BLOOMINGTON — To Indiana football coach Tom Allen, staying close and falling short against Ohio State is no longer an option.
Two years ago, the Hoosiers took a 21-20 lead into the third quarter at home before the Buckeyes reeled off 29 straight points for a 49-21 win.
Last season, at Ohio State, Indiana trailed 35-26 going into the fourth quarter before an eventual 49-26 loss to the Buckeyes.
This season, Allen feels there is enough talent and depth on IU’s roster to compete with the No. 6 Buckeyes for more than three quarters. Indiana (2-0) will get a chance to prove if he’s right when it hosts Ohio State (2-0) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium (noon, Fox).
“We’ve been competing with them now for the last few years, and so it’s our objective and expectation to be able to finish the job,” Allen said.
Allen isn’t the only one who believes the Hoosiers, an 18-point underdog according to Vegas odds makers, are capable of pulling off the upset. Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who coached against Indiana the last two games, told the Big Ten Network this week the Hoosiers are closing the talent gap between the two schools.
“Indiana’s got very good players at certain positions,” Meyer said on BTN. “They could certainly play at Ohio State. I can tell you Ohio State respects Indiana because of the way they play us, and it’s every year … Indiana gives you fits.”
Allen has stacked back-to-back top-40 national recruiting classes on top of one another, establishing more quality depth. It’s still young depth, though, which makes the challenge of stopping Ohio State on both sides of the ball more daunting. Ohio State’s balanced offense – led by sophomore dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields and junior running back J.K. Dobbins – is averaging 253.5 yards rushing and 235 yards passing under first-year coach Ryan Day.
Indiana, meanwhile, could be without its early offensive sparkplug, redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who will be a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury. If Penix can’t play, redshirt junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who started 12 games last season, will return to the starting role.
Regardless of who lines up under center, Allen said Indiana players must play with precision and intensity to pull off the upset.
“We have to play extremely hard, we have to play extremely well, we have to play extremely physical and we have to do it for 60 minutes,” Allen said. “Not 50, not 40. It’s got to be 60. And that to me is the next step for this program and this game.”
There is a mental component as well. Indiana hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 1988. IU players have acknowledged during the offseason when something goes wrong against a ranked Big Ten team, it tends to snowball. IU is 0-12 in its last 12 games against ranked opponents, with its last win against a ranked team coming on Oct. 1, 2016, when it beat No. 17 Michigan State 24-21 in overtime.
“We’re in Big Ten football now, so you want to lock in, watch more film, take care of your body a little bit more, do the little things and just prepare overall,” Indiana senior linebacker Reakwon Jones said.
Indiana senior left tackle Coy Cronk echoed Jones in his sentiment the game will come down to preparation.
“Everything you have done up to this point, you’ve got to double it,” Cronk said. “You’ve got to watch more film, you got to go out there and get more sets, you’ve got to take care of your body more. If you want a chance to compete at a high level, you just can’t expect to show up on Saturday and turn it on. So, for us as a program, as soon as Sunday was over, Monday we had to flip that switch.”
Ohio State, which has won three of the last five Big Ten titles, presents an opportunity to measure up against one of the top teams in the conference.
“It is a great chance for us to be able to take that next step as a program, as we always like to say,” Allen said. “Those are definitely program-changing, program-defining wins that affect recruiting and affect the trajectory of your program.”
For IU players, there’s plenty of motivation to make a statement.
“We have a chip on our shoulder, something to prove,” Jones said. “So it should be fun.”