As I wrote earlier this week, Ohio State will be going on the road to face a very experienced and well-coached Rutgers team on Saturday. The extra year granted because of the pandemic played a role in the Scarlet Knights having a bunch of veteran football players on their roster, and as a result, their two-deep looks much different than that of the Buckeyes. The only “juniors” listed as starters on Rutgers’ roster are actually fourth-year players essentially getting a do-over of 2020. More on one of those fourth-year juniors in just a minute…
Most of the players on this team have dealt with a lot of losing, and are hoping they stuck around just long enough for Greg Schiano to right the ship. The former OSU assistant returned for a second stint in New Jersey last season, after first building the program up during the early 2000s. Four games into his second run, it appears as if the team is chopping wood once again — and doing so in typical Schiano fashion: control the clock, run the ball, and play solid defense.
Although Rutgers put up 61 points against Temple and 45 against Delaware, I would not describe their offense as explosive or flashy. In fact, I would describe it as very much the opposite. The Scarlet Knights defeated their first three opponents by landing body blows — or death by a thousand paper cuts, if you prefer. The traditional stats are not pretty, but Schiano and his guys somehow put it together with duct tape and chewing gum.
Quarterback Noah Vedral averages less than 200 yards passing per game, and has thrown five touchdowns in 2021. He only has a total of 14 passing touchdowns in 11 starts for the Scarlet Knights. Yes, he has taken care of the ball this year (zero INT through four games), but he is not a prolific passer, at least not compared to his ability to travel.
This is Vedral’s third college stop, so kudos to him for continuing to take advantage of opportunities. He is also mobile enough to keep a defense honest, but far from the threat that Anthony Brown of Oregon was. Bo Melton is his go-to receiver, for as much as that is worth. He has just over 1,600 yards in 39 career games. The point I am trying to make by referencing the passing game (or lack thereof) is this: Rutgers should not pose a threat to beat the Buckeyes with explosive plays downfield.
The Scarlet Knights will look to land those previously mentioned body blows by sticking to their running game, which is led by fourth-year junior Isaih Pacheco. Isaih spells his name wrong, but does things right between the lines as he has been a steady backfield presence for Rutgers since he was a true freshman and is this week’s Offensive Player to Watch.
● RB Spotlight ●— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) July 2, 2021
Isaih Pacheco - Rutgers
• Pacheco is a special talent at RB. In his career he's rushed for 1,795 yards 13 Touchdowns averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He's also caught 34 passes for 224 and 1 TD. pic.twitter.com/cU4IAm7OPk
Pacheco accounted for at least 560 scrimmage yards during each of his first three seasons, and is off to a solid start in 2021. He currently has 272 yards rushing and three touchdowns through four games. Like Vedral, Melton, and the other skill players for Rutgers, Pacheco’s stats don’t jump off the page, so it becomes part of a more general question: how the hell do these guys score!?
First and foremost, they take care of the ball. Rutgers has only committed one turnover on offense, and it was a Vedral fumble that cost them a chance to take down TTUN in Ann Arbor. Prior to their last possession of Week 4, the Scarlet Knights had kept a clean sheet. Schiano and his staff likely know that their offense is overmatched against better competition, so they coach to avoid mistakes and take care of the ball.
A good way to do both of those things is to eliminate risk by pounding the rock. That is where Pacheco comes in. The current captain and former top-30 running back recruit has been a reliable weapon for the Scarlet Knights going back to 2018. What he lacks in explosive plays (4.5 YPC), he makes up for in consistency and ball security. Pacheco has never been credited with a lost fumble, and while his opportunities have been limited as a pass catcher, he is a dependable safety valve for the quarterback.
Rutgers has been far from an offensive juggernaut during Pacheco’s time with the program, so it is not as if he lacks talent. The team finished 129th and 130th out of 130 in points per game in 2018 and 2019, and they have recently struggled with poor offensive line play. Now under Schiano, Pacheco is averaging over 60 yards rushing per game and has become more involved in the passing attack. If put in a better situation previously, I do believe he could have been an 800 - 1,000 yard back.
On Saturday against the Buckeyes, the Scarlet Knights will likely be trying to keep the game within reach by protecting the ball and relying on their stout defense. Pacheco is an integral part of the offense, and he will be looked upon to keep the chains moving — and keep the Ohio State offense off the field. OSU fans have seen the defense struggle to stop the run against Minnesota and Oregon, and at the very least, Pacheco is capable of making them pay for poor tackling and missed assignments. His impact can be minimized by forcing Rutgers to throw the ball and attempt to make plays through the air.
Here’s hoping the Silver Bullets can put the clamps on Rutgers’ stabilizer.