COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Rutgers football team (2-2, 0-1) is in Columbus on the first day of October as guests for No. 2 Ohio State’s (3-0, 0-0) Homecoming game. Among the former Buckeyes coming back to former stomping grounds will be a few members of the Scarlet Knights’ coaching staff, with head coach Chris Ash spearheading the bunch.
Ash was co-defensive coordinator in Columbus for the past two seasons, winning a national title in 2014 before coming to Piscataway for his first head coaching gig.
But he’s not getting caught up in the storyline.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the players,” he said. “They still have to be the ones to show up to make plays.”
Here are some predictions from our editorial staff on the plays that will be made from Ohio Stadium this Saturday.
OHIO STATE WINS IF
Brian Fonseca, Sports Editor
It doesn’t make a historic amount of errors. The Buckeyes are head and shoulders above Rutgers in terms of talent in their roster and experience on their coaching staff. The Scarlet Knights come into Columbus as 38.5 point underdogs and even that seems generous considering the fact Ohio State outscored them 105-24 in the two meetings between in the programs in the last two years.
Unless JT Barrett throws a record number of interceptions and Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer makes baffling decisions and uncharacteristic coaching mistakes as a sign of sympathy to his former defensive coordinator, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash and his team is in for a long afternoon at Ohio Stadium Saturday.
Eric Mullin, Associate Sports Editor
The Buckeyes physically show up to Ohio Stadium at noon to play football against Rutgers.
In all seriousness, Ohio State has too much talent to lose a game like this. Yes, Rutgers is coming off a very strong defensive performance in a near upset of Iowa last week. But this isn’t C.J. Beathard, Akrum Wadley and the power run game of a Hawkeyes team that was upset by North Dakota State the week prior. It’s J.T. Barrett, Mike Weber, Noah Brown, Curtis Samuel and an explosive power spread attack of the No. 4 Buckeyes. That’s a lot of weapons for a defense, which has been defined by inconsistencies this season, to account for and contain for four quarters.
And for all the talk about Ohio State’s offense, its defense has been just as good. The Buckeyes are holding opponents to 12.3 points per game, limiting Oklahoma to 21 points in their most recent outing. Points were already going to be hard to come by, but without being able to gameplan around Janarion Grant it will be tough for offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer to scheme up a way for Rutgers to consistently piece drives together and get on the scoreboard.
RUTGERS WINS IF
It plays a perfect game. The Scarlet Knights will need to play a squeeky clean game on offense with no turnovers and take advantage of their chances whenever they are presented with them, a task far easier said than done. Ohio State has made seven interception in its first three games, scoring on three of them, and is hosting a quarterback in junior Chris Laviano whose biggest area of concern is ball security, according to himself, his offensive coordinator and Rutgers head coach Chris Ash. Laviano didn’t record a turnover against Iowa last week after turning it over at least once in each of the first three games of the season, so he’s hoping it becomes a trend rather than an anomaly.
On the defensive side of the ball, Rutgers’ linebacker corps has to play a pair of levels above their talent, Darnell Davis and Myles Nash have to play twice as well as injured Quanzell Lambert usually does and the secondary has to cover the field like a giant blanket.
Anything short of a perfect performance will see the Buckeyes bury the Knights, reaching or even exceeding their average of 56 points per game, which is good for third in the nation.
The Knights’ defense keeps the Buckeyes from pulling away. If Rutgers can somehow turn this into a low-scoring, defensive game (similar to its game against Iowa) it will benefit the Knights. For that to happen Rutgers’ front seven has to be flying around the field in filling the gaps on draws, gaining leverage on outside runs and getting consistent pressure in J.T. Barrett’s face when he drops back to pass. In the secondary, the Knights can’t allow Barrett’s big arm to burn them when he takes deep shots down the field to Noah Brown.
On offense Rutgers has to clean up the mistakes it made from last week. It can’t turn the ball over, especially deep in its own end of the field. And when the Knights get in the red zone they have score, whether it be a field goal or touchdown.
If the Knights have any shot of pulling off the improbable upset, they need mostly everything to go in their favor.
Ohio State junior quarterback JT Barrett has never explicitly said the team he enjoys playing the most, but based on the numbers, one can’t imagine Rutgers being too far from the top of the list.
The Wichita Falls, Texas, native has torn the Knights to shreds in his two games against them, collecting 404 total yards nearly split right down the middle between his feet and his arm. Like most teams, Rutgers has struggled heavily to find an answer for the Heisman Trophy candidate in the past and it doesn’t appear likely that the third time will be the charm.
Barring a spotless game from the Knights or an untimely injury, expect Barrett to rack up another 200 yard game at the very least and a repeat performance of his season opener against Bowling Green where he accounted for a program-record seven touchdowns — six with his arm, one with his legs — at the worst.
Robert Martin eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground for the second consecutive game when he ran for 106 yards across 21 attempts against Iowa. He already played a vital role in a Rutgers offense that lacks a large number of playmakers, but Janarion Grant’s season-ending injury makes Martin even more valuable to this offense. This season the junior running back is picking up a career-best 6.2 yards per carry on upwards of 19 carries per game across his three starts. It will be interesting to see if that carry average approaches the 25-30 mark or the coaching staff decides to trot out Justin Goodwin and Josh Hicks more often.
The biggest question surrounding the Knights’ offense is how they will be able to sustain drives and score points consistently without Grant in the lineup. If Rutgers is going to give Ohio State a real run at an upset, holding an advantage in time of possession will be one of the keys. The Knights are going to need Robert Martin to keep the chains moving to control clock and keep J.T. Barrett and Co. on the sidelines as much as possible.
Knights’ front 7 vs. Ohio State’s run attack
Playing without senior defensive end Quanzell Lambert and with a hurt Trevor Morris playing at weakside linebacker, the already thin Rutgers front 7 enters the second third of the season banged up and bruised. Presented in front of it will be the offense of the No. 2 team in the country, spearheaded by a Heisman Trophy candidate who has both the Big Ten’s all-purpose yard leader and the second best rusher in terms of yards per game in the conference alongside him.
When J.T. Barrett isn’t completing 67.1 percent of his throws — making him the most efficient passer in the Big Ten — he’s gaining 53 yards a game on the ground.
When he’s not gaining 16 yards with every reception he makes, Curtis Samuel is moving the chains eight yards per carry.
Ohio State’s front four vs. Rutgers’ offensive line
For Robert Martin to keep the chains moving, Rutgers is going to have to get a good push up front from its offensive line. Last week against an Iowa team that is known for being tough on both sides of the line of scrimmage, the Knights’ offensive line dominated the trenches from start to finish.That kind of performance will be key this week, because Rutgers is going to need to have the same kind of success on the ground that they had last week.
If Ohio State’s defensive front controls this battle and Rutgers is forced to become one-dimensional, it will be a long day junior quarterback Chris Laviano and the Knights.
Players to Watch
Rutgers – Julian Pinnix Odrick.
The senior defensive end has always been a solid player but he’s grown to become among the best on the team in his final season on the Banks. One of the Knights’ four captians, JPO leads his team in tackles for loss (5) and sacks (4), ranks second in quarterback hurries (3) and third in overall tackles (21). If Rutgers hopes to stop the high-powered Ohio State offense, it’ll need Pinnix-Odrick to put even more pressure on the quarterback than he usually does with classmate Quanzell Lambert out for the game and the season.
Ohio State – Malik Hooker
The sophomore safety is tied with teammate Marshon Lattimore for the most interceptions in the Big Ten with three in as many games, but Hooker (16) has twice as many tackles as Lattimore (8). Nevertheless, expect both to make it a really long day for Chris Laviano if the Rutgers junior quarterback remains to be as careless with the ball as he was in the first three weeks of the season.
Rutgers – Jawaun Harris
Drew Mehringer noted this week that Janarion Grant’s touches and production don’t just vanish now that he’s out of the lineup due to a season-ending injury. Someone will have to account for the double-digit touches that Grant garnered through the first few games. Expect Robert Martin, along with healthy doses of Josh Hicks and Justin Goodwin, to be even worked in even more than they already were to make up for some of those touches.
But who steps up on the outside? How about two-sport athlete Jawuan Harris. In the season opener against Washington, Harris wasn’t targeted once in the limited amount of snaps he got in the game. Fast forward a month later, Harris is a top-two receiver on the Knights’ depth chart and in line for a major touch increase with the loss of Grant. On the season he has eight catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns, while mostly being used as a down-field threat. Harris doesn’t have the elusiveness of Grant, but he’s got the speed and quickness to make plays on the jet sweeps and screens that Grant made his living off of. He may not be running the wildcat or throwing touchdown passes off of reverses anytime soon, but expect to see Harris as the receiver who has his number called the most against the Buckeyes. Harris will also be absorbing Grant’s duties on punt and kick returns.
Ohio State 63, Rutgers 3
Ohio State 55, Rutgers 6