Five things: Indiana at Ohio State
November, 23, 2013
By Austin Ward | ESPN.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Looking at the critical areas and key players as No. 3 Ohio State looks to clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game at home against Indiana on Senior Day (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2).
Focus first: Everywhere the Buckeyes look, they'll find something that can cause a distraction. The BCS standings provide the easiest way for the Buckeyes to lose focus, because they are keenly aware of where they stand, the narrowing lead they possess over No. 4 Baylor and how important it is to win easily against overmatched opponents. But there is also a school-record winning streak on the line, a chance to clinch a share of the division title that would send them to Indianapolis for the conference title game and an emotional pregame ceremony planned to honor the seniors, and all of that could spell a letdown if Ohio State isn't locked in on the task at hand. Urban Meyer has been working overtime this week to ensure that doesn't happen.
Put it in the ground: After all the years of questions about why Meyer hasn't had a running back put up a 1,000-yard season, Carlos Hyde is set to emphatically put that conversation to rest once and for all. The senior has made it look pretty simple, in fact, and he needs just 53 yards against one of the nation's worst rushing defenses to hit that milestone despite missing the first three games of the season. The Hoosiers are allowing more than 250 yards per game on the ground, and the suspect tackling and assignment errors that have popped up for them defensively this year doesn't bode well against Hyde or Braxton Miller, who have been on a tear in the backfield for an Ohio State offense that ranks No. 4 in the nation in rushing.
Health nuts: Some help appears to be on the way back for Ryan Shazier at linebacker, and plugging Joshua Perry back in the rotation should alleviate some of the issues that popped up for the Buckeyes last week in a somewhat sluggish defensive outing at Illinois. Curtis Grant is still questionable with ankle and back problems, but having two healthy starters at the second level might be enough for Ohio State, given how frequently it figures to be using its nickel and dime personnel against an Indiana offense that throws for an average of more than 300 yards per game. Perhaps most important for the Buckeyes is getting a healthy Joey Bosa back on the field at defensive end, because the pressure the freshman puts on opposing passers has a way of making the jobs easier for everybody behind him.
Shake it off: Miller might have been due for an off week throwing the football coming off such a hot streak to close out October, and the poor weather at Illinois was obviously a factor in a 13-for-29 performance that looked little like the 68-percent efficiency he's delivered this season. With Miller and Hyde having so much success on the ground, it hardly made a difference anyway as the Buckeyes rolled to 60 points and another victory. But Meyer has stressed all season the importance of balance between the rush and the pass, and Miller might need a strong start through the air to keep the Hoosiers from loading the box, making him prove that he can bounce back from a shaky outing.
Something special: A season of airtight coverage on special teams finally had a hole poked in it last week, with injuries starting to take a toll on the kicking game for the Buckeyes. They've spent plenty of time trying to develop offensive players into tacklers to avoid a repeat of the 67-yard punt return for a touchdown they allowed last week, and guys like Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott will need to be sharp on the coverage units against a team that is capable of finding a hole and exploiting it. The Hoosiers rank third in the Big Ten in punt return average, and they've already taken one punt back for a touchdown this season.