Football

Inside Slant — Five Questions with Indiana Beat Writer Mike Miller

J.T. Barrett Ohio State vs Indiana

There are several mysteries surrounding this game and they come from both sides. We have spent the last nine months discussing Ohio State’s mysteries, but now we turn our attention to the Indiana Hoosiers.

Ohio State is a 20.5-point favorite in Bloomington, which means this game should be somewhat of an easy time. We’ve seen over the last few years, however, that there has been nothing easy about this game for the Buckeyes.

So what should you expect from Indiana tonight? How the hell should I know? That’s why I went and asked somebody who actually covers the team — Mike Miller (@MikeMillerHT) of the Bloomington Herald Times.

As always, the Inside Slant adheres to the international rules of Q & A pieces. I am the Q and he is the A.

1. Every couple of years or so, it seems a Hoosier will have a big game against OSU’s defense, like Tevin Coleman or Zander “Buckeye Killer” Diamont. There was no such Hoosier last year, so who might be a couple of those guys this year?

We’re still not sure if Simmie Cobbs, IU’s top receiver, will play against Ohio State. Cobbs, who missed basically all of last season, was arrested over the summer and his team punishment has not yet been announced. When he went down on his first play of the year in 2016, Nick Westbrook stepped up in his place, finishing five yards shy of 1,000 yards for the year. Westbrook has big play ability and could be the deep threat IU looks to if Cobbs doesn’t dress. Even if Cobbs does play, Westbrook will have an opportunity to make an impact as a big, athletic target on the outside. With Cobbs, Westbrook and Donavan Hale, IU has a few of those guys.

2. We see Tegray Scales’ numbers, but you see him play. What do you see when you watch him?

A guided missile. He’s fast. He’s always around the ball. He’s aggressive and doesn’t whiff on tackles. The guy very well might be the best defensive player in the Big Ten. A Cincinnati native, he’s played pretty well against Ohio State, too. In three career games, he’s made 20 tackles with one interception, one sack, a breakup and a hurry.

3. The competition between the receivers and secondary of both sides is so interesting to me. What should people know about Indiana’s side of those two battles?

Indiana’s top three receivers, Simmie Cobbs, Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale are big dudes. Westbrook is 6-foot-3, Cobbs and Hale are both 6-4. They’re not only big, they’re each super athletic receivers. Cobbs and Hale have struggled with drops in the past, so we’ll see if they author more consistent performances moving forward. But they’re big targets who give IU quarterback Richard Lagow a little more margin for error. IU’s slot guys, J-Shun Harris and Luke Timian, will also be factors. In Kevin Wilson’s offense, they both did a great job of finding creases and getting open.

IU also appears to have its deepest secondary in recent memory. Rashard Fant has been one of the league’s best cover corners the past two seasons. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s quick and athletic. IU would like to see him make more interceptions. Even without the takeaways, he’s a great cover guy.

Hybrid safety Marcelino Ball also functions like a corner probably 75-80 percent of the time. He’s a big hitter who also made his share of mistakes last season as a freshman. But he’s another fantastic athlete, the likes of which this secondary has often lacked. Safety Jonathan Crawford is another ball hawk with two years of starting experience.

4. Can Mike Debord build a productive offense with questions at running back and a pocket passer? He relied on Joshua Dobbs’ legs quite a bit at Tennessee. What do you expect this offense to look like?

The biggest question Indiana has to answer offensively is the offensive line. All-Americans Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney are gone. So is position coach Greg Frey, who seemed to be regarded as one of the better O-line coaches in the country. He’s now at Michigan. Indiana’s offensive line dealt with injuries last year, which contributed to the widespread inconsistency of that group. Only two starters return this year — left tackle Coy Cronk and left guard Wes Martin — so this is a largely unproven group. It won’t matter who’s coming out of the backfield or throwing the football if IU’s O-line doesn’t improve on a very uneven 2016 season.

5. If Indiana wins this, what do you think the lede of the gamer looks like?

It was the darkest night in Ohio State football history.