The second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes put an 11-game win streak on the line this weekend in Columbus, as they welcome the Indiana Hoosiers to Ohio Stadium for Big Ten action.
Jim Tressel's Buckeyes have made it look easy at times this season, winning their first five games by double figures. Last weekend, the team opened its conference slate on the road at Illinois and came out of Champaign with a 24-13 victory. With a win this week, Tressel will become the third fastest coach to win 100 games at a Big Ten school (121 games coached) behind only Michigan's Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler.
Bill Lynch's Hoosiers would like nothing more than to prevent that milestone on their watch. Indiana has played extremely well in 2010, opening the year with three straight victories before suffering its only defeat last week in a shootout with nationally-ranked Michigan (42-35) in the Big Ten opener.
The series is lopsided in OSU's favor, with the Buckeyes holding a 66-12-5 all-time advantage. That mark includes the current 15-game win streak over the Hoosiers, who haven't beaten Ohio State since 1988.
The Hoosiers bring a dynamic offensive attack into Columbus, averaging almost 40 points per game (39.8) and over 450 yards of total offense. A good portion of that has come from the passing attack (fourth nationally at 348.2 ypg) fueled by the arm of QB Ben Chappell. The veteran signal-caller is coming off a game in which he set a school record with 45 completions, going for 480 yards, despite losing to the Wolverines. It has been a lot of the same on the season for Chappell, who has completed over 71 percent of his passes, for 1,370 yards, with 12 TDs and just one INT. The top receivers that have benefited the most from Chappell's strong play are Damarlo Belcher (31 catches, for 375 yards, three TDs), Terrance Turner (24 receptions, for 246 yards, one TD) and Tandon Doss (23 receptions, for 323 yards, one TD).
The ground game is an afterthought (106.8 ypg), but tailback Darius Willis (4.3 ypc, four TDs) keeps teams honest for the most part.
Last week, the Indiana defense was gashed by Heisman frontrunner Denard Robinson, but that is something every defense has fallen victim to this season. The team's inability to stop the run this year (207.0 ypg) is reason for concern, however. Opponents have also scored in eight of nine red zone chances, with six TDs. With just four sacks and five takeaways in the first four games, big plays have been a rarity.
Senior LB Tyler Replogle has been the top performer on the defensive side of the ball, pacing the Hoosiers in tackles (26), with one INT and one fumble recovery. Junior LBs Jeff Thomas (20 tackles) and Leon Beckum (20 tackles, one sack) are next in line in terms of stops.
The Hoosiers will be facing their second straight superior athlete under center in Ohio State's Terelle Pryor. Something that Bill Lynch is looking forward too.
"Obviously, Pryor is a great player like [Denard] Robinson, but different. In terms of the ability to beat you with his legs and his arms, and he is a good leader you can tell because his teammates really respond around him, plus he has a lot of good weapons with him. We are looking forward to the challenge, I know our players will. We will be ready to go at noon in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday."
The Hoosiers will get their fair share of Pryor in this game, despite the athletic signal-caller nursing a quad injury. Pryor is the straw that stirs in the drink on the offensive side of things for OSU, which is averaging over 200 yards per game rushing (234.8) and passing (228.6). Pryor leads the way in both categories, averaging 74.6 yards per game on the ground (6.9 ypc), while throwing for 203.0 ypg. He has thrown 12 TD passes and rushed for an additional three scores. Dane Sanzenbacher has been the go-to-guy downfield, leading the way in receptions (23), receiving yards (351) and TD catches (six).
Pryor leads the ground game, but both RBs Dan Herron (4.4 ypc, five TDs) and Brandon Saine (4.2 ypc, two TDs) can get the job done as well.
While the OSU offense is obviously productive, the team feeds off its defensive play. Not much has changed in Columbus in 2010, as the Buckeyes are once again one of the top defensive teams in the country, allowing just 242.2 yards of total offense (fifth nationally), showing the ability to stop both the run (eighth nationally at 80.6 ypg) and the pass (18th nationally at 161.8 ypg). Big plays have been commonplace for this unit, with OSU forcing 14 turnovers thus far, including eight INTs.
Senior LB Ross Homan spearheads the attack. The 6-0, 227-pounder leads the team in tackles (33), with one sack, one INT, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Fellow LB Brian Rolle is next in terms of stops with 25. Senior safety Jermale Hines (21 tackles, one INT) is the top performer in the secondary, while ends Nathan Williams (18 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one INT) and Cameron Heyward (3.5 TFLs, one INT) present problems along the defensive front.
Coach Tressel knows the challenge that his defense faces this week in Indiana.
"Now we have a chance to come home, play against an Indiana team that they threw it 64 times last week, 98 plays, you know, those receivers are veterans. The quarterback, of course, is a veteran. Their running back does a nice job in protection, and the amount that they run him, he's very good at it and he's a good receiver as well."
The Hoosiers have moved the chains on everyone this season, but will be facing their toughest defense to date. It won't come so easy for Indiana on Saturday. Couple that with the fact that OSU will seemingly move the ball at will on the Hoosiers and it is shaping up to be another lopsided win for the Buckeyes.