Heading into its bye week, No. 5 Ohio State’s defense appeared to be hitting its stride, but questions loomed if it would be able to keep that momentum rolling into the second half of the season.
The Buckeyes’ defense started their stretch run on a high note, shutting down Indiana’s offense enroute to a 54-7 win to extend their winning streak to five games. Head coach Ryan Day said he was encouraged by the defense’s demeanor throughout Saturday’s contest.
“After the first drive, I thought the defense played well. I know that they were down some guys on offense, but still, I thought we ran around and played,” Day said. “It was great to see those guys running around, it looked like they were having fun out there. That’s good and that’s part of the energy and confidence that we want.”
It was an unceremonious start for the Buckeyes’ defense, though.
Indiana slowly marched down the field on a grueling 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive — capped off by a 7-yard touchdown reception by redshirt senior tight end Peyton Hendershot — to open the game and match the Buckeyes’ first possession score. The Hoosiers converted on all four third down attempts in that opening drive.
Sophomore safety Kourt Williams pointed to a lack of discipline on the Buckeyes’ defense that contributed to Indiana’s opening drive score.
“That’s just what we do. If something happens that we don’t like, we get to the sideline, we make some adjustments. It was just sloppy mistakes,” Williams said. “It was on us, we just got to be disciplined, play to our rules. That’s what we did.”
Although the Hoosiers rolled through the Ohio State defense on their opening drive, it didn’t come without consequence. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle was shaken up on his touchdown strike to Hendershot, taking a licking from graduate defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.
Tuttle would return later in the game, but he remained hampered by injury forcing Indiana head coach Tom Allen to rotate him, freshman Donaven McCully, and redshirt sophomore Grant Gremel.
The Buckeyes took advantage of the limited consistency at quarterback, keeping the Hoosiers out of the end zone for the rest of the night.
The inconsistency at quarterback haunted the Hoosier offense as they only totaled 53 yards after the opening drive.
Keeping Indiana’s offense at bay was an aggressive pass rush, which racked up five sacks. Ohio State’s front seven bottled the Hoosiers up for 14 tackles for loss.
“That’s what it’s all about. When they get it done in the trenches, it just makes our job that much easier,” Williams said. “It felt like every play, they were back there.”
Leading Ohio State’s defensive dominance was junior defensive end Zach Harrison, who racked up two tackles for loss and a sack. Senior defensive end Tyreke Smith added a sack in his return to play after an injury held him out for four weeks.
Facing constant pressure, Indiana’s quarterbacks combined to go 8-for-17, picking up just 80 yards and Tuttle’s first quarter touchdown.
The deficiencies in the Hoosiers’ passing game bled into their running game, as Ohio State’s rush defense had its best performance of the season. Although the Buckeyes’ saw eight different Hoosiers carry the ball, they held Indiana to just 48 rushing yards — the lowest mark by an Ohio State opponent this season — and a lowly 1.3 yards per carry.
Williams said that stopping the run is a key aspect to Ohio State’s defensive mindset.
“I think it’s big. We just take it one game at a time and we talk about stopping the run. That’s the main job,” Williams said.
Ohio State received contributions from across the depth chart as 28 different Buckeyes picked up at least one tackle.
As the Buckeyes continue to see their defense improve each week, Williams said their enhanced play is a sign of things to come for the unit.
“As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, keep getting better, improving on things that we need to improve on, we’re going to be a problem,” Williams said. “Unstoppable.”