Ohio State vs Rutgers

ohio State rutgers

Ohio State prepares for Rutgers this week, and one question comes to mind: is Rutgers finally good?

The Scarlet Knights are 3-1 to start the season, which is something they haven’t done since 2014. In that time, Rutgers has gone whole seasons without winning three games.

True, they have only defeated Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware. That strength of schedule is not going to stand up to much scrutiny. But they got blown out by Kansas in 2018, the year the Jayhawks went 3-9. So the fact that they have even closed out three games at all is a trend in the right direction.

The Big Ten conference has not been kind to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have only won ten conference games in their history. For reference, Ohio State won ten conference games in 2019 alone. Rutgers finished above fifth place once in their history with the Big Ten East Division, while Ohio State has never finished below second.

But the Scarlet Knights might be starting to turn the corner.

Greg Schiano is in the second year of his second stint at head coach. He took over a 3-8 program in 2001, and in six years had them finishing at number 12 in the AP Poll. Could he be engineering another rebuild 20 years later?

Another down-on-their-luck Big Ten program that is turning itself around is Michigan. The 2021 Wolverines looked like they might be the best team Jim Harbaugh has had since 2018. But the number 19 Wolverines nearly blew a 17-point lead to the Scarlet Knights.

Does this mean that Rutgers is better than we thought? Is Michigan worse than we thought? Is it a little bit of both?

The way Ohio State has played the last few weeks, Ryan Day is not going to make the mistake of looking past Rutgers. Schiano could still make this a competitive game. Here’s what Ohio State can expect against Rutgers this weekend.

Ohio State vs Rutgers Preview

Last season’s matchup was the closest game in series history. Ohio State jumped out 35-3 at halftime, thanks to a near-perfect Justin Fields. But thanks to some creativity from Schiano, the Scarlet Knights outscored the Buckeyes in the second half 24-14. Ohio State ended up winning 49-27, but it was the most maddening blowout of Ryan Day’s career.

Rutgers knows Ohio State well, as their last two head coaches have been former Buckeye defensive coordinators. Schiano is looking to pull an upset on Ohio State after nearly doing it to Michigan.

Ohio State’s Offense Against Rutgers’ Defense

A glance at the stat sheet from Saturday shows Rutgers’ dominance in run defense. Michigan averages 46 rushes a game, 290 yards, 6.3 yards per carry, and over four touchdowns. Instead, they rushed 38 times, only gained 112 yards (which is less than three per carry), and scored two touchdowns.

Rushing is Michigan’s bread and butter, and Rutgers shut it down.

For the Buckeyes, running the ball will be an interesting challenge. Ohio State doesn’t run the ball nearly as much as their rivals from up north, but they still do it well. While Michigan leads the conference in average yardage per game, Ohio State leads in yards per carry.

But Ohio State has an advantage Michigan didn’t: a passing game.

Rutgers knew they could sell out against the run because Michigan has one of the worst passing offenses in the Big Ten conference. Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has 33 completions on 53 attempts through four games this season. Those are both less than what C.J. Stroud had against Oregon.

The few times McNamara actually aired out the ball, Rutgers’ secondary was left hanging out to dry. They weren’t great on one-one-one coverage against Michigan’s receivers. Going up against some of the best receivers in the country, they will need to employ a different approach. This will free up the run game, so Ohio State won’t get shut down like Michigan did.

The one thing Rutgers’ defense has that Ohio State’s offense doesn’t is experience. Players like Olakunle Fatukasi, Trey Avery, and Avery Young have over a decade of starting experience between them. Stroud is still young, but if his shoulder isn’t back to 100 percent, Kyle McCord might make his second start in his true freshman year.

Rutgers did some disguising against Michigan, but they will turn it up even higher against whoever Ohio State starts at quarterback.

Ohio State’s Defense Against Rutgers’ Offense

Just like the defense, Rutgers’ offense is nothing if not experienced. The Scarlet Knights return their leading passer, rusher, receiver, and their entire offensive line.

Ohio State’s defense will have first-year starters in every position group (many of whom have rotated in and out this season) while also continuing to transition between defensive coordinators.

Fifth-year quarterback Noah Vedral has transferred twice, but is in his second year with Rugters. He has seen a lot over his time around college football, but is starting to get some continuity in this offense. Vedral has a much improved completion percentage at 67.9, and has five touchdowns to no interceptions. He is experienced and has great pocket mobility, so if the pass rush doesn’t get to him, he patiently finds open receivers.

Bo Melton is the team’s number one receiver and a fifth year senior. Both he and Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank had seven receptions against Ohio State last year. Isaiah Pacheco rushed for nearly ten yards a carry against the Buckeyes in 2020, and he has 462 career carries.

While the Rutgers offense isn’t as skilled as most around the Big Ten, they have the experience.

Another interesting feature from last years’ matchup is that Rutgers attempted trick play after trick play. Schiano realized he couldn’t move the ball with conventional offense, so he reached in his bottomless bag of tricks. It lead the Scarlett Knights to score more points against the Buckeyes than they ever had before.

Schiano would be foolish if he neglected that part of the playbook this year.

Home Away From Home Advantage

While the Scarlet Knights will have the home field advantage, the Buckeyes will have home away from home advantage.

McCord, Matthew Jones, Marvin Harrison Jr.Jeremy Ruckert, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and Ronnie Hickman hail from less than 100 miles of Rutgers’ campus in New Jersey.  Luke Wypler said in a press conference this week that his friends and family are making the 55-mile trip from Montvale to Piscattaway.

There will be a lot of Buckeyes fans at the game in SHI Stadium. For many players, this will be the first time they have played in front of opposing fans in their entire career.

As far as away games go, this one is in one of the most favorable locations for Ohio State.

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