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Ohio State vs. Rutgers Preview: J.T. Barrett takes back the reins

With a bye week to follow, Ohio State heads to Piscataway for the first time ever to take on a Rutgers team that will be hosting the country's top ranked team for the first time since Miami visited in 2002.

Rutgers will be hosting a top-five team for the second time in three weeks
Rutgers will be hosting a top-five team for the second time in three weeks
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Following last week's 38-10 win over Penn State inside Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes hit the road to travel to Piscataway for the first time to take on Rutgers. One big change Urban Meyer announced earlier in the week was that J.T. Barrett would be the starter at quarterback after Cardale Jones started the first seven games of the season for Ohio State. The move wasn't totally unexpected given Barrett's recent success moving the offense in combination with some recent struggles from Jones.

With the win over Penn State, Ohio State now has a 20-game winning streak, which is currently the third-longest in school history. The win streak also is the fourth of 20 games of more for Meyer, while no other FBS coach in history has had more than two win streaks of 20 games of more. The victory also gave Ohio State their 27th regular season Big Ten win in a row, which was already a Big Ten record.

Last year during Rutgers' inaugural season in the Big Ten, the meeting between the schools in Columbus was the first time ever the universities had squared off on the football field. Ohio State had little trouble dispatching the Scarlet Knights, jumping out to a 35-7 lead at halftime on their way to a 56-17 win. Barrett was responsible for five total touchdowns in the contest, with three of them coming through the air, and the other two coming on the ground. The Buckeyes were able to roll up 324 yards rushing in the game, with four players accounting for at least 40 yards.

Earlier this year Rutgers was making news more for what was going on off the field, but now they are getting some of their pieces back for the Big Ten stretch run. Earlier in the season head coach Kyle Flood dismissed six players from the team, before he was suspended for three games due to improper conduct. Flood missed games against Penn State, Kansas, and Michigan State, before returning last week against Indiana.

The biggest loss for a portion of the season for Rutgers was of wide receiver Leonte Carroo. The senior from New Jersey was charged with simple assault following the Scarlet Knights early season loss to Washington State, which resulted in an indefinite suspension. The Scarlet Knights felt the effects against Penn State, where their offense wasn't able to gain any traction in the 28-3 loss to the Nittany Lions. Carroo also was suspended for the win against Kansas before charges were dropped against him and he had his suspension lifted.

Carroo's 43-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Chris Laviano late in the third quarter on Saturday against Indiana started an incredible comeback in Bloomington that saw the Scarlet Knights rally from 25 points down to top the Hoosiers 55-52. The comeback matched the biggest comeback in school history, where the Scarlet Knights rallied also rallied from 25 points down to win last season in the regular season finale against Maryland. The comeback was the biggest so far this season, as heading into last Saturday FBS teams were 0-121 when trailing by 25 points or more this season.

Data dump

Team Record AP F/+ Rk Line
Ohio State 7-0 1 6 -21.5
Rutgers 3-3 NR 80

Ohio State Five Factors

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.35 27 1.26 76 1.27
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 45.6% 34 32.3% 12 40.4%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 34.6 7 25.7 13 29.7
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.08 47 4.07 32 4.68
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -3.93 112 Turnover Luck (PPG):
ACTUAL -1 79

Rutgers Five Factors

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 67 1.34 95 1.27
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 46.7% 25 47.5% 115 40.4%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 29.9 69 29.7 81 29.7
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.42 21 4.61 62 4.68
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -2.1 100 Turnover Luck (PPG):
ACTUAL -4 97

Ohio State's Biggest Advantages

The Barrett zone. Urban Meyer announced on Tuesday that J.T. Barrett would be replacing Cardale Jones as quarterback, and with the efficiency Barrett has been running the offense lately, it's easy to see why. During the Maryland game, Meyer started to use Barrett inside the red zone, and the plan immediately paid dividends, as the Buckeyes are 12 for their last 12 inside the 20, with 11 of those scores being touchdowns. Barrett has been responsible for seven of those touchdowns, with three coming against Maryland, and four coming last week in the win over Penn State.

The Ohio State offense just seems to run a little bit smoother with Barrett at the helm. The redshirt sophomore quarterback might not have the big arm that Cardale Jones does, but he makes up for that with his ability to run the football effectively. When Barrett is able to get the offense into a rhythm, the Buckeyes are able to use a tempo offense that keeps defenses on their toes, and doesn't allow them to substitute as much, creating some mismatches on defense that Barrett seems to find a way to exploit.

Pop the top off. Ohio State's bread and butter may be in the run game with Ezekiel Elliott, but they also possess the ability to beat opponents through the air. Even though Cardale Jones may have a bigger arm than J.T. Barrett, last year Barrett was able to throw for over 2,800 yards and 34 touchdowns. The Buckeyes may be missing Devin Smith's big play ability from last year, but they still do have a number of wide receivers who can hit the big play. Against a Rutgers team that is allowing nearly 320 yards per game to opponents through the air, Barrett may try to do some work through the air early before taking it to the ground.

Even though some of their early season production left a lot to be desired, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller are beginning to find their legs at the wide receiver position. Marshall followed up a 110-yard receiving peformance against Indiana with a touchdown against Maryland. Miller has hauled in a touchdown catch each of the past two weeks as he continues to become more comfortable as a receiver. If Rutgers' suspect secondary focuses too much attention on trying to stop Marshall and Miller, Michael Thomas should be able to add to his numbers as Ohio State's best receiver this year.

Win the front line. The last two weeks Ohio State's defense has created a tremendous amount of pressure in the offensive backfield. Against Maryland, the Buckeyes registered four sacks, and followed that performance up with a season-high five sacks against Penn State. After a quiet start to the season, Joey Bosa has started to get to the quarterback lately, securing a sack in each of the last two games. But it isn't just Bosa who is created pressure, as six Buckeyes have at least two sacks on the season, with Tyquan Lewis leading the way with 5.5 sacks.

What has been helping the pass rush lately is the "Rushmen" formation where the Buckeyes have Bosa slide next to former defensive end Adolphus Washington, while Lewis and Sam Hubbard line up at the defensive end positions. Ohio State might be forced to use this look a little more in the coming weeks after it was revealed defensive tackle Tommy Schutt will be out for a few weeks due to a broken wrist. While Rutgers has given up only 10 sacks on the season, they gave up five to Penn State and three to Michigan State, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Ohio State get to the quarterback early and often.

Rutgers' Biggest Advantages

2 Live Carroo. If there is one player on the Rutgers offense that Ohio State has to make sure they account for at all times, it is senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo. Since returning from his two game suspension, Carroo has been making up for lost time, racking up over 100 yards receiving and three touchdowns in each of the past two games. In 27 games for the Scarlet Knights, Carroo has hauled in 28 receiving touchdowns, and is averaging a touchdown every 3.71 catches.

Ohio State might catch a little bit of a break though this week, as Carroo is currently listed as questionable due to a sprained ankle he suffered during the comeback win against Indiana. Head coach Kyle Flood said Carroo will likely be a game-time decision heading into Saturday night's game, but said the wide receiver was "moving in the right direction". Even if Carroo isn't out there at 100%, he is still a threat since he commands so much attention from defenses.

Ground warfare. While wide receiver Leonte Carroo is a game-breaker in the passing game, Ohio State can't sleep on Rutgers' ability to run the football. Last week Penn State's Saquon Barkley was able to run all over Ohio State's defense for 194 yards, and while Rutgers might not have a running back as talented as Barkley, they have a trio of running backs who have powered the Scarlet Knights to nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. Rutgers has two running backs who currently rank in the top-10 in the Big Ten in yards per game, with Robert Martin sitting in fifth with 72.8 yards per game and Josh Hicks in eighth with 70 yards per game.

Last week Robert Martin ran for a career-high 124 yards against Indiana, and also scored three rushing touchdowns for the second straight year against the Hoosiers. Lost in the crowded backfield for the Scarlet Knights is Paul James, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2013 with 881 yards rushing and nine touchdowns before a torn ACL last season limited him to four games. If Rutgers can find success on the ground it will greatly benefit them, because it will also help them control the clock and keep Ohio State from getting comfortable in their up-tempo offense.

Mr. All Purpose. Much like Leonte Carroo, Janarion Grant is also questionable for Saturday night's game due to injury. Should Grant be able to play, Ohio State will have to prepare for Grant much like they did Maryland's William Likely. Grant's biggest game this season came against Washington State, where he racked up 337 total yards, with 195 of those yards coming on kickoff returns. The big difference between Grant and Likely is that Grant lines up on the offensive side of the football, and has accounted for 201 yards on offense, with most of those yards coming in the passing game.

In his big performance against Washington State, Grant returned a kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown, as well as a punt for a 55-yard touchdown. Grant became the first Rutgers player in the modern era to return both a kickoff and a punt in the same game for a touchdown. For his career, Grant has five total special team touchdowns, with three of those coming on kickoff returns and the other two on punts. Ohio State has done a great job at limiting opponents' starting field position, but they'll have to be very careful with how they approach Grant.


F/+ Projection: Ohio State 42, Rutgers 20

Win Probability: Ohio State 90%

For most teams following a big win at home, along with heading into a bye week next week, a road contest at night might be looked at as a trap game. Since the Buckeyes know they'll get every team's best shot, especially under the lights, the numbers don't support a close contest in Piscataway. Rutgers did play Michigan State tough a couple weeks ago at home at night, but Ohio State shouldn't have as much trouble.

Ohio State seems like they are getting stronger as the season goes on, and the quarterback switch might only strengthen an offense that has been showing signs lately of regaining their 2014 form. As long as the Buckeyes tighten up some of the defensive lapses they've had lately, they should be able to head into their bye week with their 21st straight victory.

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