After hitting the road last week for the first time this season, Ohio State returns home on Saturday night to host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. While the Buckeyes frequently play under the lights, they rarely get a chance to do so at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State is 62-27 all-time in games starting after 5 p.m., but have played just 20 of those games at home. This is just the second night game at Ohio Stadium since the 2017 loss to Oklahoma.
Last time out
Ohio State continued their domination of the Big Ten on Saturday with a 38-25 win over Penn State. The victory was the 15th straight conference win for the Buckeyes. During the winning streak, Ohio State has outscored their opponents 702-285. 12 of the wins have been by at least 10 points, and 10 of the wins have been by at least 23 points.
The win over Penn State was Ohio State’s 10th straight road win over a ranked opponent, tying Notre Dame for the longest all-time streak. The Fighting Irish were perfect on the road against ranked foes from 1941-49, while Ohio State’s current streak started in 2012.
Ohio State took control of last week’s game against Penn State early, opening up the game with a 62-yard run from Garrett Wilson on the first play. The Buckeyes never trailed in the contest, and really should have beaten the Nittany Lions by at least 21 points, but some mistakes kept Ohio State from running up the score. Ohio State rolled up 526 yards of total offense, marking the 29th time in the last 44 games that they have recorded at least 500 yards of offense.
Now the Buckeyes will turn their attention to Rutgers, who has yet to beat Ohio State in the six meetings since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014. Ohio State has scored at least 49 points in each of the six meetings with Rutgers. Last year the Buckeyes jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Justin Fields threw for a then career-high 305 yards and four touchdowns in the 56-21 victory.
Making his mark
With Trevor Lawrence on the sidelines due to COVID-19, Justin Fields vaulted to the top of the Heisman Trophy race with his performance in his first two games of the season. The junior quarterback has thrown just seven incompletions, which is the same number as the number of touchdowns he has accounted for this season. Fields is running an Ohio State offense that is currently first in the Big Ten with 45 points per game this season.
It’s easy for Fields to put up big numbers when he has a couple of stud receivers catching his passes. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave became the first pair of Ohio State wide receivers to go over 100 yards receiving in back-to-back games. Wilson hauled in a career-high 11 catches for 111 yards on Saturday night, while Olave caught seven passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns against the Nittany Lions.
With so much attention being paid to Wilson and Olave, another weapon for Fields was utilized on Saturday night. Tight end Jeremy Ruckert caught two touchdowns against Penn State. It marked the second time that Ruckert has caught two touchdowns in a game, with the first coming in the 2019 season opener against Florida Atlantic. The four catches by Ruckert also matched a career-high.
After an underwhelming season opener, the rushing attack of the Buckeyes showed some improvement against Penn State. Master Teague logged 23 carries for 110 yards in Saturday night’s victory. The 100-yard effort was the third of Teague’s career, and just a yard off of matching his career-high, which he set in last year’s lopsided win over Maryland. Teague has now surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in his Ohio State career.
While it looks obvious that Teague is going to be the feature back for Ohio State going forward, Trey Sermon saw a similar workload to his first game in the scarlet and gray. After rushing 11 times for 48 yards against Nebraska, Sermon saw 13 carries on Saturday night, finishing with 56 yards. Being able to lean on an experienced back like Sermon when Teague needs a breather is critical for the Ohio State offense. Even though he hasn’t made a huge impact yet, there will be a game that Sermon breaks a couple big runs and shows why he was sought after when he entered his name in the transfer portal.
What was encouraging from the Ohio State defense against Penn State was the pressure they were able to put on Sean Clifford. The star of the game was defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, who registered three sacks against the Nittany Lions. The trifecta of sacks was the first time a Buckeyes has reached that mark in a game since Quinn Pitcock was credited with a hat trick in 2006 against Cincinnati. The sacks were the first of Togiai’s Ohio State career.
Togiai wasn’t the only Buckeye to have a strong game against Penn State. Jonathon Cooper was all over the field on Saturday night, registering five tackles and half a sack. On the other end of the defensive line, Zach Harrison made a lot of noise after a quiet season-opener. The sophomore was in the backfield on numerous occasions. Harrison finished with four tackles, 1.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Add in what guys like Tyler Friday, Haskell Garrett, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste are able to do and the depth of the Ohio State defensive line is among the best in the country.
Right now the most concerning area for Ohio State on defense is in the secondary. Penn State went after Shaun Wade last week and found a lot of success against the future NFL cornerback thanks to a few incredible catches by Jahan Dotson. The start from Wade has been less than ideal, but at least he does have some time to find his top form before Ohio State is challenged again.
Next man up
The Buckeyes did suffer a huge blow last week when Cameron Brown suffered an achilles injury and will miss the rest of the season. Now Ohio State will not only need Wade and Sevyn Banks to step up, but they will also need guys like Marcus Williamson and Tyreke Johnson to shoulder an even bigger role.
While Brown’s season has ended, Ohio State did see the next star of the secondary start to emerge. Marcus Hooker had an outstanding game at safety against Penn State, channeling some of what we saw from his older brother, Malik. Hooker capped off the victory with his first career interception.
With the emergence of Hooker, Ohio State could opt to keep both Hooker and Josh Proctor on the field at the same time at safety. If the Buckeyes decide to stay with their three cornerback look, Hooker has made a strong case for seeing the bulk of the playing time at safety over Proctor.
Ohio State better hope that they don’t have a game that comes down to a clutch field goal or else they could be in trouble. Kicker Blake Haubeil suffered an injury early in the game against Penn State that has him listed as day-to-day. Haubeil missed the only field goal he attempted before junior Dominic DiMaccio took over the kicking duties for the rest of the game. DiMaccio did hit his first career field goal in the game, but the kicks didn’t inspire much confidence. Hopefully the injury to Haubeil isn’t one that lingers and he’ll work his way back into top form quickly.
A familiar face
Rutgers enters Saturday’s game in just the third game of Greg Schiano’s second stint at the school as head coach. This is Schiano’s 12th season overall as head coach of the in Piscataway, where he has posted a 69-68 record. Schiano did spend three seasons at Ohio State as defensive coordinator on Urban Meyer’s coaching staff.
A new beginning
After opening up the season with a 38-27 win over Michigan State, where they forced the Spartans into seven turnovers, the Scarlet Knights fell 37-21 to Indiana last week. The win over Michigan State was Rutgers’ fourth road conference win since joining the Big Ten in 2014. The seven turnovers Rutgers forced against Michigan State resulted in 21 points. That numbers becomes even more impressive after the Scarlet Knights had just 24 points off turnovers in 12 games last season.
Now Rutgers will be looking for their first victory over a ranked opponent since 2009, when they beat South Florida 31-0. The Scarlet Knights will be playing their first road night game since 2015 when they traveled to Penn State to play under the lights. This will be third night game Rutgers has played against Ohio State, but the first in Columbus. The Buckeyes won those two previous night games by a combined score of 105-7.
Running the offense
With the return of Schiano, Rutgers has looked like a different team this season. It has helped that Schiano has brought in Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson and Nebraska transfer quarterback Noah Vedral. The former Cornhusker quarterback has four total touchdowns in the first two games this year. While the numbers won’t blow anyone away, at least Rutgers should be able to have a little more stability at quarterback, which is something they desperately need if they want to turn their program around.
Vedral has started to build a rapport with wide receiver Bo Melton, who recorded his first career multi-touchdown game with two receiving touchdowns against Indiana. After leading Rutgers with 30 catches for 427 yards in 2019, Melton has now caught a pass in 14 consecutive games. The senior wide receiver was able to haul in a touchdown last year in the loss to Ohio State.
A new face at receiver for Rutgers is Aron Cruickshank, who joined the Scarlet Knights after playing in 27 games at Wisconsin. After catching just four passes in two seasons with the Badgers, Cruickshank already has seven catches this year. Ohio State will not only have to worry about Cruickshank at receiver, they’ll also have to keep tabs on him in the return game. Cruickshank is averaging 24.1 yards per kickoff return, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
If Ohio State is able to jump out to a big early lead it will nullify the biggest offensive weapon of the Scarlet Knights. Running back Isaih Pacheco totaled 729 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. While Pacheco is averaging just three yards per carry through two games this year, he already has two rushing touchdowns. Pacheco had 50 yards and a touchdown in last year’s loss to Ohio State.
A strong start
It is no surprise that the Rutgers defense has tightened up under Schiano. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 9.5 tackles-for-loss per game this year, which ranks first in the Big Ten and second in the country. The driving force of the Rutgers defense has been linebacker Olakunie Fatukasi. The senior was named Bednarik National Player of the Week after he recorded 10 tackles, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble against the Spartans. After tallying 80 total tackles last year, Fatukasi already has 24 tackles this year.
Joining Fatukasi at linebacker is Tyshon Fogg, who not only led Rutgers, but was also third in the Big Ten with 104 tackles last year. Fogg leads all active Rutgers players with 191 tackles and has recorded at least 10 tackles in a game six times in his career. The senior from Baltimore has led Rutgers in tackles eight times.
Back to where it all started
There are a couple names on the Rutgers defense that Ohio State fans will be familiar with. The most notable former Buckeye who followed Schiano to New Jersey is defensive back Brendon White. The future looked bright for White in Columbus after he was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the 2019 Rose Bowl. The hype didn’t quite pan out for White, who struggled to get on the field for the Buckeyes last year. White has 17 tackles in his first season with the Scarlet Knights, as well as an interception and a fumble recovery.
Joining White on the defense of the Scarlet Knights is former Ohio State defensive lineman Malik Barrow. Rutgers is the third stop for Barrow, who played at UCF last season after spending his first three seasons in college at Ohio State. Barrow only appeared in two games for the Buckeyes in 2017 before a knee injury sidelined him in 2018. Barrow hasn’t had the impact that White has had with Rutgers, but he should be amped up to take on his former team on Saturday night.
Young and the restless
Along with White in the secondary, Ohio State’s wide receivers will have to work against Avery Young, who has 23 starts under his belt at Rutgers. Young had a huge game in the season opener against Michigan State, making 10 tackles and forcing two fumbles. Young, as well as linebacker Mohamed Toure, became the first Scarlet Knights since 2013 to record multiple forced fumbles in a game. Young leads all active Rutgers players with 16 career passes defended.
This matchup has been incredibly one-sided since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, and that shouldn’t change this year. The Scarlet Knights are undoubtedly an improved team with Greg Schiano at head coach, but Rutgers still has a long way to go. While the goal of every game is to win, a more realistic goal in this game for the Scarlet Knights should be to at least keep things competitive for longer than they have in previous meetings with Ohio State.
On the other side, the goal for the Buckeyes should be to stay healthy. Even though there is the urge for Justin Fields to pad his stats and add to his Heisman Trophy resume, in a perfect world Fields won’t be taking any snaps after halftime. This is a game where the Buckeyes should be able to jump out on Rutgers early, build a big lead by halftime, and then give some of their backups time on the field in the second half. With this season being shorter than normal, there is an even bigger emphasis on not having to use your starters longer than necessary.