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Ohio State roundtable preview: Can the Hoosiers pull off an upset?

Jack Tuttle replaced Michael Penix Jr. under center last week, but Indiana still came up short in a 20-15 loss to Michigan State. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4 on the year, but the road does not get any easier.

No. 5 Ohio State will arrive in Bloomington for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on ABC on Saturday. As the Hoosiers fight to get back in the win column, William McDermott and Jack Ankony address the biggest questions for Indiana midway through the season.

With Jack Tuttle taking snaps instead of Michael Penix Jr., is there any hope for Indiana’s offense moving forward?

William: I think many people expected Jack Tuttle to solve all of Indiana’s offensive issues. Instead, it just exploited them. I think it’s safe to say that the offense’s struggles aren’t completely on the quarterback play. However, 10 interceptions in six games haven't helped. 

Jack: At this point it’s pretty clear that poor offensive line play and play calling are bigger issues than who’s in at quarterback. Obviously the interceptions have killed Indiana this season, but the offensive line hasn’t given either quarterback much time to throw or opened lanes consistently for running backs. The shred of hope I have left for Indiana’s offense is because the schedule eases up after the Michigan game, but the season may be lost by that point. 

Indiana’s defense did enough to win the game against Michigan State. Can that performance be replicated against the high-flying Buckeyes?

Jack: Indiana might be without Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor – two starting cornerbacks – against Ohio State, but the Hoosiers had one of their most impressive defensive performances without those two against Michigan State. Micah McFadden will be an All-American yet again, and the front seven is rounding out really well with the three transfers Tom Allen brought in. 

William: Absolutely. The IU defense played its best game of the season, and while this Buckeyes offense is extremely explosive, the Indiana defense will only continue to prove its worth to this team. 

In some ways, the Michigan State game was a make-or-break matchup for the Hoosiers. Indiana now needs to win four of its final six games to become bowl eligible. Can the Hoosiers pull this off?

William: It’s obviously very difficult to say with the way Indiana’s schedule was and shaped up to be but I think Indiana will need to be near perfect the last three weeks of the season. Those games are against Rutgers, Minnesota, and No. 25 Purdue. 

Jack: I’ve penciled in the Ohio State and Michigan games as losses for Indiana, which means the Hoosiers need to win on the road against Maryland and Purdue, along with home games against Minnesota and Rutgers, in order to reach the six-win mark that means bowl eligibility. It’s possible for Indiana to win four of the next six, but with the way the offense has looked I think three wins in the final six games is the most likely number. 

Midway through the season, Indiana has a 2-4 record with each loss coming against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time. Does this record accurately represent the 2021 Hoosiers?

William: No. Indiana is better than 2-4 and I think we’ll see the record even out towards the end of the year, but you just have to wonder how this affects the Hoosiers confidence. Whether you’re playing a top-10 team every week or a 2-4 record isn’t the most confidence boosting thing to lay your eyes on. 

Jack: Indiana’s schedule was front loaded with top-five opponents to begin the season, which has made this season feel worse than it might by the end of week 12. They’ve played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, but unless Indiana pulls off a few upsets in the coming weeks, the Hoosiers won’t live up to the preseason expectations of contending for a Big Ten East title. 

What’s the biggest offensive adjustment you would make ahead of Indiana’s game against Ohio State?

Jack: Ohio State has the top-ranked passing offense in the Big Ten, but it’s pass defense ranks 11th in the conference. The Buckeyes can be beat through the air, which could open the door for a better game for Jack Tuttle. Ty Fryfogle torched Ohio State for 218 yards and three touchdowns in 2020, but hasn’t looked like the same player in 2021. Indiana needs a big performance from Fryfogle to have any chance on Saturday. 

William: Creativity. Sometimes it seems as if you could guess which play would be run. Mix up formations, put guys in motion, expand the route tree. What’s happening right now and has been happening for the first seven weeks of the season isn’t working. 

Ohio State is favored by 21 points on Saturday. Do the Hoosiers have any chance at a win?

William: In front of a sold out crowd at home there’s always a chance. 

Jack: Not really. If the Indiana offense can’t stay on the field and sustain drives, it will continue to put unrealistic expectations and pressure on the defense to keep things close. Ohio State’s offense is more explosive than Michigan State’s, meaning Indiana’s defense might somehow need to play even better this week than it did last week. I don’t see Indiana winning unless it scores 30 points, and there has been no indication that the Hoosiers are capable of that. 

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