Aug. 31 (UPI) --
Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) August 30, 2017
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET
GAME DATE: 8/31/17
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana
SERIES: Ohio State leads Indiana 73-12-5
RANKINGS: Ohio State No. 2
KEYS TO THE GAME
Indiana University coach Tom Allen knows the challenge his team faces Thursday night.
"Biggest home opener in the history of our program," Allen said. "I've know I've said that many times, but it is what it is, That's exactly the situation we find ourselves in."
The Hoosiers will host No. 2 Ohio State in a season opener against the Big Ten powerhouse at 8 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes finished 11-2 last season, reaching the College Football Playoff semifinals before losing to Clemson 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl.
The ESPN College GameDay crew, which includes former IU coach Lee Corso, is making its first live visit to Bloomington for a football game, where most of the spotlight is shining on the visitors.
The game will remark the return of former IU coach Kevin Wilson, who was forced to resign after philosophical differences with athletic director Fred Glass after the regular season. There were concerns how injured players were handled under Wilson. Allen was then promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach prior to the Foster Farms Bowl, which IU (6-7) lost to Utah 26-24.
Wilson was hired as the Buckeyes offensive coordinator in January.
Allen said he hasn't mentioned Wilson's return to the players
"Very genuinely, it's all Ohio State," Allen said. "Really haven't mentioned that once."
Allen said he expects the offensive scheme of the Buckeyes to be a combination of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Wilson.
"As you go back and look at how they performed last year, they hung 62 on Maryland and beat Nebraska by 60-something," said Allen, who was close as the Buckeyes beat Nebraska 62-3. "It wasn't like they were anemic, you know?"
Allen said he keeps telling players it will be a game of adjustments on both sides. The Buckeyes averaged 39.4 points per game last season.
Meyer said quarterback J.T. Barrett has made the biggest strides in accuracy and his relationship and timing with the wideouts.
"To say that he mastered our offense, he's done that quite a while ago," Meyer said. "It's just the timing, the execution and the trust."
Barrett threw for 2,555 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. Sophomore Mike Weber is back for the Buckeyes at running back, rushing for 1,096 yards and nine TDs.
The Hoosiers' rushing attempts will likely be by committee. Allen said he expects four or five guys to gain meaningful time at running back. The Hoosiers must replace Devine Redding, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the previous two seasons. Redding left early for the NFL.
"Mike Majette is kind of that solidifying, does everything really well kind of guy," Allen said. "(Freshman) Morgan Ellison has been a surprise. I knew he was a good player, thought he might need time to develop, but he's right there in the mix. Devonte Williams has been as quick and explosive as he's always been and Cole Gest, getting him back was good. He's got a great burst."
Gest played in three games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. Tyler Natee is the leading returning rusher with 237 yards.
Meyer said playing this season opener is a little easier than 2016 because 15 starters return compared to six returning starters in 2016.
"Last year was very alarming because our whole team was new," Meyer said. "This year is a little more comfort because guys have been in the environment before. This is a whole different set of circumstances because it's on the road in a Big Ten game. But we've practiced as such and like I said, Billy Prince is snapping a ball to J.T. every play, as long as they stay healthy and that's a little more comforting."
The Hoosiers return Richard Lagow as starting quarterback. He threw for 3,363 yards, but had just two more TDs (19) than interceptions (17).
The Buckeyes have won 21 consecutive games against the Hoosiers and lead the all-time series 72-12-5. IU's last win over the Buckeyes came in 1988 in Bloomington. The Hoosiers did give visiting Ohio State a scare before falling 34-27 in the final seconds in 2015. Host Ohio State won 38-17 last year.
IU senior linebacker Tegray Scales said the Hoosiers have to take advantage of this opportunity against the Buckeyes.
"You don't get this opportunity often," Scales said. "It's one of the biggest openers in Indiana history. We embrace it and plan to take it head on."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--WR J.T. Barrett is the focal point of an offense that has designs on being more dynamic this year. Entering his final season, the senior has started since he was a freshman with the exception of injuries and the Cardale Jones experiment two years ago. Barrett enters the 2017 season with a chance to win the Heisman Trophy. With former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson taking over as Ohio State's offensive coordinator and Ryan Day as quarterbacks coach, expectations are great that Barrett will have his best season yet.
--DE Tyquan Lewis is a returning All-Big Ten player and one of nine Ohio State captains who will lead the country's deepest defensive line. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior has accumulated eight sacks each of the last two seasons. As part of a four-man rotation at defensive end, Lewis should be fresh and ready to wreak havoc against the Indiana offense.
--CB Denzel Ward could be Ohio State's next first-round draft pick at cornerback. The Buckeyes have produced four first-rounders at the position in the past four years. The junior has playing experience and more speed than any player on the roster. Ward and the Ohio State secondary will be tested in the opener by Indiana's pass offense led by quarterback Richard Lagow.
--QB Richard Lagow needs to protect the ball better as his touchdown (19) to interception (17) ratio was an issue last season. For IU to have a shot at competing against Ohio State, it can't afford turnovers. Allen said Lagow has made leadership strides and has become a more confident player in the offseason. Lagow should benefit from a strong wide receiver unit.
--LB Tegray Scales was the Big Ten's leading tackler last season. Scales enters his senior season on six award watch lists, including the Butkus Award, and was honored on nine preseason All-American teams, including first-team by Lindy's, ESPN and Street & Smith.
--K Griffin Oakes is seeking to return to his 2015 form when he made 24 of 29 field goals. Last year, he made 16 of 26 FGs.