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With rain forecast, how will Ohio State adjust against Rutgers?

Ground-and-pound and lots of subs are in the cards for the Buckeyes.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Ohio State Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

If you are an Ohio State Buckeyes fan living anywhere in relative proximity to Central Ohio, chances are that you are well aware that Columbus is in the early hours of what will likely be a days-long deluge as the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon make their way through the Midwest.

Last week, the Buckeyes suffered through an obnoxiously long halftime in their 77-31 season-opening victory over Oregon State thanks to lightning in the area. As OSU prepares for today’s game against Rutgers, The National Weather Service is forecasting up to three inches of rain on Saturday, with a chance of thunderstorms starting right before kickoff as well.

If the rains are as heavy as anticipated, that will most certainly impact the way that the game is played. Traditional thinking is that heavy rain will keep the ball on the ground, which is likely a good thing for the Scarlet Knights, even though the Buckeyes probably won’t have many complaints about it either.

Ground and Pound

Earlier in the week, Rutgers’ best defensive back, Blessuan Austin, was ruled inactive, following an early exit in the team’s season-opening win against Texas State. Austin tore his ACL last season, and head coach Chris Ash said that they are going to be cautious with their best defensive player.

In addition, second-string defensive backs Tre Avery and Kiy Hester are said to be game-time decisions, which means that the Scarlet Knights could be without three of their top six DBs against Ohio State. On a clear day, the Buckeyes could pass forever against an undermanned secondary, but if the skies open up, interim head coach Ryan Day very well might stick to the ground-attack. That would obviously let the back end of Ash’s defense off the hook, but given the ridiculous stable of Buckeye running backs, the rain might be a double-edged sword for the boys from Piscataway, N.J.

Last week, OSU’s Mike Weber went for a career-high 186 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, in addition to a three-yard pop-pass reception for a fourth TD. Against the Beavers, the Detroit native appeared to be completely healthy for the first time since 2016, which means that in addition to his bruising running style, he has regained the burst that fans expected from him when he came out of Cass Tech.

Pair him with J.K. Dobbins, who went for 1,403 rushing yards as a true freshman in 2017, and I wouldn’t imagine that Day and fellow offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson are too worried about potentially having to pull back on the passing reins.

Even if the rains do end up limiting the amount of throwing that the Buckeyes do against Rutgers, I would still expect Day to give quarterback Dwayne Haskins opportunities to throw, especially early. Even though OSU should be able to handle Rutgers, no matter the conditions, at some point during the season it is likely that Haskins will have to deal with the elements in a much more competitive game, and this would be a perfect time to get some real-world experience in less than ideal circumstances.

So, while that might mean that the Buckeyes keep the passing game focused on the short to intermediate ranges for the second weekend in a row, I wouldn’t expect them to take the air out of the ball all together... at least not until Haskins exits the game earlier than normal.

Injury Risk

Coming into Saturday’s game, Rutgers isn’t the only team dealing with some injuries to key defenders. Last week, linebacker Tuf Borland was on a 10-play “pitch count” still recovering from an Achilles injury, and starting safety Jordan Fuller was a last-second scratch dealing with a hamstring issue.

Last week, we all learned that the field at The ‘Shoe could take more than its fair share of rain. With a matchup against No. 16 TCU looming just a week away, it would seem unnecessarily risky to have players working through leg injuries out running on a potentially slippery surface.

Therefore, it might be prudent for Day to keep some of his less than 100 percent players on the sideline for the game, either completely, or more than he would on a dry day.

Another thing to consider is whether or not a potentially messy synthetic track could lead to starters being pulled earlier than they otherwise would with TCU on the horizon. Not only do the Buckeyes have to consider the contest against the Horned Frogs, but there’s also the big time, Big Ten matchup coming at the end of the month in State College, Penn. against No. 13 Penn State.

While next week’s opponent will certainly factor into the equation, you’d also have to think that the game location would as well. Since Week 3 will bring the Buckeyes’ first non-home game of the season—a technically neutral-site contest just 22 miles from TCU’s campus—, they will need to travel to Arlington, Texas no later than Friday morning, but likely after class and practice on Thursday. Meaning that they will have to miss treatment time at the Woody Hayes Center that could have helped get players closer to 100 percent, and will have to travel the 1,000+ miles instead.

TL;DR Conclusion

If the rains are as heavy as anticipated during the game today, expect the Buckeyes to flex their muscles with a heavy dose of Dobbins and Weber, while still allowing Haskins to get some experience with a wet ball.

It also would behoove the Buckeyes to keep any players nursing injuries, especially to leg ligaments, out of the game as much as possible; not to mention any starters that would be especially problematic to replace.

Ultimately, the weather likely won’t impact the final result of the game, but how personnel is handled could have far reaching ramifications.