As promised, Elika Sadeghi was kind enough to answer my questions about the Buckeyes and this weekend's game with Ohio State:
T-Mill: Indiana was a bit of a close call, but it was still a win. What did the Hoosiers do to stay so close and how does that concern you going forward?
The biggest contributing factor to Indiana's ability to stay close last Saturday, in my opinion, was their early lead. The Hoosiers started out their first possession on their 40 yard line, and were able to take some advantage of the field position by ultimately kicking a 35 yard field goal on that drive. Braxton Miller lost a fumble on the Buckeyes subsequent possession, allowing the Hoosiers to start at the OSU 41. That drive eventually lead to a touchdown, and put the Buckeyes in an early 10-0 hole.
After that, the Buckeyes were able to score on all but one of their remaining drives in the first half, and held Indiana to just another field goal. They tied up the game by halftime; and, though they started the 2nd half a bit shaky as well, by throwing an interception on their first drive, the Buckeyes were able to outscore the Hoosiers in the 3rd quarter, and hold them scoreless in the 4th.One of my biggest concerns for this team, all season long, has been their ability to bounce back from an early deficit. The Nebraska game proved holding on to an early lead to be problematic as well, but really slow starts were always a worry of mine. Despite the Hoosiers managing to stay close, I was actually relieved with the way OSU was able to pull away and get a two score win.
I know many hate these explanations, but I do think a bit of the sluggishness was a slight hangover from the Wisconsin game as well. That weekend took me quite a bit of recovery time, and I was just up in the stands!
T-Mill: What Ohio State team do you expect on Saturday, the one that struggled at Miami to do anything through the air or the one that stifled Wisconsin?
Elika: Despite possibly seeing hiccups, here and there, I don't foresee seeing the same team we saw in Coral Gables back in September again. For one, it took awhile, but the Buckeyes have found their guy, in Braxton Miller, and figured out the quarterback situation. That Miami game displayed a coaching staff that seemed to struggle with committing to a quarterback, and giving him the support he needs to be a leader. At the time, many fans were growing tired of Joe Bauserman's inability to pass the ball, or do much else really, and the coaches didn't really seem to trust true freshman Braxton Miller just yet, pulling him at the first sign of trouble. Things were just bad, all around.
Since then, in addition to resolving the QB dilemma, the Ohio State offense has greatly benefited from the returns of LT Mike Adams and TB Boom Herron. The passing offense is still pretty bad, but that's to be expected with a freshman QB, freshman and sophomore WRs (especially when the best WR on the team is still serving a 10 game suspension), a new head coach and an offensive coordinator unfit for an elite program. Despite the issues with the passing game, the running game is developing quite well, and has done what it's needed to do (along with the defense) to make up the difference.
T-Mill: Is selling out against the run and forcing Miller to throw the best way to defeat OSU?
Elika: Not necessarily. The running game is clearly the bread and butter of this team, ranking 23rd in the country, and the passing attack has been a liability, ranking 118th (yes, 118th) in the country. However, Braxton Miller is still coming of age, and is showing major improvements from early October and, as an opponent, I would be hesitant to sleep on him in the passing department just yet. You never know what you'll get from him each week, but he seems to be doing all the right things to consistently get better, and hopefully the young WRs are following suit. This should all have even more truth to it, upon Posey's return to the field... which is rrelevant for the Purdue game, but should hold some weight starting next week.
T-Mill: The defense is good, but it has shown some weaknesses compared to past units. What concerns you facing Purdue when you've struggled on the road?
Elika: The first concern is that the game is on the road. With a team this young, working through some inefficiencies, it's always nice to have a home game atmosphere rather than a road test. That said, I think a lot of the improvements we've seen from the Buckeyes over the past few weeks have more to do with figuring it out, rather than two home games in a row, so I hope they keep it up in West Lafayette.
The passing game, for obvious reasons we've discussed. I see it developing, but it's clearly the weakest link at the moment. Poor offensive play calling hasn't help either move the ball at times, either.
As far as the defense is concerned, it's tough for me to call it out, as I think it's largely responsible for any success Ohio State has earned, thus far. The defensive line is terrific, and played particularly well in the Wisconsin game. Some players haven't panned out as expected, such as Travis Howard who, despite a couple key interceptions this season, hasn't exactly been the shutdown corner we were hoping to see. But even then, for the most part, the defense has done what they needed to do. I can't place too much blame on them in moments they've struggled (such as the second half of the Nebraska game), considering they were trying to pick up the slack for an offense continuously going three and out. I would expect them to get tired, eventually.
T-Mill: How much of the infamous "Purdue Harbor" game from two years ago play a factor?
Elika: For the players, I would assume not much. For any of them that are looking backwards, instead of to Saturday, I would imagine the 49-0 victory over the Boilermakers last year is fresher in their minds. Either way, I don't know that it is something the coaching staff will be using as a motivational tactic and I would hope that they use what they need to in order to get the team mentally prepared for the trip.
As a fan, who attended that infamous game, I can just tell you it would suck, from my end, to have to see that again.
T-Mill: In your opinion has Luke Fickell done enough to warrant a second year next year?
Elika: I'm of the belief that the status of Fickell's job for next year depends entirely on who OSU is able to attract, in terms of "elite" head coaches. Should Luke Fickell win out the rest of the year, and make it to the B1G Championship Game, I believe he deserves the B1G Coach of the Year Award. He inherited an incredibly difficult situation, without being afforded the true control over one's staff a head coach is normally given, and has done well with it, considering.
However, I think if the Ohio State Athletic Department is able to lure Urban Meyer over to Columbus, what Fickell does this year is irrelevant. Personally, I don't think it's fair to judge Fickell by this season, I think it's far more important to note that the head coaching position at Ohio State should be held by someone who has already displayed success as a head coach elsewhere. Fickell has a great reputation as a recruiter, but I have to wonder if that ability will be affected by having to recruit a kid to go play for "Luke Fickell" rather than "Jim Tressel." I find it hard to believe the ability to sell recruits on Tressel wasn't an advantage, and a big name may be needed to replace that and keep the talent coming. I can see him being a very successful head coach, just not at Ohio State right now, in the way the fan base would expect.
T-MIll: What are your expectations for this game, especially given OSU's struggles in West Lafayette since 2000?
Elika: This team is obviously still young, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and may struggle with another away atmosphere. They're still working out some of the kinks as they go this year, and I anticipate getting off to another slow start. I'm predicting a win for the Buckeyes, but nowhere near the 62-17 variety.