Gameday IV: Indiana, Ohio State fight for the Big Ten East; Illinois, Nebraska look for second win
As part of Gameday IV, The Daily Cardinal’s Reagan Eckley takes a look around the conference for a couple of high-profile matchups this Saturday.
No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State // 11:00 a.m. CT, FOX
The final two undefeated teams of the Big Ten East will meet this Saturday when the No. 9 Indiana Hoosiers (4-0) travel to Columbus to face off against the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0). This will be the first regular season top-10 matchup in program history for the Hoosiers.
Indiana has been the Cinderella story of the Big Ten conference in this strange year — they are 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 1987 and accomplished it by beating both Penn State and Michigan, two programs they’ve never defeated in the same season. They also have wins over Rutgers and Michigan State.
The Hoosiers will be Ohio State’s toughest match thus far — they have only experienced fairly easy wins over Nebraska, Penn State, and Rutgers, along with an involuntary bye-week last Saturday as a result of a Maryland COVID-19 outbreak.
Saturday’s game will be a matchup of quarterbacks, as Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. and Ohio State’s Justin Fields have both put up impressive numbers. Penix Jr., a redshirt sophomore, is currently leading the Big Ten in passing yards with 1,070 yards for nine touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Fields, on the other hand, currently leads the country in pass completion with an 86.7 percent completion rate, leading to 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions for 908 yards. The Buckeye offense is currently averaging 46.3 points per game.
Even though they haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since 1988, Indiana is not going to let that stop them from trying.
Illinois at Nebraska // 11:00 a.m. CT, BTN
After earning their first wins of the season this past weekend, Illinois (1-3) will face Nebraska (1-2) in Lincoln as they each look for their second.
The Huskers are coming fresh off of a well-fought 30-23 win against Penn State. After allowing the Nittany Lions to close in on their three-touchdown lead, Nebraska's defense was able to hold Penn State in back-to-back drives inside the Husker 11-yard line in the final five minutes of the game.
The Fighting Illini also won in an exciting fashion last Saturday against Rutgers — kicker James McCourt hit a 47-yard field goal with 0:03 left to seal a win, 23-20. There isn’t much else positive to say about their season, however, as they have only held a lead for a total of three seconds all year, and lost their first three games by a combined 72 points.
The best way Nebraska can set themselves up for victory is to build an early lead; they have been outscored 69-6 in the second half this season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey, along with wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, are the Huskers’ best options to generate rushing yards and hopefully avoid any later troubles.
Illinois’ starting quarterback, senior Brandon Peters, will be back in the pocket for the first time since their first game of the season — Peters tested positive following that game and has been ineligible to play since due to Big Ten COVID-19 protocol. As a result, three different quarterbacks started the other three games.
The Fighting Illini have struggled majorly on defense this season, playing poor enough to be ranked 13th in Big Ten total defense. Their pass defense is ranked last in the conference, giving up an average of 277 yards per game.
Nebraska currently leads their series against Illinois 13-3-1 and have won each of the last four matchups between these teams.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter