COLUMBUS - It started out easy but ended very difficult for the Buckeyes, as they held on for a 42-35 win over Indiana in a wild second-half Hoosier comeback that featured four touchdown passes from IU quarterback Michael Penix and just one offensive score from the Buckeyes.
Penix finished the game with 495 yards passing and five scores. You could give him credit for a sixth touchdown pass thanks to a pick six by OSU cornerback Shaun Wade late in the third quarter.
Ohio State was led by running back Master Teague's 169 yards rushing on 26 attempts, and quarterback Justin Fields 300 yards passing on 18-of-30 attempts. Fields threw an uncustomary three interceptions on the day, however.
The scoring got started early for the Buckeyes as they opened the game with a 65-yard connection between Fields and receiver Garrett Wilson down the middle of the field. One play later, they connected again for a 10-yard slant pass in the end zone to make it 7-0 Buckeyes. Wilson seven passes on the day for a career high 169 yards.
Attempting to go back to that same Wilson well on OSU's next possession, Fields waited a bit too long and his pass was intercepted by Indiana safety Jamar Johnson. It was Fields' first interception of the year. The Hoosiers, who have routinely turned interceptions into points, were stopped on fourth-and-2 from the Ohio State 36-yard line on the ensuing possession.
Two possessions later, Fields tried to make something out of nothing by escaping pressure and throwing up a pass that was nearly caught by receiver Chris Olave, but ultimately intercepted by Hoosier Jerome Johnson at the IU 43-yard line. Once again, the Ohio State defense held on the following possession, forcing a Hoosier punt.
With their first possession of the second quarter, the Hoosier offense found some rhythm. Or more correctly, they found some busted coverage as receiver Miles Marshall got behind cornerback Sevyn Banks for a 68-yard gain. Banks was expecting safety help, but there was none to be found. Two plays later and the Hoosiers tied it up with a 4-yard pass to Whop Philyor with 11:03 remaining in the second quarter.
The touchdown to Philyor woke up the Buckeyes a bit as they answered back with a 75-yard touchdown drive, the bulk of which was a 41-yard scoring run from Master Teague.
Teague capped off the Buckeyes' next drive as well, making it 21-7. A common theme throughout the game -- the Buckeyes' busted coverages -- reared its ugly head when receiver David Ellis got matched up out wide with linebacker Teradja Mitchell. Mitchell did not run with Ellis, leaving him free for a 51-yard gain. The Hoosiers fumbled the ball away on the next play, which was forced by Baron Browning.
With 93 yards to go and 3:11 left on the clock to get there, the Buckeyes took all of nine plays and most of three minutes to score, with the final play being a 9-yard Fields' run and dive into the end zone to make it 28-7 at the half.
Ohio State got the ball out of the second half and went back to the air as Fields connected on passes of 11, 39, and 11 yards to Wilson, with the latter being a touchdown in the back of the end zone, making it 35-7 early in the third quarter.
Indiana found another break in the Ohio State defense on the next possession as a simple switch route left slot receiver Marcus Williamson in no-man's land as receiver Ty Fryfogle broke open and eventually scored from 63 yards out to make it 35-14.
Fields then threw his third interception on the worst pass of his Buckeye career. In the midst of being sacked and falling to the turf, he threw the ball up for grabs and it was caught by Jamar Johnson once again. On the return, however, OSU freshman receiver Julian Fleming forced a fumble which was recovered by left tackle Thayer Munford, giving Ohio State the ball back.
The Buckeyes went three-and-out after the recovery, giving the ball back to the Hoosiers at the IU 40-yard line after a Drue Chrisman punt. Five plays later, Penix went deep to Fryfogle, who got behind safety Marcus Hooker for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 35-21 with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter.
One play after Penix just missed an open David Ellis down the sideline, he attacked the other sideline on an out route, but it was jumped by cornerback Shaun Wade and returned 36 yards for a pick six. The score gave the Buckeyes a 42-21 lead with 49 seconds to play in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began with more scoring, as Indiana went 75 yards in 10 plays as Penix completed five passes for those 75 yards, capped by a 16-yarder to Ellis who walked into the end zone on a crossing route following more busted coverage (or a pick play, if you prefer). The Ellis score made it 42-28 with 12:26 to play in the game.
Indiana's next possession only took two plays, with the second being a sideline pass to Fryfogle that featured some handfighting with Shaun Wade. In the end, a defensive pass interference flag was thrown, but it was moot because Fryfogle came down with the pass and raced into the end zone untouched for a 56-yard touchdown to make it 42-35 with 10:26 remaining.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at the IU 7-yard line, OSU chose to go for it rather than kick a field goal. Fields' pass to tight end Luke Farrell was just out of reach and incomplete. Indiana took over with under five minutes to play.
The Hoosiers went three-and-out, punting the ball back to Ohio State with 3:10 remaining in the game. The Buckeyes punted it back for one final Hoosier chance with 46 seconds to play.
With the ball at the IU 22-yard line and 38 seconds to play, Indiana could get no further than midfield, attempting a handful of laterals as the game clock his zeroes. The final lateral was covered by Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison, ending the game and securing the win for the Buckeyes.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix was extremely productive in the second half, even having thrown a pick six to Shaun Wade. Penix completed 27-of-51 passes for 491 yards and five touchdowns. In the second half alone he threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns.
What In The What?
Justin Fields doubled his career interception total in this game. His first interception was just a late throw to an open receiver. His next two picks were bad throws on plays where he was being sacked and knows better than to do what he did.
How Bad Is It?
The secret is now out about the Ohio State secondary and things aren't good. The outside corners are for the most part fine, but there's a lot more to it than just the guys outside. Marcus Hooker and Marcus Williamson both gave up scores in this one on busted coverages that shouldn't be happening in a normal year for upperclassmen. This, of course, isn't a normal year and all things should be judged accordingly, but the goals still remain the same and those goals are likely unattainable without fixes or improvements.
How Bad Is It, Part II?
The pass protection is now suddenly an issue all over the place. Justin Fields was pressured way more than Michael Penix ever was. Some of that was via the blitz, but it was also just some standard pass rushing as well. Some of the issues were seemingly the Buckeyes getting too greedy in their pass calls, but Fields' lack of time to throw was apparent all throughout the game. He was sacked five times and could have been sacked five more if not for his escapability.
This Is a Good Sign At least
The Buckeyes ran the ball extremely well against maybe the best defense they will face in conference play. While most of that is thanks to Master Teague, you can probably also give some credit to Fields' decision to run the ball more. Most of those were scrambles, but he did have a couple of keepers as well. The Buckeyes finished with 307 yards rushing on 50 carries (6.1 ypc).
So Now What?
If the players can't be fixed, the defensive scheme needs to change. Marcus Hooker isn't working as the deep safety and a more accurate quarterback would have done even more damage than Penix did. Every coach on this staff will tell you that there are no egos. It's probably a good thing because if there were egos, they would be getting pretty bruised by the head coach this week.