1. Will the Buckeyes suffer a letdown?
This is not meant as a slight to Ohio State’s host for the weekend, Indiana, but more a nod to the way the first half of the season came to an end.
After coming out of the pre-conference schedule 4-0 despite some mistakes on both sides of the ball, the Buckeyes were able to grind out a 17-16 win over Michigan State then trounce Nebraska in an emotionally charged win over Nebraska under the lights last weekend.
The mental energy reserves could be low this week simply as a matter of human nature, and evening road games present a long time to sit around and lose focus.
Last season, Ohio State enjoyed a rousing night win over Wisconsin then came out flat a week later against Indiana.
2. Can Indiana slow down the Ohio State running game?
This will be the biggest challenge for the Hoosiers, who much like recent seasons have struggled to prevent teams from moving the ball on the ground.
They made Michigan State work for its yards on the ground – Le’Veon Bell picked up 121 yards but needed 37 carries for a 3.3-yard average – but the Buckeyes will attack them in a much different manner. Not only can they slam 232-pound running back Carlos Hyde into the middle of the Hoosier line, quarterback Braxton Miller is the Big Ten’s No. 3 rusher so far this season with an average of 127.2 yards per game.
Indiana has the Big Ten’s worst rush defense at 196.8 yards per game.
3. Have the Buckeyes learned to deal with screen passes?
Indiana has a solid running game (167.6 yards per game with contributions from three different running backs), but the Hoosiers primarily move the ball through the air.
Quarterback Cameron Coffman directs a short passing game that relies on a lot of quick, short passes and screens. Those have given the Buckeyes trouble previously this season, so it will be interesting to see if they have picked up any new tricks for dealing with them.
Seven different Hoosiers have already caught at least 12 passes this season with sophomore receiver Cody Latimer leading the way with 20 grabs for 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Fellow receivers Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn both have more than 200 yards receiving on the season as well.
4. Who wins third downs?
This is a critical area in many games, but Saturday it should play a big role with a pair of spread offenses getting together.
Both teams could find success moving the ball one way or another, leaving third downs potentially a big milepost in the contest.
Indiana won the time of possession battle last season while carrying an upset bid into the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium, and a major factor was the Hoosiers’ ability to convert 10 of 17 third downs when they had the ball. On the flip side, they held Ohio State to just three successful third downs on nine tries.
Sometimes when a team gets rolling, the difference is getting off the field when presented the opportunity, and Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson has said that is a focus for his squad as it continues to be undermanned on the defensive side of the ball.
5. Will a linebacker step up for Ohio State?
The Buckeyes learned earlier this week they will not have the services of senior linebacker Etienne Sabino for this week and likely 2-3 more. After an up-and-down career in Columbus, Sabino seemed to be coming into his own with a pair of his best games as a Buckeye.
How much is presence is missed figures to be up to freshman Josh Perry when the Buckeyes are in their base defense while senior Storm Klein is likely to be in Sabino’s spot on the nickel defense.
Klein has 14 tackles on the season and made his first sack last week while Perry has a pair of stops in his career. The four-star recruit has primarily played special teams to this point.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said earlier this week he would like to see more contributions from the freshman class of linebackers that also includes David Perkins, Camren Williams, Luke Roberts and Jamal Marcus.
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