COLUMBUS — If defense wins championships, there might be some big questions if this will be a championship season for Ohio State.
If that wasn’t already clear before it is now after Indiana quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., passed for 491 yards and five touchdowns when Ohio State held on for a 42-35 win over the Hoosiers in a match-up of Top 10 teams on Saturday.
Ohio State’s defense gave up 28 points in the second half. Penix threw touchdown passes of 63 yards and 56 yards and had completions of 68 yards and 51 yards that were stopped short of the end zone. The Hoosiers had nine pass plays that went for more than 15 yards.
The deficiencies in OSU’s defense, were obscured in the Buckeyes’ first three games against quarterbacks who have either lost their starting job or might be in danger of losing them.
But they were on view, especially in pass defense, when they were exposed and exploited by Penix and his receivers on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State likes to call itself DBU (Defensive Backs University) and it has been able to replace first-round NFL draft choices year after year.
But this year, replacing two cornerbacks who went in the first round and a safety who also was drafted has not gone as well.
OSU defended Indiana’s passing game well early when Penix completed only 5 of his first 14 passes. But the longer the game went, the more successful he became.
The one returning starter in the Buckeyes’ defensive backfield, cornerback Shaun Wade, provided one of the few highlights from the secondary when he intercepted a pass and took it 36 yards for a touchdown for the only touchdown Ohio State got after building a 35-7 lead early in the second half.
Wade defended Ohio State’s defense and said he even saw flashes of a championship defense on Saturday.
“If you just go on the first half, it’s a championship defense,” he said.
“We had a couple of blown coverages and they made plays. That’s just part of football. Receivers are going to make plays and defensive backs are going to make plays. They made their plays and we made ours. That’s just how it goes.
“The second half it wasn’t just the secondary, it was the whole offense and the whole defense. We have to figure it out, especially in big games like this.”
OSU coach Ryan Day said when a team or position group struggles, the first thing to look at is if you have the right personnel on the field. No. 2 is asking if you have the right scheme. “And if both those boxes get checked, you go to coaching,” he said.
Asked if there would be any personnel changes in the defensive backfield next week when Ohio State goes to Illinois, he said, “I’ll be very surprised if we make any changes.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.