Fresh off a 73-14 destruction of Maryland, Ohio State has one more game before the pressure really ramps up. Next week, the Buckeyes will host Penn State before closing out their regular season schedule on the road against Michigan. Before the Bucks can turn their attention to the Nittany Lions and Wolverines, Ohio State will make the trip to New Jersey to take on Rutgers.
If this year’s trip to Piscataway is anything like Ohio State’s first two trips to the home of the Scarlet Knights, the Buckeyes shouldn’t have much trouble against Rutgers. Ohio State won the 2015 meeting 49-7, and bettered that score in 2017, beating the Scarlet Knights 56-0. The Buckeyes are 5-0 all-time against Rutgers, scoring at least 49 points in all five of the previous matchups.
A tiny slip
After entering last week’s action as the top-ranked team in the College Football Playoff rankings, Ohio State slipped to second after LSU was able to outlast Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Even though the Buckeyes fell a spot in the rankings, Ohio State controls their own destiny. If the Buckeyes finish the season undefeated and win the Big Ten Championship Game, there will be no denying Ohio State in college football’s “final four”.
Best of both
Ohio State comes into this week’s game as one of the only teams in the country with both its offense and defense ranked in the top five. The only other team to have both sides of the football perform at such dominant levels is Clemson. The defense of the Buckeyes is the best in the country, while the offense is ranked No. 5.
Ohio State has a 321-yard difference between what it is gaining on offense and what it is allowing on defense, which is the best margin in the country. The Buckeyes have scored 62 touchdowns this season — most in the country — while allowing an FBS-low eight touchdowns this year.
Hot out of the gates
What has propelled Ohio State to wins of at least 30 points in eight of its first nine games this year has been how they have started games. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 283-31 in the first half this year. The 283 points Ohio State has scored in the first half this year is more points than 69 teams have scored overall this year. Second quarters have been especially kind to the Buckeyes, as they have scored at least 21 points in seven of their last eight second quarters this season.
Justin Fields didn’t have to take a snap in the second half last week, but that doesn’t mean Fields didn’t stuff the stat sheet. The quarterback threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns in his 30 minutes of work, while also adding a rushing touchdown to his season total. The sophomore has thrown only one interception this year, making him just one of three FBS quarterbacks to throw at least 150 passes and throw less than two interceptions.
The Georgia transfer might not be putting up as much yardage as Dwayne Haskins through the air, but Fields is outpacing Haskins’ touchdown total. Through nine games this year Fields has 37 total touchdowns, which is four ahead of what Haskins had through nine games last season. The 2019 first round NFL Draft pick finished the 2018 season with 54 total touchdowns, which is a number that should be easily attainable for Fields.
Chewing up yardage
It’s no secret that Ohio State’s rushing attack wasn’t up to par last season. J.K. Dobbins struggled to reach 1,000 yards rushing as the Buckeyes chose to do most of their damage through the air. Things are decidedly different for Dobbins and company this year. The junior running back already has 1,200 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. In fact, Ohio State has been so dominant that Dobbins has only had to carry the ball 42 times in the second half this year. Dobbins is also close to moving up on Ohio State’s career rushing list, as he is 113 yards away from passing Eddie George for third-most in school history.
It’s not just Dobbins who is doing work on the ground for the Buckeyes this year. Ohio State is averaging 295 yards per game on the ground. Backup running back Master Teague is quietly working his way towards 1,000 yards for this season, and is currently at 699 rushing yards through nine games. Last week, the Buckeyes rolled up 383 ground yards against Maryland, which was a season-high.
The biggest difference in the running game this year has been the return of the big play. After having just 15 rushes for 20 yards or more last year, the Buckeyes already have 29 this year. Dobbins has nearly half of those runs, as he has gone for at least 20 yards on 13 carries this year. Teague has seen limited work, but he has made the most of it, rushing three times for at least 30 yards, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
Even though Ohio State has hurt teams on the ground this year, it doesn’t mean teams can load the box to try and slow down the Buckeyes. Fields has been able to spread the football around through the air, with five of his receivers grabbing at least 15 passes thus far.
K.J. Hill only has a few games left in his Ohio State career, but he has his eyes on a school record. The senior has 34 catches this year, which currently leaves him 14 receptions shy of breaking David Boston’s OSU record. Hill has five touchdown receptions on the year, which is one away from equaling his career-high of six touchdown receptions he hauled in last year.
Hill might get most of the attention of the Ohio State receivers as he closes out a memorable career, but the best Buckeyes wide receiver this year has been Chris Olave. The sophomore has been on a mission since not seeing any targets against Michigan State. In three games since the victory over the Spartans, Olave has 17 receptions for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Olave needs just one more touchdown reception to hit double-digits on the season.
A triumphant return
Saturday’s game will be an emotional one for guard Jonah Jackson, who joined Ohio State as a graduate transfer after spending four years at Rutgers. Jackson started 16 games during his time with the Scarlet Knights, and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten last year by both the coaches and the media. The offensive lineman was highly respected by his coaches and teammates, as he was named a team captain last year. Expect Jackson to put a little extra into his blocks this week since he’ll be going up against a lot of his former teammates.
See you soon
One Buckeye we know won’t be on the field on Saturday is defensive end Chase Young, who will be serving the second game of his two-game suspension after an NCAA investigation into a loan he took out last season. The junior also missed last week’s game against Maryland after Ohio State decided last Friday to hold Young out of the game against the Terrapins.
The Buckeyes didn’t miss Young out on the field against Maryland, registering seven sacks against the Terrapins. Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith saw some additional playing time as Ohio State was not only missing Young, but they were also without Jonathon Cooper, who missed the game with an injury.
On the season, Ohio State has 41 sacks, which ranks second in the FBS behind only SMU, which has 42 sacks this year. The Buckeyes are averaging 4.56 sacks per game. At the current pace, Ohio State would cruise by the school record of 51 sacks in a season. OSU has seven players who have registered at least 2.5 sacks this year, with Young leading the way with 13.5 sacks.
Another Buckeye who will be making a return to New Jersey is safety Jordan Fuller. The senior is currently second on the team with 43 tackles, and his two interceptions this year are tied for second on the team, one behind cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. The play of Fuller hasn’t been unnoticed, as he has been named a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the William V. Campbell Trophy.
Taking what they want
Takeaways have been a critical part of Ohio State’s defense this year. The Buckeyes have 19 total takeaways, with 11 of those being interceptions. Of those takeaways, Ohio State has scored 14 times following the change of possession. The 14 scores after takeaways have resulted in 90 points, which is 13 points more than opponents have scored against the Buckeyes in total this year.
Ash to ashes
Rutgers has been an even bigger mess than normal this year. In late September, the Scarlet Knights decided to move on from head coach Chris Ash, firing the former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator after he posted a 8-32 record during his time at the school. Rutgers has not won more than four games in a season since 2014, when Kyle Flood led the team to a 8-5 record.
Nunzio’s Scarlet Knights for now
Taking over for Ash is the former tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile, who has also assumed the offensive coordinator role. Things haven’t gotten much better under Campanile, who is 1-4 as interim head coach. The only win came in late October, when the Scarlet Knights beat Liberty 44-34. The other four games during that span have seen Rutgers score 10 points or less in each contest.
Two quarterbacks down
The biggest issue for Rutgers has been at the most important position. The Scarlet Knights are on their third quarterback this year after Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter was forced to retire because of medical reasons, and Artur Sitkowski was ineffective and eventually decided to redshirt. Sitkowski has thrown just five touchdowns with 20 interceptions in two years with the Scarlet Knights.
Taking over the role of starting quarterback for Rutgers is Johnny Langan, whose best performance came in the win over Liberty wherein he totaled 310 yards and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Langan has three touchdowns and six interceptions so far this season. The Scarlet Knights have relied on Langan’s legs a lot, with the freshman having at least 13 carries in each of the last five games.
The lone threat
A bigger threat on the ground for Rutgers is running back Isaih Pacheco, who has two 100-yard rushing games on the season. Pacheco didn’t play two weeks ago against Illinois, but is expected to be ready to go against the Buckeyes. Earlier this week our own Tia Williams took more of an in-depth look at the Rutgers running back.
The best of the bunch
It’s hard to see Langan and the Rutgers passing attack doing much damage against the Ohio State pass defense, but if they do it will be because of Raheem Blackshear and Bo Melton. The duo are the only wide receivers with more than 15 receptions and 200 yards receiving on the team. Melton and Blackshear have caught three of the six passing touchdowns from Rutgers quarterbacks this year.
Two top tacklers
A couple Rutgers defenders figure to be around the football a lot on Saturday. Linebacker Tyshon Fogg leads the team with 81 tackles, while fellow linebacker Olakunle Fatusaki has 67 tackles. The pair rarely make stops behind the line of scrimmage though, as of all the tackles they have this year, Fogg has no tackles for loss and Fatusaki has just 3.5 stops that have resulted in negative plays.
The Rutgers defense has struggled in multiple facets this year. While Ohio State already has 41 sacks this year, the Scarlet Knights can’t even come close to creating that same type of pressure, as Rutgers has just 11 sacks this year. Defensive end Elorm Lumor and linebacker Rashawn Battle are tied for the team lead with two sacks each.
Turnovers turned off
As bad as the Scarlet Knights have been in creating pressure, they have been even worse in creating turnovers. Rutgers has just six takeaways this year, with four of those being interceptions. Defensive back Damon Hayes has two of those interceptions, and is tied for the team-lead with five passes broken up. Hayes also has one of the two fumble recoveries by the Scarlet Knights.
There really isn’t much we are going to learn from this one. This is a game Ohio State should win by a huge margin, and anything other than that will be a disappointment. The biggest thing for the Buckeyes is to get their starters some work before getting them out of the game to keep them from picking up any injuries. With games against Penn State and Michigan next up on the schedule, Ohio State can’t afford to see any starters hurt against the Scarlet Knights.
Fields and Dobbins should be able to pile up some big numbers in the time they are on the field, but Saturday’s game will provide players like Chris Chugunov, Teague, and Marcus Crowley to get more work than they normally see. Chugunov will be playing in front of a heavy contingent of friends and family, since he is originally from New Jersey. The backup quarterback might see the field even earlier on Saturday than he did against Maryland, where he was the quarterback to start the third quarter.
Rutgers has been shutout in three Big Ten games this year, and their highest scoring output in conference play came against Illinois when the Scarlet Knights scored 10 points. With the way Ohio State’s defense is playing this year, another shutout may be in order. It will be a shock if the Scarlet Knights reach double figures on the scoreboard. In five games against the Buckeyes, Rutgers has scored a total of 27 points. Things will get ugly for Rutgers early and get even worse as the game goes on.