BLOOMINGTON – Indiana’s defense showed growth from Week 1 against Ball State to Week 2 against Eastern Illinois, posting its first shutout since 2017 against Rutgers.
That progress will need to continue when the Hoosiers host No. 6 Ohio State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The high-powered Buckeyes offense, led by junior running back J.K. Dobbins and speedy sophomore dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields, is averaging 43.5 points and coming off a 42-0 thrashing of Cincinnati last Saturday.
Dobbins rushed for 141 yards on 8.3 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns in the Cincinnati win. In the passing game, Fields was close to perfect, completing 20 of 25 passes for 224 yards, with two touchdowns passing and two more touchdowns rushing.
“Justin Fields and J.K Dobbins do a phenomenal job in the run game,” IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. “They give them something different from what they had last year, with Dwayne Haskins who was a phenomenal quarterback but not nearly the run threat that Justin (is).”
For the IU defense, part of the challenge will be staying disciplined enough to keep Fields one dimensional, either as a runner or passer.
“We’ve played a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks,” IU senior linebacker Reakwon Jones said. “Bryce Perkins (from Virginia) last year, J.T. Barrett previous years, so it’s nothing new. We just have got to be prepared and honed in on that because we know he can do what he can do from the aspect of running the ball and throwing the ball so just whatever the gameplan may be we’ll just going to address it accordingly.”
Fields, a transfer from Georgia, has rushed for 103 yards and three TDs this season while passing for 458 yards and six TDs.
“They do some nice things in taking care of their quarterback, and at the same time getting him in some one-on-one matchups,” Wommack said. “From our perspective, there are things we feel like we can probably take advantage of, and frankly every time that guy has his hands on the ball we’re going to try to get some good shots on him.”
When Fields and Dobbins are clicking at the same time, Ohio State’s offense can score in bunches and score quickly. Against Cincinnati, the Buckeyes scored their first three touchdowns on drives that lasted 1:31, 1:49 and 40 seconds.
“When you have elite athletes like they do and so many of them, you have to have great angles, you’ve got to tackle well, you’ve got to fit things right,” IU football coach Tom Allen said. “You make one mistake and they can score in a hurry. So not every team is like that.”
Certainly, Indiana’s defense looked sharp in its final tuneup before Big Ten play. The Hoosiers reduced their missed tackles from 25 for 181 yards against Ball State to nine for 31 yards last Saturday against Eastern Illinois. IU limited EIU to just 2-for-16 on third down and forced 10 three-and-outs in holding the Panthers to 116 total yards.
“To see our guys execute and stay focused and fix some of the things that we thought we left out there on the field against Ball State, was probably the most encouraging thing,” Wommack said.
IU did see its FBS-long takeaway streak come to an end as the Hoosiers failed to force a turnover for the first time in 19 games. IU has forced just one turnover, an interception by sophomore cornerback Jaylin Williams in the fourth quarter against Ball State, in two games this season.
“As excited as they were to go out and execute, they were frustrated with not getting a takeaway in that game,” Wommack said. “So that’s something we will continue to harp on. They do come in bunches.”
- Allen said sophomore LB Cam Jones, who sat out the Eastern Illinois game with a lower leg injury, did some work on the field Monday but remains questionable. “That was very positive,” Allen said. “So we’ll make an evaluation again tomorrow and then look at it again. So I’ll probably know more for sure on Thursday.” Allen said cornerback A’Shon Riggins also sat out the EIU game for precautionary reasons but should be back for Ohio State this week.
- IU announced its Sept. 21 game against Connecticut at Memorial Stadium will kick off at noon and air on the Big Ten Network.
Allen named junior receiver Whop Philyor (four catches, 75 yards) offensive player of the game against EIU, sophomore defensive end James Head (four tackles, 1.5 sacks) defensive player of the game and freshman linebacker Aaron Casey special teams player of the game. Casey blocked a punt against EIU.