Ohio State returns to the field on Saturday after their second bye week in the past month and will be hoping that they can quickly regain the form they showed against Cincinnati and Maryland. The Buckeyes will welcome Kyle Flood and Rutgers into Columbus for a Big Ten matchup. Despite the two teams combining to have played 2,519 games of college football, this is the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
After struggling against Virginia Tech early in the season, Ohio State has rebounded nicely and scored 50 points or more in their last three games, which ties a school record. J.T. Barrett seems to have found his rhythm in the offense, throwing for 14 touchdowns over that three game span. Barrett is averaging 326 yards of total offense a game, which leads the Big Ten and is good enough for 15th nationally. But Barrett isn't the only one who has stepped up recently on offense for the Buckeyes. Running back Ezekiel Elliott has shook off his early season injury issues to rush for 321 yards over the past two games.
While Rutgers seemed to be an afterthought in Big Ten expansion, the Scarlet Knights have been a pleasant surprise this year, posting a 5-1 record. Rutgers almost could've been undefeated coming into this matchup, but a late loss to Penn State in Piscataway last month gave them their only blemish on the season. After the setback Rutgers has rebounded with a wins over Navy and Tulane as well as their first-ever Big Ten win against Michigan in their last game.
Much like Ohio State, Rutgers is also coming off a bye week, which has given them a little extra time to try and prepare for what the Buckeye offense might throw at them on Saturday. Early in the season the Rutgers offense did have running back Paul James churning up yardage to give them some balance, but against Navy he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Since then the Scarlet Knights have struggled to find a suitable replacement in the backfield, only rushing for 74 yards against Michigan in their last game.
|Team||Record||AP||F/+ Rk||Line||Off F/+ Rk||Def F/+ Rk||ST F/+ Rk|
|Std. Downs S&P+||Pass. Downs S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||First Down Rate||Explosive Drives||Methodical Drives|
|Std. Downs S&P+||Pass. Downs S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||First Down Rate||Explosive Drives||Methodical Drives|
Rutgers' biggest advantages
Relentless line. After allowing Virginia Tech to sack J.T. Barrett seven times in the loss, the Buckeye offensive line has shown major improvement, only allowing four sacks in the past three games. The offensive line will face a tough task on Saturday when they go up against a Rutgers defense that is third in the nation with 24 sacks so far this season. The pressure that the Scarlet Knights create is a big reason why they have only lost one game so far this season.
OSU-Rutgers Advanced Stats Preview
It's been a weird season. The Buckeyes have already had two bye weeks, the team is Braxton-less, and Rutgers is ranked in the top 25 of the F/+ rankings. During the preseason there was no way you could have gotten me to believe that the Scarlet Knights would ever be ranked in any poll, especially the F/+ rankings.
This is the first F/+ rankings of the year that don't have any influence from preseason projections. That means we're comparing teams with full-strength stats now, which is great news. What's not great news (or maybe it is, depending on how you look at it), is that Rutgers is actually a fairly decent team on paper.
The Scarlet Knights are 5-1 with their sole loss to Penn State in week three. Quarterback Gary Nova is ranked in the top 15 of ESPN's QBR. Looking at the F/+ comparisons below, the Buckeyes have the edge in four categories while the Knights take two other categories. Finally, Rutgers is coming off of a bye week where they had time to rest and recover from their two-point win over the Wolverines.
All of that is to say that this isn't the gimme game that many thought it would be, at least statistically. Not that anyone will really give the Buckeyes credit for a win here if they do end up victorious -- and no, not because of a national anti-Buckeye conspiracy -- because the perception is that Rutgers is far behind the rest of the Big Ten, so no matter the stats, a tough game wouldn't look great for the Buckeyes.
But Vegas does not think it will be a close one. The Buckeyes are currently 19.5 point favorites over Rutgers. So who is right? The numbers or the bettors?
Virginia Tech showed against Ohio State that if there is a recipe to beat the Buckeyes it is through constant pressure on Barrett. Where Barrett is dangerous is when he times to set and go through his progressions to find the best option to throw to. Rutgers has shown that they have the personnel to create the pressure to disrupt the game plan of a team trying to move the ball throw the air. Just look at when the Scarlet Knights narrowly lost to Penn State. In that game Rutgers was able to sack Christian Hackenberg five times, which helped to keep the game close despite five interceptions from Gary Nova.
Has the offensive line of the Buckeyes gelled enough to be able to withstand the pressure that Rutgers will surely throw at them? Had this been the Ohio State offensive line of last year then the Rutgers pass rush probably wouldn't be looked at as an advantage, but the loss of four Ohio State starters is hard to overcome. There isn't many areas where Rutgers is going to have an edge on Ohio State, so common sense would say that they'll try and really take advantage of those that they do.
Offense gone nova. The decision making of Gary Nova may be an advantage for Ohio State, but it also is an advantage for Rutgers. It seems like it is either all-or-nothing for the senior when it comes to passing the football. While Nova may have thrown 46 interceptions over his career, he has also accounted for 11 touchdown passes that have gone for 60 yards or more. Against a pass defense that has shown in the past that they're susceptible to the big play, this may be an area where Rutgers could stay in the game. The Buckeyes can't afford to press too much against the turnover-prone Nova in trying to make the big play, or they might find themselves giving up some big pass plays.
The main weapon in the passing attack for Nova has been Leonte Carroo, who has seen 21 of his 29 catches so far this season go for either a first down or a touchdown. Carroo has five touchdown catches on the year, including a 78-yard touchdown against Washington State in the season opener. It is no secret that Carroo will be Nova's first option, and he takes on even more importance in the offense with Rutgers' struggles to run the football after the injury to Paul James.
The secondary of the Buckeyes can't afford to load up to stop Carroo though, as senior wide receiver has shown big play ability this year for the Scarlet Knights. Against Tulane, Turzilli had a 93-yard touchdown catch, and against Michigan he had two touchdown catches, including a 80-yarder. Out of the six catches that Turzilli has made this year, four of the six have gone for 36 yards or more.
Playing with house money. All of the pressure in this matchup is on Ohio State. Rutgers is nearly 20-point underdogs in this matchup, so if they lose it isn't like it'll be that big of a surprise. But if they pull the upset it could be a defining win for the program, and show the rest of the Big Ten that they could be a force to be reckoned with not only this year, but going forward. While the spread wasn't nearly as high against Virginia Tech, many were penciling the Buckeyes as victors even before the game started.
The Scarlet Knights can create pressure like Virginia Tech did, and they do have a quarterback that has the ability to lead his team to victory, but can they get it all to materialize much like the Hokies did? The Buckeyes have night road games against Penn State and Michigan State in two of the next three weeks following Saturday's game, so could they be peeking ahead just a little bit? While it isn't the mantra of Urban Meyer teams to come off the bye week stale, stranger things have happened in the sports world.
With all the chaos that has gone on the last few weeks in the college football landscape, the Buckeyes suddenly find themselves back in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Ohio State will probably need some help at the top, as well avoiding dropping any more games, but could that pressure weigh on a team that is very young? The Scarlet Knights have led at half in all six games this year, and are 16-3 under Flood when leading after three quarters, so if Rutgers can get off to a fast start, Ohio State could be in for a bigger fight than they might've been expecting.
Ohio State's biggest advantages
The repertoire. When Ohio State's offense is clicking, they are one of the most feared teams in the country. In the past three games the Buckeyes have accounted for at least 500 yards on offense in each of those games, leaving them one off of tying the school record for consecutive 500+ yard games. Much like last year during the regular season when Ohio State was crushing the competition, the key for the offense has been balance. The Buckeyes are averaging 247 yards/game on the ground and 276.6 yards/game through the air. While Braxton Miller was more of a threat on the ground, Barrett has shown that he can scramble and pick up yardage when needed.
Miller may be more of a threat to make plays on the ground than Barrett, but the redshirt freshman has shown that he might be more of a threat to move the ball through the air. Against Cincinnati, Barrett spread the love by hitting 11 different receivers, and the next week against Maryland he hit nine different receivers. While the pressure that Barrett faced against Virginia Tech forced him into a number of turnovers, the quarterback from Texas has done a better job at protecting the football lately, only throwing one interception in his past three games.
The increased comfort that Barrett is feeling in the offense is really showing in some of the throws that he has been making recently. Just look at the throw Barrett made on Devin Smith's juggling catch against Cincinnati as well as his throw to Michael Thomas for a touchdown against Maryland. Barrett is in sync with his receivers and putting the football where his teammates can catch it, but not the defense. If Barrett continues to grow like he has recently, the sky is the limit for this potent Buckeye offense.
Rebound effect. Who would've thought that after the Cincinnati game that just a few weeks later we would be calling the Ohio State pass defense a area where they would have an advantage? Led by pressure from Joey Bosa and the rest of the defensive line, Ohio State forced Maryland into throwing four interceptions, one of which turned into a pick-six for freshman Raekwon McMillan. Currently Ohio State is tied with Northwestern and Minnesota for the Big Ten lead with nine interceptions on the season, despite the Wildcats and Golden Gophers having played one more game than the Buckeyes.
Eli Apple may have had a tough game against Cincinnati, but he bounced back with an interception against Maryland. There may be plenty of youth in the secondary with Apple, Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell, and Gareon Conley but the talent they have is undeniable. As those defensive backs have gotten more and more time on the field they have looked to be gaining more comfort and confidence, and hopefully performances like the Virginia Tech and Cincinnati game are the exceptions and not the rule.
The Buckeyes could pad their interception total this week when they go up against Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. Five of the seven interceptions Nova has thrown this year came against Penn State, and during his four years at Rutgers he has thrown a total of 46 interceptions. While Nova has only thrown one interception in the three games since those five interceptions against Penn State, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him throw a couple against a very opportunistic Ohio State pass defense.
A nation comes home. The stage that Rutgers will be facing at Ohio Stadium on Saturday will be a lot bigger than they're used to. The largest crowd that Rutgers has gone up against on the road in school history came back in 2002 against when 103,925 were in attendance. So far in 2014, Ohio State has hosted crowds of 107,517 against Virginia Tech and 108,362 against Cincinnati. With this weekend being homecoming at Ohio State, another large crowd is expected to be on hand again at Ohio Stadium.
But it isn't just the crowd that will be against Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights haven't exactly had favorable results against ranked teams. The last win for Rutgers against a ranked team came in 2009 when they beat South Florida, 31-0. The last win for a Rutgers team on the road against a ranked team was in 2008 against Pittsburgh, which was a 54-34 win. In school history the Scarlet Knights only have nine wins overall against ranked teams.
While rankings and crowd size doesn't always determine games (just look at the Virginia Tech game this year), it is a stigma that Rutgers hasn't been able to conquer on a consistent basis. Asking the Scarlet Knights to topple not only a crowd that surpasses six digits, as well as a ranked team, all in one game might be asking just a little too much for the Big Ten newbies.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 37, Rutgers 25
Win Probability: Ohio State 72%
By the numbers, Ohio State should be able to win their Big Ten home opener on Saturday by at least double digits. But there are still questions out there on how the second bye week in a month will affect the Buckeyes.
When Ohio State came out of their first bye week against Cincinnati they started out hot, but did show some issues with defending the deep ball that allowed the Bearcats to creep back into the game for a spell. With Rutgers having success in that same area could it make for some similar issues for the Buckeyes?
The good news for those looking for a Buckeye win is that Urban Meyer teams haven't lost a game in October since 2010. Add to that his teams are 37-3 when having a week or more to prepare for the opposition. A win would also give Ohio State their 18th straight regular season win in conference play.
Should the Buckeyes be able to handle the Rutgers pressure better than they did against Virginia Tech, the offense Ohio State possesses should be too much for Rutgers to be able to keep pace with. Had the Scarlet Knights not lost running back Paul James to injury they might've had a better shot to hang around in this matchup, but the lack of the running game will hurt them since the best defense for Ohio State's offense is keeping them off the field with a ball control offense. So far this season Rutgers hasn't scored more than 41 points a game, while Ohio State hasn't scored less than 50 points in the last three games.