Thoughts, analysis and random observations from second-ranked Ohio State’s 49-21 win over Indiana on Thursday night in Bloomington:
With former IU head coach Kevin Wilson now serving as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, and working alongside new QB coach Ryan Day, you almost expected a sluggish start for the Buckeyes in the first game of the season. But for the entire first half?
At that point the Hoosiers’ defensive gamble of dropping eight players into coverage was denying the Buckeyes any game-changing plays as quarterback J.T. Barrett struggled to find open receivers and the running game sputtered.
But you knew three-and-outs weren’t going to continue much longer. After hiring Wilson, Ohio State’s entire focus during the offseason had been to revamp the playbook and develop a more potent passing attack.
OSU coach Urban Meyer has said that last January’s 31-0 domination by eventual champion Clemson in the national semifinals is his most humiliating loss.
Barrett eventually got the process of putting that game behind the Buckeyes started shortly after halftime on Thursday when he scored on a two-yard run. He finished with 304 yards passing and three touchdowns while completing 20 of 35 passes. Ohio State’s only three-time captain, he found receiver Parris Campbell six times for 136 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown during a 22-point third quarter.
Campbell dropped another potential TD pass in the end zone.
Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins was the breakout star of the night for the Buckeyes as they piled up nearly 600 yards. He set a school record for a freshman making his debut in a season-opening game with 181 yards on 29 carries.
He also became the first freshman running back to start for the Buckeyes since Maurice Clarrett did it 15 years ago. Dobbins might have also surpassed Clarrett’s overall single-game freshman rushing record of 230 yards if he hadn’t been pulled to the sidelines in the fourth quarter.
When the Hoosiers took a 14-13 halftime lead over the second-ranked Buckeyes, I was prepared to go ahead and nominate first-year IU head coach Tom Allen as the frontrunner for Big Ten coach of the year.
But no, I wasn’t buying the ESPN hype that IU was capable of pulling off the upset. We’ve seen these closer-than-expected battles between the Hoosiers and other ranked teams numerous times before, including a 2015 game against a top-ranked Ohio State squad. The Buckeyes were fortunate to escape Bloomington with 34-27 win in that game.
But for Allen to pull off a mega-upset in the opening game of his first season as a head coach against Urban Meyer, who has never lost a season opener? That wasn’t going to happen no matter how much pixie dust was floating in the air in Bloomington.
IU quarterback Richard Lagow proved he didn’t need Wilson’s playbook to set records for the Hoosiers. He finished with 410 yards passing, making him the only IU quarterback to have a pair of 400-yard passing games in his career. His 65 passing attempts also set a school record.
He was 40 for 65 with three touchdown passes. The 40 completions rank second in the Hoosiers’ record book and the 410 yards are the fifth most.
Breakthrough moment – not yet
Allen has the IU players embracing the buzzword “breakthrough” this season. It’s reportedly even the password for the Wi-Fi in his home basement, where his players occasionally gather to relax.
The emotional Allen believed Thursday’s game offered the Hoosiers a legitimate chance to shock the world. After all, the game even received full Game Day treatment from ESPN. Still, Allen’s fiery pregame talk, imploring his players to keep fighting for 60 minutes, was a bit Hollywoodish.
That message apparently got forgotten after 40 minutes.
Allen should know that emotion isn’t an efficient fuel. It burns hot but doesn’t come in an endless supply. What the Hoosiers need most are the three C’s – conditioning, confidence and consistency.
Except for Indiana responding to Ohio State’s first TD of the third quarter to reclaim the lead, 21-20, the second half belonged to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State scored 29 unanswered points, including Barrett’s 74-yard hookup with Campbell only 18 seconds after IU took its final lead.
ESPN analyst Lee Corso, who was IU’s head coach from 1973-82, was honored by the university with the Bill Orwig Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by a non-graduate.
Nearly 100 of his players returned to honor him and hoisted him on their shoulders after he received the plaque before the second quarter.
Corso led the Hoosiers to the school’s first bowl win, a 38-37 upset of No. 9 Brigham Young in the 1979 Holiday Bowl. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
With the Hoosiers leading, IU fans again had to decide whether to retreat at halftime to their favorite tailgating spot or stay put through at least the third quarter. It was a short-lived dilemma. When it comes to Memorial Stadium and IU fans, beers and bratwurst always rule the day.
They said it
Tom Allen on IU’s effort: “The bottom line is for 2 ½ quarters we went toe-to-toe with them. We were leading and weren’t able to finish, so that’s on me. We can talk about breaking through and I’m not going to quit talking about it because breaking through is not one game.”
Allen on the fan support: “The fans, the way they came out today, was special for us. I really feel like there’s something to build off for sure, and I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish better to give them something to go home with.”
Urban Meyer on Dobbins’ play: “Not surprised at all … we’ve seen that since spring practice.”
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit on Dobbins: “Guy didn’t even play his senior year of high school and walked in here like he’s been here his whole life … Mike Weber is sitting there with a hamstring at 80 percent and they decided not to play him. I don’t know how you handle Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins as they move down the road … I don’t know how you take (Dobbins) off the field. He is a unique talent. A guy who just seemed to get better and stronger as the game went along.”
J.K. Dobbins, dedicating his performance to the flood victims of Houston: “I’m probably the only good thing going on in my home town right now, so I just thought of it as bringing my city up. That’s why I came out and played hard like that.”
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is now 16-0 in season-opening games.
IU receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr., who suffered a season-ending injury in 2016, began the season with 11 catches for 149 yards.
Lagow also had two other reliable weapons in Luke Timian, who had 10 receptions for 72 yards, and tight end Ian Thomas, who caught five passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
IU senior linebacker Tegray Scales had 12 tackles, including nine solo. That marks the 11th time in his career he has had double-digit tackles.
IU travels to Virginia next Saturday, while Ohio State will host No. 7 Oklahoma. That means Wilson will face the school where he was the offensive coordinator before he was hired by Indiana.