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Ohio State vs. Rutgers: 2018 game preview and prediction

The Buckeyes will look to make it three shutouts in a row over Rutgers when they host the Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Football: Texas State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from a handful of defensive lapses, Ohio State had little trouble with Oregon State in the season opener. The 77-31 victory by the Buckeyes marked the 18th consecutive season-opening win for Ohio State. The Buckeyes rolled up 721 yards of offense against the Beavers, which marked the second-highest total in school history.

Ohio State will now step into Big Ten play for a week when they host Rutgers on Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes are 4-0 against the Scarlet Knights, winning those four meetings by a combined score of 219-24. Ohio State has never allowed the Scarlet Knights to score more than 17 points in a game, and has shutout Rutgers in the last two seasons.

The Buckeyes have had little trouble in recent history in their first B1G game of the season, winning 15 of their last 17 conference openers. Two years ago the Buckeyes hosted Rutgers in their league game, and defeated the Scarlet Knights 58-0. The last time Ohio State lost their first game in Big Ten play was back in 2011 when Michigan State beat the Buckeyes 10-7 when Luke Fickell was interim head coach.

With Ryan Day serving as acting head coach last week, the Buckeyes looked like a well-oiled machine against Oregon State, especially on offense. Ohio State racked up 375 yards rushing and 346 yards passing, while the defense gave up the majority of the 392 yards they surrendered to the Beavers on just seven plays.

A sparkling debut

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins had the best first start for an Ohio State quarterback in program history, passing for 313 yards, which set a school record, and 5 touchdowns. Haskins completed the first eight passes he attempted, and had two touchdown throws before the first quarter was even over.

Haskins received plenty of help from his wide receivers in his big starting debut, completing passes to seven different Buckeyes. Terry McLaurin had a strong start to the 2018 season, catching four balls for 121 yards and two touchdowns. McLaurin not only finished off Haskins’ first drive as starting quarterback with a 2-yard touchdown catch, but he found the end zone with a 75-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the third quarter following a lengthy weather delay at halftime.

To compliment McLaurin, K.J. Hill reeled in a team-high six catches for 82 yards, and Austin Mack caught five passes for a nice 69 yards. It will be interesting to see if this week Haskins targets some of his other wide receivers who were quiet in the season opener. Parris Campbell caught four passes for just 22 yards, and Johnnie Dixon just had one catch for 10 yards. Binjimen Victor didn’t catch a pass in the win over Oregon State, but Rutgers would be wise to keep tabs on him when he is on the field.

Ground and pound

Last year in the season opener against Indiana, Mike Weber wasn’t available to play due to a hamstring injury. This year Weber opened the season at 100% and it certainly showed. The redshirt junior running back rushed for a career high 186 yards and scored four touchdowns. Weber is now 92 rushing yards away from 2,000 yards in his Ohio State career, and when he reaches that mark he’ll be the 26th Buckeye to rush for 2,000 yards.

Ohio State opened up last week’s game with J.K. Dobbins at running back, but he didn’t fare nearly as well as Weber did. The two running backs alternated series for most of the game, but Dobbins finished with just 74 yards on 15 carries. Of Ohio State’s 10 rushes of 10 or more yards last week, Dobbins accounted for just one of those runs. Don’t expect Dobbins to see diminished carries after last week though, as he is still a big part of Ohio State’s plans this season.

A lethal combination

This isn’t breaking news or anything, but Nick Bosa is really good. The defensive end kicked off what will likely be his final year at Ohio State with two sacks and two fumble recoveries, one of which happened in the end zone to extend Ohio State’s lead to 42-7 in the second quarter.

Dating back to last year’s Michigan game, Bosa has now recorded at least one sack in four consecutive game, totaling 6.5 sacks during that stretch. Bosa currently has 15.5 career sacks at Ohio State, which is tied with Cameron Heyward for 16th place in school history. If Bosa can make it three straight games with two sacks, he’ll tied Andy Katzenmoyer and Rodney Bailey for 13th place on Ohio State’s all-time sacks list.

Nick Bosa wasn’t the only Ohio State defensive lineman that will be playing in the NFL next year to have a big performance against Oregon State. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones doubled his previous career sack total by registering a pair last week. Both Bosa and Jones should be able to have another big performance this Saturday, as they’ll be setting their sights on Rutgers’ true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski.

Trial by error

It didn’t hurt them much in the season opener, but Ohio State’s defense can’t allow itself to make some of the same mistakes against TCU or Penn State that it did against Oregon State. On the Beavers’ third drive of the game, not only did Chase Young jump offsides twice, but Jeffrey Okudah committed pass interference penalties on the same plays. Some of the penalties could have been season-opening jitters, but the Buckeyes can’t make avoidable penalties a habit.

Ohio State has to do a better job of defending the big play. For the most part the Buckeye defense held Oregon State in check, allowing just 72 yards on 56 of 63 plays. The other seven plays netted Oregon State 320 yards, with three of those being touchdowns of at least 49 yards. Had it not been for seven plays, the Beavers might have not even reached double digits on the score sheet.

With so many new starters on defense, it is understandable that there are going to be some growing pains, but the coaching staff has to address this with the players, because in the College Football Playoff era there is little room for error. The defense will be in even better shape going forward as linebacker Tuf Borland continues to recover from an achilles injury suffered in spring practice, and safety Jordan Fuller returns from a nagging hamstring.

If the Buckeyes do happen to let some of last week’s mistakes carry over, they’ll likely be able to survive this week against Rutgers, but it’ll be a whole different story starting next week when they head down to Texas to play TCU.

Where Rutgers stands

Rutgers opened up the season win an easy 35-7 win over Texas State, marking their largest win over an FBS opponent since they defeated South Florida 31-0 in 2009. Now, the Scarlet Knights are looking for their first 2-0 start since 2004, but the odds are heavily stacked against them actually accomplishing that feat.

Saturday’s contest is the 13th game since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014 where the Scarlet Knights have taken on a ranked conference opponent, with seven of those opponents being ranked inside the top 10. Ohio State was ranked just outside the top 10 in two of those meetings, with the Buckeyes entering their matchup with the Scarlet Knights ranked 13th in 2014, and ranked 11th last season.

The win over South Florida in 2009 was the last time Rutgers defeated an opponent ranked in the AP poll, and the Scarlet Knights have just nine wins over AP ranked teams all-time. Rutgers does have two wins over teams ranked in the top 5, and both of those wins came with current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as their head coach. In 2006, Rutgers defeated a third-ranked Louisville team, and the following season they defeated South Florida, who was ranked second in the country at the time.

Coach swap

During his 11 years at Rutgers as head coach, Greg Schiano posted a 68-67 record, and led the Scarlet Knights to five bowl wins in six appearances. Schiano hasn’t taken it easy on his former employers though, with his defenses not surrendering a single point to Rutgers since he was named defensive coordinator at OSU before the 2016 season.

The man Schiano replaced in Columbus following the 2015 season was co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who left Ohio State to take the head coaching job at Rutgers. While Ash struggled mightily to a 2-10 record in his first season in Piscataway, his team showed signs of growth last year, as the Scarlet Knights went 4-8. The biggest surprise last year for Rutgers was the three Big Ten games they won after coming out on top in just one conference game over the previous two seasons.

A need to grow up quickly

Last week Artur Sitkowski became the 11th true freshman ever to start at quarterback for Rutgers, and the first to start the season opener since Ryan Cubit in 2001. Sitkowski held his own, completing 20 of his 30 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. Overall, the Rutgers offense passed for 200 yards and also rushed for 200 yards for the first time since their 2015 meeting with Indiana.

What is concerning about Sitkowski’s performance in his debut against Texas State (for Rutgers fans, at least) was the three interceptions that he threw. Ohio State didn’t force Oregon State into any interceptions last week, but they recorded five sacks and put plenty of pressure on Oregon State’s quarterbacks.

Protect at all costs

Luckily for Rutgers they do have some experience at offensive line that will try and keep Sitkowski clean. The Rutgers offensive line has combined to make 59 career starts, and last year allowed just 18 sacks. If the Scarlet Knights’ offensive line can’t hold up against the intense pressure Bosa, Jones, Young, and the rest of what the defensive line is going to throw at them, it will make an unthinkable upset impossible.

Raheem the dream

If Rutgers hopes to keep things close against Ohio State, they’ll have to get the football into the hands of running back Raheem Blackshear. Last week, Blackshear rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown and added 56 yards receiving and another touchdown. After Ohio State gave up a number of big plays to Oregon State last week, Blackshear has to be excited to exploit some of the holes he might be able to find in an Ohio State defense that is still trying to come together.

For a more in-depth look at what Blackshear brings to the table for the Scarlet Knights, be sure to check out the film our own Christopher Jason broke down of the speedster running back.

Experience needs to save the day

If Rutgers has any chances of slowing down the potent Ohio State offense, they’ll need their experience in the back seven to shine. Last week against Texas State, senior linebacker Trevor Morris recorded a team-high nine tackles, bringing his career total to 235 tackles. Morris’ tackle total is the highest among current Rutgers players, and just behind him is fellow senior Deonte Roberts, who has amassed 216 tackles during his time with the Scarlet Knights.

Blessaun Austin suffered a season-ending injury last year in the Big Ten season opener against Nebraska, and returned to the field last week for the first time since suffering the injury. However, he has been ruled inactive for this Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes. Without Austin leading the secondary, the Rutgers DBs will have their hands full with the stable of talented wide receivers Ohio State will throw at him.

The remaining starting cornerback for Rutgers is Isaiah Wharton. The redshirt senior has started every game during his career at Rutgers, and was voted a team captain before the season. Even though Wharton has pulled in just two interceptions during his career, he has broken up 24 passes in three-plus years for the Scarlet Knights.

The third key piece of the Rutgers secondary is strong safety Kiy Hester, who started eight games for Rutgers last season. Hester was originally going to move on to Florida International as a graduate transfer this season, but he didn’t complete his degree in time, which allowed him to return to Rutgers. Last year Hester was named honorable mention All-Big Ten and will be looking to add to his four career interceptions.


F/+ Projection: Ohio State 43, Rutgers 10

Win probability: Ohio State 96.8%

The win probability for Ohio State isn’t quite as high as it was last week for the Oregon State game, but this essentially should be another walk-through for the Buckeyes. Before next week’s contest with TCU, a step up in competition will give the Ohio State offense time to gel more, and allow the defense some game play to try and shore up the miscues they had against the Beavers.

Even with the experience Rutgers returns on the offensive line, the Buckeyes should be able to harass the Scarlet Knights’ true freshman quarterback throughout the game. Expect Ohio State to force the inexperienced QB into some mistakes that will give the Buckeyes short fields, allowing Ryan Day’s team to pad their point total.