COLUMBUS — Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields knows what is coming his way when Indiana invades an empty Ohio Stadium on Saturday for the showdown of Big Ten East unbeatens.
The Hoosiers are blitzing! The Hoosiers are blitzing!
That part won’t be a surprise. But for Fields and the Buckeyes, especially on pass plays, the challenge will be figuring out two things: From which direction and how many?
“They bring so many different blitzes, it’s hard to tell,” Fields said. “They do a great job disguising it. We just have to do a good job of picking up those blitzes.”
The packages unleashed by young Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack, 33, at times seem relentless. Just dial up replays of the Hoosiers first four opponents this season — especially the last two Indiana victims Michigan and Michigan State, who struggled to find any offensive consistency against the unpredictable assault.
“They do bring a lot of blitzes from all areas of the field,” Fields said. “So we just have to be looking out for it.”
Such vigilance requires a team effort. For example, it also won’t be lost on Wommack that the last time the Buckeyes played, a 49-27 win over Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights still had some success disrupting things from time with pressure brought up the middle of the field. It was no secret that at moments they frustrated first-year starting left guard Harry Miller, which had somewhat of a domino effect across the front.
Indiana is expected to test whether lessons were learned. But as Ohio State center Josh Myers said, from play to play so far this season it seems there has been a pop quiz to be dealt with by the line as the opponent tries to find ways to get at Fields. That is what will not be novel about Indiana’s approach.
“At this point defenses do whatever they can to try and stop us,” Myers said. “If that means being unsound [attacking from one area of the defense while leaving another area wide open], which is what some of our opponents have done, just completely thrown sound defense out of the window. Or whether it means just be blitzing every play, and that’s happened most games; well, pretty much every game this season we’ve been blitzed 80, 90 percent of the game.
“So that’s just something we have to live with, and have to be able to deal with and handle.”
The Ohio State statistics thus far indicate that Fields has been almost rattle-free. He has hit 72 of 83 passes for 908 yards and 11 touchdowns and no interceptions – yes, he has as many scoring passes as he does incompletions.
On Saturday, though, he will stare down an Indiana defense that has accumulated 10 interceptions and 12 sacks through four games. It is a unit willing to take chances, knowing it can give up something from time to time, in the hopes of making a big play, perhaps a game-turning play.
“I’d describe their defense as very hard working,” Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford said. “They have a good scheme. They have good coaches. And they just bring it every time.”
“You can see it on film, the effort they give,” Myers said. “They’re playing really hard.”
And the Hoosiers use a blitz – a linebacker looping up the middle behind a defensive line stunt, a corner coming off the edge, a linebacker or linebackers coming on a delay, a safety stepping through a breach safety – on almost every play and often well disguised. The intent is obvious.
“You don’t want the offense to feel comfortable,” Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Greg Mattison said. “And when you say the word blitz, in the old days that meant bringing six and seven people. That’s not the case anymore.
“What you want to do is make sure the offensive line isn’t sure where and who they’re supposed to block. … And [the Hoosiers] have done a really good job of it.”