Two words stared at the Ohio State Buckeyes from the video board above the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Monday: “Beat Indiana.”
That’s the task this week for the Buckeyes, who open the season at 8 p.m. Thursday. They’ll play their opener on the road against a Big Ten opponent for the first time since 1975. History points to a 1-0 start for the Buckeyes, who have won 21 straight against the Hoosiers. Urban Meyer has won 15 openers in his career without a loss. His team is a 21-point favorite.
If Indiana has a chance, it’s because this is the first game — and anything can happen. The Hoosiers have played Ohio State close in recent years, nearly tying the game on the final play two years ago in Bloomington and keeping it competitive until the fourth quarter last season.
First-year Indiana coach Tom Allen called this the biggest home opener in IU history.
“When you kind of step back and think about it, what an opportunity for our program,” Allen said. “What a way to start the season. Obviously, being my first home game as the head coach, there’s a lot of emotions with that. We just trying to embrace the opportunity, embrace the challenge, embrace the sense of urgency that this whole environment has created for our team this offseason. You just want to come out and play your best.”
Allen takes over a program that has experienced one winning season (7-6 in 2007) since 1995. No coach has lasted a full six seasons since Bill Mallory (1984-96).
The previous head coach, Kevin Wilson, resigned last December after a 6-6 regular season, his sixth, and didn’t coach the team in the Foster Farms Bowl. Indiana lost 26-24 to Utah. Wilson is now Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.
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That’s not the only connection between the programs. The Buckeyes have four players from Indiana. Two of them will play major roles: wide receivers Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis) and Austin Mack (Fort Wayne).
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a big deal,” McLaurin said. “You get to be a big part of this offense and play in front of your home state, the place that recruited you. Coach Wilson is here, but he recruited me when he was there. I’ve got around 20 people trying to come. It’s been kind of hectic, but I’ve just got to focus on what’s important, trying to get the first win for this team. It’s going to be exciting being in that atmosphere come Thursday.”
Indiana’s roster includes 17 players from Ohio. Several are from the Miami Valley: starting left guard Wes Martin (Milton-Union), who will serve as one of Indiana’s four captains for this game; starting right guard Simon Stepaniak (Ross); and second-string cornerback A’Shon Riggins (Hamilton).
Indiana has an experienced team. The offense returns seven starters. Quarterback Richard Lagow is a fifth-year senior. He threw 19 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions last season, ranking second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (258.6).
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Nine starters return on defense. Linebacker Tegray Scales led the nation with 93 solo tackles in 2016.
The Buckeyes rushed for 290 yards and passed for 93 last season in a 38-17 victory against the Hoosiers in Columbus. J.T. Barrett completed 9 of 21 passes. He rushed for 137 yards.
Indiana’s defense was much improved over 2015, allowing 23 fewer touchdowns. Allen was the defensive coordinator a year ago and will continue to lead the defense as the head coach.
“I have high expectations for our defense,” Allen said. “I expect them to execute better than they did last year because we have so many guys back. I expect them to play hard like they always have. I expect them to tackle well. And we’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I want us to be a top-25 defense.”
Ohio State at Indiana, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410