5 things I liked about Ohio State’s close win over Indiana
Well, I’ll admit it was a bit closer that I thought it would be. And I didn’t foresee the Buckeyes defense giving up 500 yards passing. But it was really everything I hoped Ohio State would have to face when it took on No. 9 Indiana on Saturday. It offered some tense moments, some exciting plays from both sides, and ultimately, it gave the Buckeyes a good dose of what they needed: a shot in the mouth.
Let’s flash back for a moment, back to when all of us thought this was going to be a far different kind of game.
On 1st-and-goal from the 10, with under a minute to play before halftime, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields waited. (It’s what he does — sometimes to a fault.) Then, he felt pressure from the right.
He spun, making one of those Dame Lillard-like moves, and went left, finding a load of green grass in front of him. He turned the corner and sprinted for the end zone. At the 2 yard line, he went airborne, sending a message that he wouldn’t be denied, and landed for a score, giving the Buckeyes a three touchdown lead at halftime. Afterward, Fields popped up and ran back to his sideline, index finger raised, declaring exactly who he thought was the No. 1 team in the land.
At that point, we all thought he had a pretty good argument. And he still may. Is this team perfect? No. It was a different story in the second half. Several huge Indiana pass plays on busted coverages showed this Buckeyes team is not perfect. Fields’ sometimes shaky decision-making, where multiple passes seemed forced, showed he is not perfect. Hell, Fields made more poor decisions Saturday than he did during all of last season.
But are they good enough to be in the conversation? Certainly. Are they top-four good? Of course. Can they win it all? We’ll have to see. But this was another big step. Because Ohio State took out a good, undefeated Indiana team Saturday, 42-35, and stayed undefeated. And make no mistake — this is a big win against a great Indiana team.
In fact, I think Ohio State fans should be pleased. This was the kind of game I wanted to see Ohio State play last week, when their contest against Maryland got canceled. The only difference? Indiana is good — certainly the best team the Buckeyes will face until the B1G Championship Game.
Can it be frustrating to watch the Buckeyes go up big, then let a team back into the game? Yes. But it’s something fans will have to live with this season. This is who they are. Just be happy Ohio State has the kind of offense that can beat anyone.
That said, there were other things I liked about this game, too. Here are 5 of them:
1. The Buckeyes played a game that tested them
In several instances in this game, the Buckeyes had to play a down, or a series, or a quarter, that meant something. There was pressure. There was the very real sense that if someone did not make a play, they could lose. And in most of those cases, they came through. Whether it was on third down conversions, a big stop by the defense, or even Fields calming down and agreeing to take what the Hoosiers defense gave him, the Buckeyes did what they had to do. And they showed that their offense is truly something to be feared.
I’ll bring it up again: The Buckeyes know how to start off games with a bang, and they did so again, scoring in just two pass plays to Garrett Wilson. Even if that proved to be a bit of fool’s gold, it was the perfect way to come out and punch the opponent in the mouth. This was the kind of game that other teams lose. There was a great opponent. There were mistakes by the home team. There was a string of bad luck on some calls that could’ve easily gone the other way (including two fumbles that I’m pretty sure were fumbles). Still, the Buckeyes won.
2. The Buckeyes defense got pressure on the quarterback
I know the numbers won’t reflect it (1 sack each for Pete Werner and Jonathan Cooper), but I think Ohio State did a pretty great job of rushing the quarterback. The difference here is that Michael Penix Jr. was outstanding in getting the ball off just in time, or throwing under pressure. Time after time, Penix showed just how good he is becoming, as he scrambled or stayed in the pocket and threw comfortably, even with someone in his face. It was impressive.
Yes, the defense gave up nearly 500 yards passing, but it also allowed a negative number of rushing yards. So, are you a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty kind of fan?
3. Ohio State took advantage of opportunities, made big plays when needed
I’m thinking about two plays in particular. When the game got tighter in the third quarter, Fields made a terrible decision after scrambling and tried to loft a pass in the middle of the field to freshman wide receiver Julian Fleming. Instead, the ball was picked off, and immediately, an Indiana defender was headed the other way.
But Fleming didn’t give up on the play. He ran down the ball carrier and punched the ball out of his right hand, causing a fumble and enabling Ohio State to get the ball right back. It was an amazing play for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was a freshman wideout who did it.
What a play by Julian Fleming to punch that ball out after the interception! pic.twitter.com/UGljn1ZsTU
— Buckeye Videos+ (@BuckeyeVideos) November 21, 2020
Secondly, I have to think about corner Shaun Wade. After being beaten repeatedly against Penn State, as well as Saturday, Wade stepped up, baiting Penix to throw a ball his way before he stepped in front, made the pick and ran it all the way back for what proved to be the game-winning score. It goes to show: If you have superior athletes, if given enough chances they will make big plays.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 21, 2020
4. The running game looked virtually unstoppable
Those who look at what Ohio State did wrong on Saturday should not overlook the fact that one thing went extremely right: the running game. Master Teague looked like The Man again, going for 169 yards and two touchdowns, including a 41-yard run to the end zone that seemed to put some distance between the two teams.
I’ve said in previous games that it seems like Ryan Day tries too hard to establish the run, when he should just rely on having the best quarterback and receiver tandem in America. In this game, it was the complete reverse. It was obvious that the running game was dominating (along with the short passing game). I never thought I would say this, but it seems they were trying to go vertical too much, when Teague and Trey Sermon were controlling the game.
What’s nice is that Day really has the option. In the future, he can ride both the run and the pass and see which one is working better during the course of the game, then change it up to accommodate.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 21, 2020
5. A win is a win, right?
Here’s what this all boils down to: Ohio State beat a team Saturday that is good enough to win the B1G. I’ll be surprised if the Buckeyes face a test like this again. With this hurdle cleared, they can focus on getting better while they face the likes of Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan. They should be able to take care of business, and improve on these deficiencies as they go.
And you know what else? The Buckeyes didn’t play nearly as good as they could have. Or should have.
And they STILL came away with a victory.
That’s a scary thought.