A year ago, Indiana was fighting for an undefeated season when it faced Ohio State.
In its 2021 matchup with the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers are fighting for bowl eligibility.
After a 2-4 start – with all four defeats against teams currently ranked in the top 15 – Indiana faces another daunting challenge when the No. 5 Buckeyes, unbeaten against the Hoosiers in 28 games since 1988, come to Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Such is life in the Big Ten East – by the end of the season, Indiana will have faced six of the top 11 teams in this week's AP poll.
Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said his team plans to keep fighting.
“You keep punching. I think that's key, we're swinging hard,” Allen said. “This team believes in what we're doing. There's a lot of toughness and character in that locker room.”
Indiana's defense has shown plenty of toughness and played one of its best games in a 20-15 loss to then-No. 10 Michigan State last week. The explosive Spartan offense only scored 13 points (the rest came from a pick-six) and Indiana held Michigan State to just 3.9 yards per play.
As a reward for that stellar performance, the Hoosiers get to face arguably the best offense in the country. Ohio State is led by the nation's top receiving corps, which features veteran all-everything pass-catchers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, as well as relative newcomer Jaxon Smith-Njigba, all of whom gain at least 16 yards per catch. Wilson and Olave have combined for 61 receptions, 1,040 yards and 13 TDs.
Throwing to those receivers is redshirt-freshman CJ Stroud (1,699 yards, 18 TDs, 3 INTs), who can also hand off to freshman TreVeyon Henderson, who is picking up 8.8 yards per carry. The result is a unit that scores 48.5 points per game, No. 1 in the country.
“They do just about everything perfect,” IU defensive coordinator Charlton Warren.
Making matters more difficult, two of Indiana's top three cornerbacks – All-American Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor – missed all or most of the game against the Spartans and their status for Saturday is unclear. If they're out, backup Noah Pierre, who had nine tackles and his first career interception Saturday, will be in the spotlight.
But even if Pierre and the IU defense hold their own, the Hoosiers will still have to find a way to score. That hasn't been easy – Indiana has only one touchdown in three Big Ten games – because of a combination of ill-timed turnovers and poor red-zone offense.
Quarterback Jack Tuttle, who is likely to make a second straight start in place of the injured Michael Penix Jr., turned the ball over three times against the Spartans with two interceptions and a lost fumble and also missed a wide-open receiver in the end zone, turning a touchdown into a field goal.
Tuttle knows he must be better against a Buckeyes defense that has improved significantly since it switched play-callers after a September loss to Oregon.
“Even when the pocket is breaking down, (I need to set) my feet and be really smart with the ball, even under pressure,” Tuttle said. “It's tough sometimes, guys are up and down the field, you want to be the hero sometimes and you can't do it. You have to take care of the ball and some other things I'm not going to rant on about.”
Indiana vs. Ohio State
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten), No. 5 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0)
Radio: 92.3 FM