The last time I made the trek to Piscataway, N.J., it was a cold, windy evening when the Ohio State Buckeyes took on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. This was on Oct. 24, 2015, and I covered the Scarlet and Gray’s 49-7 win against a then-coached Kyle Flood Rutgers program.
Flood isn’t there anymore, and the Buckeye defense is basically a new team. However, as the saying goes, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”
Last night, Urban Meyer led OSU into High Point Solutions Stadium, and pulled out a win in blowout fashion, again. Unlike 2015, this edition of Buckeyes-Scarlet Knights ended in a shutout. Yes, Chris Ash’s program has been the punching bag in the Big Ten since he took over last season, but his team put up a fight in the first quarter.
However, after the first quarter, things got out of hand in a hurry, as the Buckeyes paced their way to a 4-1 start to the season. Even in this blowout in Jersey, we learned some things about this Ohio State team; we also have some questions to ask, too.
Let’s break them down.
The OSU defensive line is scary good
It was a long night for Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin. The passing game was non-existent for the Scarlet Knights, mostly due to the fact that the OSU defensive line was manhandling the Rutgers offensive line.
Take a look at this snapshot in time:
Bolin is literally 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage, and there are three Buckeyes who are right in his grill. This was a constant theme on the night which led to the starting QB racking up only 56 passing yards.
Rutgers went with multiple QBs against the Buckeyes, but it didn’t matter. The D-line of Ohio State forced bad throws from Bolin, and two interceptions from freshman Johnathan Lewis.
While screens and short passes picked up a few yards, the threat of the deep ball didn’t exist. That could be expected, though. However, this stat is a little surprising: zero Scarlet Knight receivers registered a reception. Tight ends and running backs made up most of the completions, but none of the receivers could catch a ball against the OSU defense. Between a combination of the Buckeye defensive line getting through so easily, and the secondary locking in on their respective man, there’s nothing that could’ve been done for Rutgers to get an aerial attack going.
Sam Hubbard led the line with four tackles, and Nick Bosa was right behind him with three. Both members of the vaunted D-line also tallied one QB hit apiece—and Hubbard forced a fumble, too.
On most rushing plays, there was a Buckeye waiting to make a tackle. Gus Edwards led the Scarlet Knights with 43 yards on the ground, but 22 of them came off a third quarter rush—in what could’ve been considered garbage time, as the Buckeyes had the game sealed up with a 35-0 lead.
One thing that hasn’t been slacking this season has been Ohio State’s defensive front. Go back to the first half of the Oklahoma Sooners game, and you’ll find that Baker Mayfield had a tough time navigating against the front line of the Buckeye defense. Like last week against UNLV, Rutgers was toast from the start. While you don’t need a Heisman caliber QB to contend with Ohio State, you need one to at least be able to buy some time in the pocket. Rutgers did not have that, and that played a big role in the goose egg on their side of the scoreboard.
As evident by the scoreboard, Rutgers couldn’t stop OSU’s offense
The numbers weren’t quite 50/50, but the Buckeye offense was finding positive yardage on the ground and through the air. In total, OSU racked up 628 total yards of offense. (In comparison, Rutgers struggled with their first string to get 209 yards.)
J.T. Barrett connected with his receivers for 275 yards and three TDs, and picked up 89 yards on his own using his feet. Granted, the Scarlet Knight secondary got beat bad on multiple plays, but Barrett made the throws and his receivers hauled in the catches. Since the season opener with the Indiana Hoosiers, the Barrett-Zone 6 connection has been improving. It seems like there is greater confidence amongst both parties, which helps to minimize the mistakes. Is the passing game 100 percent mistake free? No—but they are getting there.
Ten different players caught passes in this night game in Piscataway, with Terry McLaurin leading the bunch with five receptions. Johnnie Dixon led the team in receiving yards with 115, and took two of his three catches to the house. Parris Campbell, who’s been Barrett’s go-to man on the passing game, hauled in just one catch for 20 yards. This distribution of wealth is exactly what you want to see, as this is how you find out who the No. 2, No.3, etc. receivers are. We knew Campbell was the No. 1 guy, but it’s starting to appear that Dixon is the No. 2, if he’s got space to work with. If there’s a goal line pass getting dialed up, it may be a jump-ball to Binjimen Victor.
As the passing game keeps on developing, the rushing portion of the OSU offense got another contender for reps: Demario McCall. McCall, who didn’t see much playing time in the previous games due to injury, bursted onto the scene after making his appearance in the third quarter. He ended up leading the running attack with 103 yards and a score. J.K. Dobbins, who basically was shelved after the first quarter, ended the contest with 53 yards.
Barrett is a legend. No way around it
With a 13-yard completion to McLaurin in the waning minutes of the first half, Barrett passed Art Schlichter in the OSU record books and became the program’s all-time passing leader. That’s a huge accomplishment for Barrett, as the last QB to get close to the record was Bobby Hoying, some 20 years ago.
That wasn’t the only career milestone the Wichita Falls, Texas native reached on Saturday night. Barrett eclipsed the mark of 10,000 total offensive yards, and with the help of three passing TDs, reached an exclusive club with three other QBs to have this statline for a college career: 80 passing TDs and 30 rushing TDs.
J.T. Barrett is one of the best QBs to ever play for Ohio State
J.T. Barrett became Ohio State's all-time leading passer on Saturday night. He also reached a couple other milestones, too.Posted by Land-Grant Holy Land - For Ohio State fans on Sunday, October 1, 2017
Since taking over as the starting quarterback after the injury to Braxton Miller in the Summer of 2014, it feels as though Barrett has been at OSU forever. While he’s had his share—or more than—his share of criticism, one thing you can’t say is that Barrett isn’t one of the best QBs to walk through the tunnel for the Buckeyes. Within the record books at Ohio State and the Big Ten Conference, he sits atop 29 of them.
That’s pretty good.
While that’s a few of the answers we saw from the Bucks win, let’s take a look at some of the burning questions we have.
What is the deal with the penalties?
Once again, the penalty fairy paid a visit to Ohio State during game time. The litany of calls the Buckeyes collected this week include: offsides, false start, illegal formation (which was declined), block in the back, running into the kicker (which was also declined) and an unsportsmanlike conduct call.
When the clock hit all zeros, the Buckeyes were responsible for 10 penalties, costing a whopping 106 yards. Last week, I said to expect 6+ penalties if the team continued to play undisciplined football. Andddd, here we are.
Most of these penalties are the kind that can be worked out in practice and through drills—but they keep getting called each week. At this point, is the penalty problem even solvable?
How will the running back situation work?
Earlier, we talked about McCall entering the fray as another running option for the Buckeyes. This is good.
However, the backfield is starting to get awfully crowded. J.K. Dobbins has busted onto the gridiron as the man with the hot hand. Mike Weber is back from the hamstring injury and seems to be stronger than ever. He saw 10 carries against Rutgers, and found the endzone on three of them. Also, Weber plowed through the defense and was basically a human wrecking ball, as it took multiple Scarlet Knights to bring him down.
Antonio Williams, another running back, didn’t play on Saturday night due to injury.
This brings up an interesting dilemma for Kevin Wilson and Urban Meyer: how are you gonna decide who gets the ball? A rotation was used for the receiving corps, but that was devised to figure out who the starters were going to be. In the backfield, it’s evident that Dobbins and Weber are two guys that will get carries, but when you throw in McCall and Williams, things get a little bit tricker.
A team with the similar situation is the Oklahoma Sooners. They have four running backs on staff who can make plays and get yards. Their coach, Lincoln Riley, has taken a running back by committee approach, and it seems to be working.
Should Urban and company do this? That’s one solution. But whatever the strategy is, Weber and Dobbins have to play a big role in it. Especially in the bigger, closer games. The read-option has always been the bread and butter of Meyer’s offense since he came to Columbus. However, he has four real running backs on his roster this time around—and utilizing them will help immensely if the Buckeyes were to take down either Penn State, Iowa or Michigan.