Breaking down the battle: Can IU run on Ohio State?
An undefeated showdown between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Ohio State Buckeyes kicks off Saturday. No. 1-ranked Ohio State hasn’t looked as dominant as the preseason hype suggested, but they remain the team to beat as they travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana. Who will win in the trenches?
Anchored by four-year starter LT Jason Spriggs, one of our top-ranked tackles in the entire country, Indiana has quite a bit of talent up front. Redshirt freshman guard Wes Martin is the only starter to not have a positive overall grade through four weeks, but he’s still earned a respectable -0.3 grade and should improve with more reps.
This unit grades as one of the best in the country so far, currently ranking in the top 10 of our run blocking and pass blocking grades.
Running back Jordan Howard has done an outstanding job capitalizing on the line’s run-blocking, forcing 24 missed tackles (one of the best four-game totals in the nation) and racking up an additional 429 of his 671 yards after contact, 4 TDs. He’s been most effective running to his left, in between Spriggs and Martin, and off tackle to the outside of Spriggs.
The Hoosiers haven’t faced a challenge like the Buckeyes yet, however. Currently our top-ranked defense, Ohio State (+105.1) is littered with future NFL first-round draft picks. 2014 All-American and reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa, who ranks as one of our top-graded 4-3 defensive ends despite missing Week 1 versus Virginia Tech due to a team suspension.
He owns the highest grade on the Buckeyes defense, but he’s got help in the form of senior DT Adolphus Washington (+17.2), a force in the middle as both a pass-rusher and against the run (he ranks as one of the nation’s best at his position). The other starters on this stout four-man line are senior DT Tommy Schutt (+11.6) and redshirt sophomore DE Tyquan Lewis, both of whom have earned positive grades so far this season. Linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry have both also been standout defenders against the run so far, and will factor into the battle up front.
Indiana offensive line wins if…
They create holes up the middle and eliminate the aggressive pass rush of Ohio State with quick passes. By gaining yards up the gut, it will help neutralize Bosa and force the OSU linebackers to get up closer to the line of scrimmage. This will open up throwing lanes over the middle and enable QB Nate Sudfeld to get rid of the ball before the rush gets to him – that’s important, given Sudfeld’s struggles so far. He has earned negative grades in every game so far this season, and has struggled versus pressure, completing just 4 of 18 passes with two sacks on his 24 pressured dropbacks.
Consistently picking up positive yards on the ground should allow the Hoosiers to sustain long drives and tire out the legs of the Buckeyes defensive line, while taking pressure off of Sudfeld.
Ohio State defensive line wins if…
They don’t overpursue and they clog Indiana’s running lanes, particularly to the left side of the Hoosiers’ line, where they’ve been the most effective. The Hoosiers are a balanced offense in terms of playcalling, but given Sudfeld’s struggles they will almost certainly try to establish the run and get the ball in the hands of their best player, Howard, to both shorten the game and create big-play opportunities for him.
If the Buckeyes shoot the gaps under control, they can wreak havoc in the backfield before the play develops. Look for TEs to help out and double Bosa, so the other linemen need to win their matchups to prevent Indiana from gaining momentum.
Prediction: Ohio State over Indiana
While Indiana has a potent offense and a couple of big-time players up front, the Cinderella story takes a hit this weekend. Ohio State is a dominant team in run defense and will make the Hoosiers one-dimensional by halftime. An assist from the Buckeyes’ explosive offense puts this one out of reach sooner than later, and the Buckeye defensive line will rack up the sacks once they can pin their ears back and attack the quarterback.