game. Initial x-rays on Tuttle came back negative, but he will undergo an MRI to examine any possible ligament damage, according to Allen.
Hendershot’s touchdown highlighted a five-catch performance that made him Indiana’s all-time receptions leader among tight ends, but was overshadowed by dreadful offensive performances accumulating each week.
Donaven McCulley took over, but Allen said the freshman quarterback is still learning to progress through his reads. Grant Gemel alternated snaps with McCulley throughout the second half and finished 3-for-4 with nine passing yards.
Indiana played three quarterbacks who combined to complete eight of 17 passes to go with a run game that mustered 48 yards on 37 carries. Offensive struggles have been no secret this year, but the defensive breakdown that took place on Saturday night made the outcome even more troubling and left the big-picture outlook for 2021 looking hopeless.
But moving forward, Allen said Indiana doesn’t have a choice but to rely on the foundations of the program: accountability and toughness.
“You have got to be able to fall back on who you are and what you’re made on,” Allen said.