When Indiana and Ohio State met in 2011, the Hoosiers stayed within striking distance of the Buckeyes for most of the game, but the athleticism and big-play ability of quarterback Braxton Miller was too much to handle.
This year’s matchup wasn’t much different.
IU (2-4, 0-3) briefly led Ohio State Saturday night when junior running back Stephen Houston ran for a seven-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, and the Hoosiers were usually able to stay within a score or two of the Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) all game.
Miller’s ability, however, was just too much for the Hoosier defense to contain. Like he did in 2011, he burned the defense on a long touchdown run (he ran one for 80 yards in 2011 and scampered for a 67-yarder this year).
“I feel like it just came down to tackling,” junior cornerback Greg Heban said. “He’s a shifty quarterback, so when you don’t make tackles, you can’t win the game.”
The sophomore showed off a much-improved arm, during this matchup, however. He connected on touchdown passes to sophomore receiver Devin Smith of 60 and 46 yards, and threw two more potential touchdown passes on the money to Smith that were dropped.
Miller finished with 13 completions for 211 yards and two touchdowns through the air, almost three times as many completions as he had against IU in 2011.
The IU offense also showed its explosive ability, as Houston ran for a 59-yard score in the first quarter, and the IU offense scored 14 points in the final two minutes to draw within a field goal.
True freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld entered in the final five minutes and completed six of 10 passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. It was a familiar script, as Sudfeld has made a habit of late-game success.
In the second half against Ball State on Sept. 15, Sudfeld went 13-of-20 for 172 yards and a pair of scores. A couple of his passes Saturday night were dangerous and he said he felt fortunate that Buckeye defenders didn't intercept him.
“I think things have just gone my way a little bit at the end (of games)," Sudfeld said. "I was fortunate on a few of those. I think I should have thrown two picks at the end there, but it slipped through the defenders’ hands. I think it was maybe just a little luck.”
Perhaps IU’s biggest shortcoming on offense, however, was the fact that for the second straight game, sophomore starting quarterback Cameron Coffman and his squad couldn’t put together very many long drives. The Hoosiers had the ball for less than 10 minutes of the first half and in total, they possessed the ball just 23:06 of the game.
Ohio State’s punishing rush attack, led by both Miller and junior running back Carlos Hyde, ran for nearly three times as many yards as IU with Miller and Hyde ran for more than 140 yards.
IU head coach Kevin Wilson said both defenses got worn down by the end, but in different ways. While IU was on the field for more time on defense, Wilson pointed out that the Buckeyes ran a similar amount of plays.
“They had the ball for 13 more minutes, got one more snap," Wilson said. "In some ways, I think that’s why their defense fatigued, because you’re repping plays fast and they got tired as well.”
Houston was the Hoosiers’ leading rusher for the fourth straight week, but outside of his 59-yard dash, he compiled just 32 yards on the ground, though one of his rushes resulted in a seven-yard score. It was the third time in his IU career that he has scored multiple touchdowns, and it brought his season total of rushing TDs to six.
IU totaled 129 yards on the ground, but maintained its constant passing attack with 352 yards through the air. Coffman played the majority of the game at quarterback, and his favorite and most reliable target of the night was sophomore wide receiver Cody Latimer, who caught seven passes for 68 yards, including a number of big pickups on third down.
Though IU showed some fight and came up just three points short of a top-10 team in the country, but as he was last week after IU led Michigan State for much of the game, Wilson wasn't satisfied with the result.
“What is the difference between losing and not losing by as much?" Wilson said after the game. "If you lose, you lose.”