Welcome to I Got 5 on it, the weekly column which I spent all week coming up with cool ideas for Ohio State’s game against Maryland, only to realize on Thursday that they were playing Rutgers. It was an honest mistake, but I gotta tell you, those three-plus days of forgetting Rutgers’ existence were pretty good. Anyway, I’m here to give you five things to watch for tomorrow as Ohio State takes on the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers comes into tomorrow’s game 1-3, as former Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Chris Ash continues to rebuild the program in his image. Unfortunately, that image right now still includes games like losses to Eastern Michigan, so there is still quite a ways to go before the Scarlet Knights are ready to tread water in the Big Ten East.
So, that means another Ohio State blowout win is likely, right? Probably, but Rutgers does have a good defense (No surprise given Ash’s history), and it’s still a conference road game at night. With that in mind, here are five things to watch for as the Buckeyes take on the Scarlet Knights:
Will J.T. Barrett run less than 10 times?
Since the start of the 2016 season, J.T. Barrett has run the ball 10 or more times in 12 of Ohio State’s 17 games, including 8-of-10 conference games. You probably don’t need me to tell you that isn’t an ideal recipe for offensive success. Whether by design, or playing lesser competition, the last two weeks have been the first stretch of Barrett’s career with back-to-back games of less than 10 carries. Will that continue against Rutgers?
A lack of Barrett runs usually means Ohio State’s passing game is clicking, and that the running backs are moving the ball efficiently. Rutgers’ defense is more than good enough to test the Buckeyes (23rd in Defensive S&P+), and with Head Coach Chris Ash’s knowledge of Ohio State’s personnel, will Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson get caught in the trap of running Barrett if things don’t go smooth early on?
The running back rotation
What can help Ohio State in their (hopeful) quest of not falling in love with the quarterback run is the return of running back Mike Weber from injury. Lost in the shuffle of J.K. Dobbins’ hotter-than-lightning start to his career is that Weber is still a damn good running back. Does that mean he should he start over Dobbins? Nope, but his return is key for a multitude of reasons.
First, it allows the coaching staff to not have to rely on Barrett as much in short yard situations. Say what you want about Weber’s ability to make someone miss in the open field, but that man will bowl your ass over when he needs to get a first down. It also means that when Barrett does run the ball, he can do so with even greater effectiveness. We know J.T. is adept on the ground, but him keeping the ball less should (in theory) keep defenses more off guard. Lastly, there’s no reason to run Dobbins 20-plus times against Rutgers. A steady rotation will keep Dobbins fresh, get Weber some needed game action before the meat of conference play, and have Ohio State closer to what they want to be on offense as their showdown with Penn State looms.
Erick Smith is starting to figure it out
One of my favorite plays from last week was one that didn’t count:
Egregious pass interference from Denzel Ward aside, this play does a good job of illustrating safety Erick Smith’s growing comfort on defense. For the second straight week, Smith was everywhere, ranging across the field to make plays, helping in run support, and finally looking comfortable in his role as a starter. It’s been a welcome sight after what happened to him in the Oklahoma game.
With the secondary likely to see a ton of work, I’ll be interested to watch Smith and see if he’s able to string together another solid performance, and lock down the role that we saw Malik Hooker excel in last season. Yes, it’s impossible to expect him to play at Hooker’s level, but the secondary could really use some playmaking (70th nationally in defensive back havoc rate) and another breakout game from Smith will have them on the right track.
That talk about Nick Bosa being better than Joey? It might be true
When Nick Bosa committed to Ohio State, I remember hearing a couple different recruiting analysts talk about him being better than his older brother. That seemed like a stretch, given Joey’s dominant three seasons, which included two consensus All-American honors, two Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year awards, plus a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award. Four games into his sophomore season, the smaller bear is well on his way to proving them right.
Bosa has been damn near unblockable this season, notching at least one tackle for loss in each game, to go along with three total sacks. Even when he’s not bringing the quarterback down, he’s forcing them to make quicker decisions:
Introducing the PFF All-American Watch, through four weeks of football.— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 28, 2017
With Ohio State likely to get out to a big lead, it’s a good bet that we’ll see even more of Bosa’s pass rushing ability on display. It’d be hard for any defensive lineman to follow in Joey Bosa’s footsteps — let alone his younger brother— but so far, Nick Bosa is doing just that.
Shoot the cannon! (But hopefully not)
The most memorable moment from Ohio State’s last trip to Piscataway in 2015 didn’t have anything to do with what was happening on the field. Late in the game, the Buckeye faithful that made the journey to New Jersey started taunting the Rutgers cannon crew, urging them to let a shot off, to no avail:
While Rutgers eventually shot the cannon after a late score, the “SHOOT THE CANNON CLAP-CLAP, CLAP-CLAP-CLAP,” chant is probably the best thing to come from the Scarlet Knights move to the Big Ten so far. (OK, that’s a lie; it’s this.)
I don’t even know if this tradition still exists, but I’m a sucker for a good chant, and with how Ohio State’s defense matches up with Rutgers offense, we just may hear it again.