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Ohio State can still prove its worth against a bad Rutgers team

“Ohio State begins conference play versus Rutgers” still sounds weird.

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NCAA Football: Ohio State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With it’s non-conference slate finished, and the bye week in the rear view, Ohio State football is back in your life every Saturday until (hopefully) December 3. That begins this weekend, as the Buckeyes take on former co-defensive coordinator, and now Rutgers head coach, Chris Ash, and New York’s One True Team™.

Ohio State hasn’t played since their big win at Oklahoma two weeks ago, and finally gets an opportunity to build on that showing, starting B1G play against possibly the worst team in the conference. This game is what noon kickoffs on Big Ten Network were made for.

Rutgers limps into Columbus after a hard-luck, 14-7 loss to Iowa, and are now without their best playmaker for the rest of the year. Ash is working from behind, trying to fit players into a system they weren’t recruited for, while bringing over the culture he was a part of at Ohio State with him. While he’ll have Rutgers pointed in the right direction eventually, that won’t begin tomorrow.

Here are five things to watch as Ohio State opens conference play against Rutgers:

Follow up

It’d be hard to look better than Ohio State did the last time they took the field two weeks ago in Norman. The offense was dominant, the defense flew around the field making big plays, and the Buckeyes completely overwhelmed Oklahoma in a big-time matchup.

Given how young the team is, I think it’s important to put into perspective how impressive their performance was, regardless of how good (or bad) Oklahoma turns out to be. It was indicative of what Ohio State’s ceiling can be, but how will they respond in a game with considerably less on the line?

There’s no reason Ohio State shouldn’t destroy Rutgers tomorrow. The talent level isn’t close, and the season-ending injury to wide receiver/kick returner Janarion Grant leaves Rutgers with no one who truly presents a problem for the Buckeyes.

The offense will get what they want, running over Rutgers’ over-matched front seven, and taking advantage of a secondary susceptible to big plays. The Buckeyes have averaged 52.5 points in the two games since Rutgers joined the conference, and another 50-point performance isn’t out of the question. The defense may have even more success.

The Scarlet Knights haven’t run the ball well against the two power-5 teams they’ve played, and passing has been worse. That’s not an ideal combination when you’re going up against the 10th ranked S&P+ defense.

That’s all in theory though, and as we’ve learned before, games aren’t played on paper. To be clear, Ohio State isn’t going to lose this game, but I do think there’s more at stake than there appears to be at first glance.

It’s the first time most of this group of players are coming off a big win, and a comfortable victory would further confirm that what we saw in Norman wasn’t a one night showing. This isn’t a “big game,” in the way that Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan are, but in a weird way, Ohio State can prove a lot by soundly beating a team they’re much better than, the way championship-level teams tend to do.

Looking familiar

On this week’s podcast, I referred to Rutgers as, “an extremely poor man’s 2012 Ohio State,” because —like those Buckeyes— Ash and his staff are trying to fit a lot of square pegs into round holes. Of course, he doesn’t have the talent of that Ohio State team, but it’s clear that they’re trying to establish an identity, even if the pieces aren’t there yet. That’s especially true on offense.

Offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer is a Tom Herman disciple, Rutgers’ offense will be very familiar. It’ll be like looking at yourself in a mirror, only if the reflection was distorted and ranked 117th nationally in yards per attempt.

This might be a hot take, but Ohio State’s defense probably won’t have much trouble recognizing what the Scarlet Knights are doing, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the stingiest they play all season.

Face time

Not really, but you know what I mean

“Former Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano”- The Big Ten Network, many, many times tomorrow.

Switch it up

While Ohio State’s defense play against an offense they’ve faced many times in practice —but with way less talent— I’m more curious to see the battle between Ash’s defense and the Buckeye offense, especially on standard downs.

Being in Columbus for two seasons, Ash not only knows the offense, but its tendencies. The Buckeyes were one of the most run-heavy teams in the country on standard downs last season, and that hasn’t changed much in 2016.

Despite opposing offenses running on standard downs at a high rate against the Scarlet Knights this season, it’ll be interesting to see how much the Buckeyes decide to switch it up when Ash inevitably loads the box on standard downs and forces J.T. Barrett and his wide receivers to beat them deep.

The Buckeyes’ ground game probably won’t have trouble churning out yards anyway, but be on the lookout for Ed Warinner and Tim Beck switching it up, and making Ash pay for selling out against the run.

Stretching it out

Regardless of how much Rutgers sells out, big plays should still be available on the ground. They’ve not only given up the 8th most runs of 10-plus yards in the country, but also rank 105th nationally in Rushing IsoPPP. If Ohio State’s runners can find an extra gear, they’ll make those numbers even worse.

Despite only playing three games, Ohio State is 12th nationally in runs of 10-plus yards, and are currently on pace to shatter the meager 97 such runs they put up last season. Where they’ve lacked so far, though, is turning those gains into something much larger. The Buckeyes have only 5 runs over 20 yards this season, and are currently 85th in Rushing IsoPPP.

The good news is that Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel each broke a long run against Oklahoma, and the continued emergence of the pass game, as well as the young offensive line will give them even more opportunities to shine going forward. It just so happens that Rutgers’ defense provides an excellent chance to continue to progress in that area.

Starting tomorrow, if Weber and Samuel can turn a few of their usual 10-15 yard runs into 20-25, Ohio State will rediscover the element that made them such a dangerous rushing attack the last three seasons.