No. 3 Ohio State held on to beat No. 9 Indiana 42-35 in a roller coaster of a game on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes were able to survive a couple of turnovers early in the game to take a 28-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, and it seemed they were well on their way to a comfortable victory. Indiana had other ideas.
While the Hoosiers weren't able to capitalize on the turnovers early, they were able to exploit Ohio State's secondary in the second half to make it a game. Time and again, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. found open receivers in the secondary to cut into the Ohio State lead. The Hoosiers came back to make it a 42-35 game in the fourth quarter and then forced an Ohio State turnover on downs inside the Indiana 10-yard line late. That's when the Buckeyes defense saved the day, forcing a quick three-and-out. The Hoosiers got one more chance but had little time and no timeouts.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields finished with 300 yards passing, 78 yards rushing and three total touchdowns; however, he also threw three interceptions after not tossing one all season. Fields was outplayed by Indiana's Penix, who threw for 495 yards and five touchdowns. Ohio State improved to 4-0 on the season, while Indiana dropped to 4-1 but should remain highly ranked in the new AP Top 25 on Sunday.
Here are four takeaways from a fantastic Big Ten battle on Saturday afternoon.
1. Ohio State should utilize its strong run game
I understand that Fields is amazing and that he's a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, but at times, it feels as though Ohio State asks him to do too much. His first pass of the day was a 65-yard connection to Garrett Wilson. His second was a 10-yard pass to Wilson for a touchdown to finish off Ohio State's two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game. They were beautiful throws, but they were also the last time Fields looked comfortable for the rest of the game.
Indiana pressured him with well-disguised blitzes, and it led to Fields throwing three interceptions, some on horrible decisions while he was under pressure. Meanwhile, on the ground, Ohio State was running the ball well against the Hoosiers. Master Teague finished with 169 yards and two touchdowns, and it was his 41-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that established control for Ohio State at the time. Or at least, you thought it did.
Every time it felt like the Buckeyes were taking control of the game, Ohio State got pass-happy again. The most significant example of this was late in the game with the Buckeyes up a score. Coach Ryan Day ran a QB draw on third-and-4 inside the Indiana 10 with Ohio State needing a score to put the game away for good. Fields came up a yard short. Then, with Ohio State averaging over 6.5 yards per carry at the time, Day decided to go for it on fourth down. Instead of handing off to Teague or running another QB draw, Ohio State had Fields fake the handoff and roll out to his right. He had an option to keep it and run for the first or throw it. Fields rushed a throw after being pressured by an Indiana linebacker, and it was a bad throw that fell incomplete. Ohio State survived, but had it just handed off to Teague, he likely picks up the first with ease, ending the game.
2. Penix and the Indiana offense are legit
It's incredible enough on its own that Penix threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns. It's more incredible when you realize Penix and Indiana's receivers -- Ty Fryfogle caught seven passes for 218 yards and three scores -- did all this despite having no semblance of a rushing attack.
Indiana rushed for -1 yard on 16 carries. Even if you remove the yards lost to sacks, the Hoosiers still managed only 10 yards on the ground. Still, even though the Buckeyes defense didn't have to worry about stopping the run, Indiana tore Ohio State's secondary apart time and again. It was a mixture of rub routes freeing crossers over the middle and Indiana receivers winning one-on-one battles along the sidelines and up the seams.
It's not the first time we've seen Ohio State's secondary struggle this year, but nobody exploited it like Indiana did. It's something to keep an eye on down the road for the Buckeyes, and it's a reason future defenses should continue to fear Indiana.
3. Forcing, capitalizing on turnovers decides games
All week long, I harped on how I was skeptical of Indiana's chances to win this game because so much of its offense had been dependent on turnovers. Indiana came into Saturday having scored 38.7% of its points on offense off turnovers, an exceedingly high amount. The average distance of their touchdown drives had only been 53 yards thanks to those turnovers.
My theory was that Ohio State wouldn't turn the ball over nearly enough for Indiana to take advantage of them. Boy, was I wrong! Ohio State turned the ball over three times, but remarkably, Indiana did nothing with those extra possessions. Each Ohio State turnover ended with Indiana punting the ball back. On the flip side, Indiana turned the ball over four times, and Ohio State scored 14 points off those miscues. Those points loom very large in a seven-point game.
4. Ohio State is still terrifying
Think about it. The Buckeyes did not play anything remotely resembling their best football on Saturday. They turned the ball over three times. The offensive line allowed Fields to be sacked five times. They were only 6 for 14 on third down. And yet, Ohio State still finished the day with 607 yards of offense and 42 points. Even when it plays poorly, OSU finds a way to remind you why its the best team in the Big Ten.
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FINAL: Ohio State 42, Indiana 35
4th and 10. 5 seconds left. Last Chance Saloon for the Hoosiers.
Ohio State takes a timeout
Hooker nearly picks off the pass. 9 seconds left.
14 seconds left. Need to pick up a chunk of yards to get in Hail Mary range.
Penix scrambles for a 1st.
Now 3rd down at the 30 but more importantly, only 29 seconds left.
Indiana will have 38 seconds to go 78 yards.
Teague picks up a yard and the clock will run down to about 45 seconds before OSU uses a timeout.
Another 3rd down for the Buckeyes here. 3rd and 13 with 1:34 left. Indiana has no more timeouts. I'm betting we see an Ohio State run.
1ST DOWN: Trey Sermon picks it up on the ground.
3rd and 4 for the Buckeyes here. A 1st won't end the game, but it will make life very difficult for Indiana.
SACK: Ohio State's pass rush comes through on 3rd down and Indiana has to punt.
TURNOVER ON DOWNS. Indiana holds and gets the ball back down 42-35 with 4:39 left.
Buckeyes will go for it.
Fields on a QB draw but he's short. Big decision here. OSU down to its backup kicker. Go for the FG or the 1st?
Injury timeout. Indiana's Cam Jones is down holding his left leg.
3rd and 4 for Ohio State at the 10.
Fields to Wilson for a pickup of 27 yards to the IU 16.
Now another Indiana sack.
What a play by Jamison Williams breaking multiple tackles to pick up a first down.
Buckeyes look to be leaning on their rushing attack now. It's been successful all day.