Coach Urban Meyer described Leonte Carroo, the star Rutgers' wide receiver, as a "NFL player" and he was not exaggerating.
The 6'1", 205 pound wideout is the complete package: he can burn the defensive back deep, shake press coverage, run crisp intermediate routes, go up and get a contested jump ball and he catches everything thrown his way. "He's a guy that we have a lot of respect for. A dynamic, big, strong guy... he's a tremendous player," Meyer said when complimenting Carroo.
Guess who came down with this jump ball:
Carroo hovers around Devin Smith territory when his average yards per reception and touchdown numbers are brought up, but he is more than just a deep ball specialist. He averaged 17.07 yards per reception with nine touchdowns in 2013. He followed up with 10 touchdowns and an average of 19.75 yards per reception last season. This year, through only four games, he is averaging 22.48 yards per reception to go along with nine touchdowns on 21 receptions.
Carroo in 2015
The Rutgers' playmaker had a great 2014 campaign, but this year is exceptional. Out of his 21 receptions, 15 have moved the chains, 12 have gone for 15-plus yards, seven have gone for 25-plus yards and as mentioned, Carroo has found the end zone every 2.3 receptions, which is best in the nation.
Carroo's magnificent game against Michigan State, where he caught seven balls for 134 yards and three touchdowns, stuck out for a couple of reasons. Even without defensive guru Pat Narduzzi, the Spartans still run Cover 4, the same base coverage that Chris Ash deploys in the Ohio State secondary. Not only did he put up numbers, but he did it in a variety of ways: he caught a 10-yard score in the back of the end zone on a dig route, a 28-yard touchdown on a post corner, where he ran a one-man route and finally, he shook a Spartan cornerback off the line of scrimmage into a fly pattern, for a 39-yard touchdown.
Here is Carroo (bottom of the screen) getting the defensive back flat footed , running by him with ease, then adjusting to a slightly underthrown deep ball for a touchdown:
Buckeye defense versus Carroo
Ohio State beat up on a lowly Rutgers' squad in 2014, 56-17, but Carroo made his mark against a talented Buckeye secondary. The receiver finished with five receptions for 100 yards, as he battled with cornerback Doran Grant throughout the day. Carroo ran through his extensive route tree at the Buckeyes; his five receptions came on four different routes. A drag across the middle where he caught the ball one-handed, before he took a shot from Raekwon McMillan, two 5-yard hitches, one deep flag route and one fly route where he found space in zone coverage. Carroo was also targeted on a goal line fade that got intercepted due to a poorly thrown ball.
So how will the Buckeye secondary stop the Big Ten's best wide receiver? It starts with the two cornerbacks, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley, who have been superb through the first seven games. They disrupt opposing receivers with their length, physicality and ball skills. Apple and Conley possess similar size to Carroo; Apple stands at 6'1", 200 lbs, while Conley comes in at 6'0", 195 lbs. Both have long arms and display excellent technique.
The two have been impressive on intermediate to deep passes:
On passes thrown 10+ yards downfield, Ohio State CBs Eli Apple and Gareon Conley have allowed just 4 catches on 26 targets (15.4 comp%)— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) October 16, 2015
With Carroo, it starts with limiting his short routes, which set-up the deep routes later in the game. He will run a couple of drags, hitches and digs early on, then he will catch the defender playing tight to limit the short stuff and go over the top with a fly, post or post-corner route.
Luckily for Ohio State, not only do they have two lengthy cornerbacks, they also have two of the better ball hawking safeties in college football with Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell. According to CFBfilmroom.com, Powell has been targeted 19 times and has allowed nine receptions, while Bell has allowed only five completions on 25 targets. They both possess great range, which will help on fly and corner routes. If Rutgers' quarterback Chris Laviano lets a deep ball hang in the air, chances are it is going to be broken up or picked off.
One thing that could benefit the defense is that Carroo is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, which forced him out of last week's game versus Indiana and has made him unavailable to practice so far this week. The receiver has said he would "definitely" play, but his crisp route running could take a hit, depending on the severity of the ankle injury.
The Buckeyes should win convincingly on Saturday night, but they will face a good test against the Scarlet Knights' aerial attack and the Big Ten's best wide receiver.