- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they continue Big Ten play with their second road trip, this one a visit to Indiana on Saturday (TV: BTN, 8 p.m.).
Smash and grab: After flexing its muscles a week ago, Ohio State now gets a crack at the only rushing defense in the Big Ten weaker than the one it carved up in a blowout win over Nebraska.
Carlos Hyde is going to get another workout against the Hoosiers and will likely see more action out of the Wildcat. Braxton Miller is always going to be a factor on the ground, and the Buckeyes will use his mobility to help counter a few blitz packages Indiana has put on film this season. And even without Jordan Hall for another week, Ohio State could get a third wheel involved after Rod Smith impressed during his short cameo last week, an appearance capped with a 33-yard touchdown run.
The Buckeyes have talked openly about expanding the passing game moving forward, but against the Hoosiers, that might not be necessary.
Loose change: One way to avoid letting a lack of depth at linebacker impact a defense is to decrease the number of players lining up at that position, and the Buckeyes are likely to take that route at least for a week.
Joshua Perry and Camren Williams have emerged as a couple viable candidates to fill in for injured senior Etienne Sabino at outside linebacker, but against Indiana, it might be up to a defensive back more often to pick up the slack.
The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing by a wide margin with their version of the spread offense, airing it out for more than 300 yards per game so far this season. The Buckeyes will matchup with that by playing at least one extra guy in the secondary most of the time, and the return of C.J. Barnett at safety will give defensive coordinator Luke Fickell more ways to tinker with the lineup in the backend.
What a rush: Aside from relying on the secondary to make plays behind those linebackers, the Buckeyes can also disrupt the Hoosiers with some production in front of that unit. And lately they've been getting the type of impact from the defensive line it expected all along.
Indiana has proven to be effective at keeping its quarterback safe from sacks, particularly with a quick-passing style that gave Ohio State some problems early in the season. But the Buckeyes have a much healthier unit now that John Simon is close to full strength again and Nathan Williams is able to practice more throughout the week, plus having Michael Bennett could offer another option on both the inside and outside to keep the starters fresh.
Something special: The Buckeyes still have a long way to go before they can claim to have the best collective special teams unit in the country, a goal they have made no secret around the practice facility.
They did start making some progress just about across the board against the Huskers, though, starting with Corey "Philly" Brown's 76-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Buckeyes tried four different returners during the first half of the season with mixed results, but Brown now has the best claim at the job after busting loose behind a handful of road-clearing blocks and flashing his athleticism on the way to the end zone.
The Piranha kickoff coverage unit also had a big outing against the Huskers, with a group of freshmen defensive backs chipping in to help swing field position and continue allowing Urban Meyer to call for high, directional kicks. That group will be put to the test by Indiana, which leads the conference in kickoff return yardage.
3dDan Murphy and Austin Ward