College football: Indiana offensive line vs. Ohio State defensive line a key matchup to watch
When he thinks about Thursday's opener against No. 2 Ohio State, there is one position matchup that keeps Tom Allen awake at night.
Indiana's offensive line vs. Ohio State's defensive front.
And for good reason. The Buckeyes have NFL talent across their defensive line, while the Hoosiers' offensive line is largely an unknown commodity.
For Indiana to have any chance of pulling off the upset, it will have to stand pat against one of the nation's most impressive position groups.
"It's gonna be a tremendous challenge for our group to have success against this defensive line with their depth and talent," Allen said.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has called the Buckeyes' defensive line the most talented group he's ever coached. That includes his stint as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Each of Ohio State's four starters from 2016 return, including Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Tyquan Lewis. He's joined by three other defensive ends deemed "elite" by coach Urban Meyer: Nick Bosa, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard.
The Buckeyes almost have too many talented linemen — so much so that they will occasionally deploy their "Rushman" package, which calls for all four ends to take the field on passing downs.
Lewis made eight sacks last seasons and boasts a team-best 27.0 career tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. Bosa recorded 5.0 sacks a year ago, while Hubbard has 10.0 career sacks and 16 TFLs.
Led by OSU's Nick Bosa - 3 of the top 5 in terms of most QB pressures among true freshman edge defenders, hail from the state of Florida. pic.twitter.com/tOSGk3XMLz— Cameron Mellor (@PFF_Cam) August 16, 2017
In the middle, Ohio State leans on tackles Dre'Mont Jones and Tracy Sprinkle, who is back after suffering a season-ending knee injury in last year's opener against Bowling Green.
Immediately out of the gate, Ohio State's defensive front poses what could be the most significant challenge of the season for an IU offensive line that is in the process of retooling.
The Hoosiers are essentially starting over at center with redshirt sophomore Hunter Littlejohn and true freshman Harry Crider. Redshirt sophomore right guard Simon Stepaniak is entering his first season as a starter, though he did appear in 12 games last fall. At right tackle, redshirt junior Delroy Baker is also unproven.
Left tackle Coy Cronk and left guard Wes Martin are IU's only two returning starters up front.
Depth is also a significant question mark. Four of the five backup linemen listed on Indiana's Week 1 two-deep chart have never played a single snap in college.
"It's an area that, for sure, will be a big key to the success of our team season and it'll be a big factor in the football game," Allen said. "The game's won up front on both sides of the ball, and it won't be any different on Thursday."
Hoosiers thinking of Houston
Indiana has a trio of players with ties to the Houston area — guard Mackenzie Nworah, defensive lineman Alfred Bryant and safety Jameel Cook.
All three are keeping close tabs on their hometowns in Southeast Texas after watching Hurricane Harvey dump more than 40 inches of rain on the Houston area in recent days.
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Handful of freshmen could play vs. OSU
Allen says "four or five" freshmen could play in Thursday's season opener.
The IU coach did not specify which freshmen, but based on previous comments and camp performances, a few immediately come to mind.
Running back Morgan Ellison flashed his potential during practices this month, as did the cornerback duo of LaDamion Hunt and Raheem Layne. Center Harry Crider and defensive tackle LeShaun Minor could also be called upon.
"Never know how things are gonna unfold," Allen said. "But right now we have about that many guys that are in the mix to be able to get on the field."
This article is written by Mike Miller from Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.