- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A look at the hot topics and pressing concerns as Ohio State prepares for a visit to Indiana as the second half of the season kicks off at Memorial Stadium on Saturday (TV: BTN, 8 p.m.).
Breathing room: The Buckeyes didn't make it through a physical, two-week gauntlet to open conference play unscathed, but they did survive with their perfect record in one piece. The Hoosiers aren't likely to make life nearly as difficult as Nebraska or Michigan State did defensively, but with a few injury concerns and another spread offense coming at it, Ohio State will have to guard against a letdown. The schedule is loaded with the difficult games at the front and the back for the Buckeyes, but if they don't take care of business in the middle stretch, they won't even have a case for the increasing talk about an AP national championship.
Friendly face: The coaches on either sideline go back more than a decade, and the mutual respect between two innovators of the spread offense hasn't faded at all with time or the fact that they're now competing against each other in the same conference. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was famously once part of a staff at Northwestern that welcomed Urban Meyer to campus to talk some shop, and while the Buckeyes coach obviously has no shortage of ideas of his own, he still hasn't forgotten some of the help he got back when he was at Bowling Green. Their current programs both rank in the top three in the Big Ten in total offense, and there could be plenty of fireworks in Bloomington.
Under pressure: The early problems getting to the quarterback have clearly been corrected for the Buckeyes, with the improving health of defensive ends Nathan Williams and John Simon helping just as much as the more aggressive approach the coaching staff has taken over the last few games. The Hoosiers have held up reasonably well protecting the quarterback, having allowed just eight sacks in five outings so far this season while leading the league in passing offense. But Indiana will be put to the test by a relentless pass rush and a secondary that has snagged more interceptions than any other unit in the Big Ten.
In a rush: The success never stopped on the ground, so the Buckeyes never really bothered getting the passing game started against Nebraska. That formula might not need any altering this week against the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten. Braxton Miller was close to unstoppable on the ground against Nebraska, averaging nearly 12 yards per carry as he teamed with Carlos Hyde for more than 320 total yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Given the statistical mismatch, perhaps the only question is how much Meyer will let Miller run as the carries and the toll on his body continue to add up.
Health nuts: The defensive line is progressively getting stronger, and the Ohio State secondary could be heading that direction as well with C.J. Barnett possibly returning to the lineup at safety on Saturday. But the margin for error on those two units is a bit larger than at linebacker, where the loss of starter Etienne Sabino for at least three weeks could be a problem given the lack of experience and depth at the second level. The Buckeyes have a few talented freshmen who could help, starting with Joshua Perry and Camren Williams, and those two will be closely watched against the Hoosiers. One potential benefit in the short term for Ohio State is that it's likely to be playing extra defensive backs against a pass-first spread offense, and it still has two healthy starters in the fold in Ryan Shazier and Storm Klein.
1dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
1dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy