5 fearless predictions for when Ohio State hosts Indiana this weekend
I still can’t believe we’ve reached the point where the biggest game of the season is Ohio State facing Indiana.
What’s at stake? Just winning the B1G East, advancing to the conference championship game, and eventually moving on to the College Football Playoff.
I’m not sure anyone — not even the biggest fans in Bloomington — thought all of that could be riding on this game, yet it is. The year 2020 strikes again.
Still, with all of the surprises and strangeness this season, I’m still pretty certain of a few things. Here are 5 fearless predictions for when the Buckeyes host the Hoosiers at noon ET on Saturday:
1. Justin Fields will beat Indiana — with his feet.
Yes, I know Fields has established himself as a solid Heisman Trophy finalist by posting an insane 86.7 percent completion rate, with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. And I think he’s going to continue to perform at that impressive pace. But I’m going out on a limb here, and I think this is the game when Ryan Day unleashes Fields and lets him run, similar to the first game of the year against Nebraska, when the quarterback gained 54 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown.
Why? Well, let’s face it: The offensive line hasn’t been the No. 1-ranked unit it was supposed to be. Not yet, at least. And none of the running backs has established himself as someone you can truly count on when needed.
For those reasons, I bet Fields goes for more on the ground against Indiana than he did against Nebraska, at least 60 yards rushing, in part because he may have to take off and run a bit. But in the end, it may be to Ohio State’s benefit — because he may also be the best option.
2. The defense will sack Michael Penix Jr. at least 3 times — and force 3 turnovers.
Indiana’s quarterback will be forced to run a bit too, and when he does, he will get caught. As an aside, for the Buckeyes to win, they will have to get pressure on Penix — generally harass him the entire game. I say they do all of the above, and I think it’s finally time for a few Buckeyes to shine: namely, Zach Harrison. I think he plays a lot, and it pays off.
So why hasn’t Harrison played more so far this year? Who knows, but he’ll be needed Saturday. Watch him let loose and eat.
Others who could do the same? Jonathon Cooper and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. And in the course of all that craziness, watch Indiana give up the ball. Penix threw 2 picks against Michigan State. Look for the Hoosiers to give the ball away 3 times in this one.
3. The Buckeyes will hold Indiana to 20 points or under.
Hey, Michigan State held the Hoosiers to 24 last weekend, but the Spartans’ problem was they couldn’t score. I see Ohio State’s defense stepping up and flexing its muscles while in the spotlight.
This means the Buckeyes will have to win the line of scrimmage against the Hoosiers offensive line, to disrupt the timing between Penix and his receivers, and generally wreak havoc, which will then allow the secondary more leeway when it comes to staying alongside a talented core of Hoosiers receivers.
In my mind, they get it done, and I think they hold Indiana to about 17-20 points.
4. A receiver other than Olave or Wilson will make a game-changing play.
I’m going to pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the freshman receiver who wowed everyone with his athletic touchdown catch against Nebraska. He’s worked his way into more playing time, and because of his progress, I think he gets a few chances to make a play against the Hoosiers. That’ll be enough, as Smith-Njigba will take advantage of his opportunity and do something memorable.
5. This will not be a close game.
How many times have we seen this? We all build these games up like they’re going to be instant classics, but then Ohio State comes out and just does what it does. I think the same thing happens this weekend, as this moment may just be a bit too much for the Hoosiers.
Ohio State is a 20.5-point favorite. I’m not sure the Buckeyes cover that spread, but I think this game is still a blowout, maybe as Ohio State pulls away late.
Indiana has a great team this year, and they’ve been the surprise of the college football season. But in this matchup, they’re a year too early. I may feel better picking them next season against Ohio State. For this year, I expect much of the same. Former Indiana head man Kevin Wilson, now the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator, bests his old school.
Call it 35-17, Buckeyes.