What better place to get intel on this week’s upcoming opponent than from the people who cover them? We’ve teamed up with On The Banks, SB Nation’s Rutgers blog, to get the inside scoop on what to expect from the Scarlet Knights this weekend and to gauge their feelings on the matchup.
Speaking with On The Banks managing editor Aaron Breitman, we talked about the early impact of head coach Greg Schiano, some expectations for the program as a whole, what we should expect to see from Rutgers on the field this weekend, and some areas where Ohio State could potentially struggle against the Knights. We also got his score prediction for the game.
I answered some questions for Breitman about Ohio State on their side of things, which you can find here.
Let’s jump right into it!
LGHL: How does the fanbase feel about the Greg Schiano hire? Do they think he can turn the program around and make them more competitive in the Big Ten East?
OTB: The fan base showed more passion and was more vocal than perhaps ever before in a united effort to bring back Greg Schiano as head coach for a second run. No one has had more success on the recruiting trail or on the field at Rutgers in the modern era than Schiano and second best isn’t even close.
In New Jersey, he is well respected based on his first tenure at RU and has strong relationships across the state that make him well positioned to inject new life into the program. It has helped him hit the ground running, even during a global pandemic, both in establishing a new culture and with recruiting. He has the credibility from being successful at Rutgers previously that has inspired real hope that he can turn the program around a second time.
Another positive is that Schiano has hired a very credible coaching staff that is arguably the best in program history. Hiring Sean Gleeson as offensive coordinator gives Rutgers a chance to establish stability on that side of the ball for the first time in over a decade. There are also a lot of coaches on staff who have worked for Schiano before, especially on defense. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith, defensive line coach Jim Panagos, and linebacker coach Bob Fraser have all worked at Rutgers and with Schiano previously. Secondary coach Fran Brown is one of the best recruiters in the country and a respected teacher as well.
The strong coaching staff and support system that Schiano has established within the program gives hope they will steadily improve within the Big Ten East over time. We know the basement level for the program with Schiano will be elevated considerably from the recent past, the biggest question is how high the ceiling can ultimately reach.
LGHL: Obviously Rutgers isn’t going to go from last to first in a year, but what are some reasonable expectations for the program this season?
OTB: As for actual expectations entering the season, the big picture goal was to establish a strong foundation and culture that can lead to future success. Player development is a major priority as well, so being able to see improvement from last season and the beginning of this season to the last game in December is important.
However, from a perception stand point, ending that 21-game Big Ten losing streak was an absolute must. The fact that they were able to do that in Schiano’s first game back sent a strong statement that the program was going to be competitive once again. Also, being more competitive against the blue bloods like Ohio State and Michigan will be another type of measuring stick this season.
LGHL: How important was that early season win against Michigan State for both the players and for the fanbase? Does it already feel like the team is more competitive than years past, or is it still too soon to tell?
OTB: It was huge on many levels. It helped reinforce the message and culture that Schiano has preached to his players. They grew confidence during the game in a way we haven’t seen them play with in quite some time. The talent and depth of the roster is not where it needs to be for Rutgers to be seriously competing against the best of the Big Ten, but I think we’ve seen through the first two games that they should be competitive against pretty much every other team in the league this season.
That’s significant progress in a short period of time and during a season that the new coaching staff did not have ample time to revamp the program. Their new “never say die” attitude was never more apparent than during that crazy 4th-and-32 play late in the game against Indiana that unfortunately saw the touchdown overturned due to an illegal forward pass by like an inch.
Schiano’s mantra during his first tenure was to “keep chopping” and he has quickly engrained the players in this philosophy, as they often say during interview’s that they are “chopping the moment.” It helped to give the program an identity when Schiano implemented that phrase during his first tenure and it’s helped transform the mindset of the players this time around.
LGHL: What is the biggest area you see Rutgers struggling in this weekend?
OTB: Rutgers has struggled in every area against the Buckeyes in the past six meetings, but the area that is a major concern against any opponent this season is the offensive line. They lost three starters from last season and depth is a concern. While they played admirably in the first game against Michigan State, they weren’t nearly as effective against Indiana. Rutgers has struggled in the run game, but OC Sean Gleeson has done a good job calling plays that have minimized instances when quarterback Noah Vedral has been under siege.
However, I think it’s going to be very difficult for the Rutgers offense to sustain many drives against the Buckeyes due to the unlikelihood they’ll be operating from third and short too often. Gleeson has the offense operating at a fast pace to try and wear down opposing lineman, but the reality this week is Rutgers is most overmatched at offensive line than any other position group.
LGHL: Bo Melton and Tyshon Fogg are probably the stars on either side of the ball, but who are some lesser known guys who could make a big impact on Saturday?
OTB: A factor in Rutgers looking more competitive right away is the impact that transfers have had this season. All four transfers came from the Big Ten and are legitimate starters, so it’s given a major boost to the top of the depth chart.
Quarterback Noah Vedral is a grad transfer from Nebraska, and while he has been up and down through two games, his play has elevated the position significantly compared to previous seasons. Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank was an All-Big Ten kick returner with the Badgers, and he did have a 55 yard return last week. However, he is being utilized on offense far more often then he played with the Badgers, mostly in a slot receiver role.
On the defensive side, Michigan transfer Michael Dwumfour has done a good job generating a mostly consistent push along the line and has been a disruptor. Of course, former Buckeyes safety Brendon White reunited with Schiano this year, and he has brought playmaking ability and leadership with him.
Another transfer of note is tight end Jovani Haskins, who was an All-Big XII performer two seasons ago at West Virginia.
LGHL: If Rutgers is going to have some success in Ohio Stadium, in what area would you most expect it to be?
OTB: I think they could surprise Ohio State somewhat on the defensive side of the ball, at least in the early going. The swarm and strip mission that Schiano has brought back to the program since his departure led to an amazing seven takeaways against Michigan State. While that approach won’t surprise Ohio State, I do think their aggressiveness on defense could lead to some takeaways.
Schiano has a good understanding of the OSU offense, so they should be well prepared. They don’t have the horses to keep them contained long term, but I think they’ll be more competitive than in the past. It’s also crucial for the offense to get some opportunities on a short field if Rutgers wants to be competitive into the second half, as I don’t expect that unit will be able to produce too many long yardage drives.
LGHL: What is your prediction for the game?
OTB: I think that Rutgers will perform much better at the start of this game than they have in prior meetings against Ohio State. I think Schiano will have them ready to play in his return to Ohio Stadium. Obviously this team doesn’t have near the amount of talent as OSU does, and that will take a toll in the second half.
I think Rutgers could make some plays on special teams and create a couple turnovers to make it interesting for a bit. Overall, the Rutgers offense isn’t good enough to keep up with the firepower of Ohio State. Despite some progress with how they played compared to seasons past, the final score isn’t much better.
Ohio State 45 Rutgers 10.
Thanks again to Aaron and the rest of the good folks over at On The Banks. I look forward to rooting against you all on Saturday. Be sure to check out his piece with my thoughts on Ohio State this weekend.