Ohio State hosts Rutgers and former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, now the headman of the Scarlet Knights. The Buckeyes have never lost to Rutgers, and looking at Rutgers’ season in totality, there isn’t any reason to think that will change this year.
This matchup features a lot of familiarity between Ohio State having its former defensive coordinator being the head coach and the two schools being divisional rivals, meaning there is nothing to hide between the two teams. In my own research, Ohio State has an average margin of victory of 42.5 points in the all-time series. Rutgers will once again be fighting an uphill battle against Ohio State to make this game close.
Today, we’re going to look at how Rutgers might try to do that. By looking at film from last season, we can see how the Buckeyes attacked Rutgers’ defense, the way Rutgers’ defense has looked this year, and how their offense can be their own worst enemy against better teams.
Ohio State offense vs. Rutgers
Ohio State and Rutgers have played eight times, with the Buckeye having an average margin of victory of 42.5 points. There was no reason that was needed, just like there is no reason there needs to be a mention of Rutgers being 0-8 against Ohio State. But with eight games, that means we have some previous film to look at to see how the Buckeyes will look to attack Greg Schiano’s defense.
In all eight matchups, the Buckeyes’ offense has beaten Rutgers in to submission in a lot of ways, and this year the plan of attack shouldn’t change much. Schiano and the Rutgers defense have blitzing built in to their identity, and a leopard can’t change its spots. This means Ohio State will need to be on its game from a protection and play-calling standpoint.
Last year, C.J. Stroud was having a rough go of it heading into the matchup against Rutgers. Coming off a rough performance and injury, Rutgers was an opportunity for him to get some clean throws against aggressive looks. The Buckeyes found their rhythm passing the ball against Rutgers, and that should scare Rutgers’ fans because the Buckeyes have come a long way since this contest.
For Stroud, Day mixed in a good dose of RPO’s early to get Stroud into a rhythm. This is less needed this year, given where Stroud is as a quarterback, but from an attacking standpoint the play design below can be an effective way to get the slot receiver the ball. By motioning the tight end across the formation, they grab the attention of the nickel corner over top of the slot-receiver. For the option aspect here, Stroud is reading the linebackers. If they drop into coverage the play would be a “Split-zone,” instead they throw the route top side.
This is an easy throw for a big gain, and challenges the discipline of an incredibly aggressive defense.
This year, it feels like shallow crossers have turned into deep crossers, with most of the catches being between 10-15 yards down field instead of five. Rutgers chooses to drop into coverage in this play, only bringing four rushers. Ohio State brings an X-Shallow crosser across the formation with the trips side receivers taking the defenders the other direction. This opens up a wide field throw with a lot open grass for the completion.
Ohio State used similar concepts to attack Wisconsin, and this is their bread-and-butter in the passing game. Expect a lot of these types of throws, especially early, to get Ohio State’s receivers into space.
Rutgers’ Defense in 2022
Rutgers has been solid on defense early into the season, and as a unit have only given up 55 total points. Schiano is an aggressive defensive mind, and early in the season this has paid dividends for their success. The issue for Rutgers is Iowa, Temple, and Boston College do not have the offensive fire power that Ohio State brings to the table.
Against Wide Zone
One of the concepts Ohio State has been deploying this season frequently is “Wide Zone.” This is a zone blocking outside run play that uses a horizontal run action to create vertical lanes for backs to cut into. Rutgers fills aggressively, but despite getting to their spots, Iowa moves them out of the way. With the way Ohio State’s offensive line is blocking, this will be a significant challenge for Rutgers to stop this play. They will need to get creative in throwing off how the offensive line counts the defenders, but history says getting too complicated with checks is not a strength of a Schiano defense.
One of the main ways Schiano tries to throw off blocking schemes in both the run and passing game is by blitzing a lot. Before the match up against Iowa, @CFBFilmRoom on Twitter had Rutgers with the highest Blitz Rate in the Power-5 at 41.8 percent.
In his first year at Rutgers, DC Joe Harasymiak is running an aggressive defense, leading the Big Ten in blitz rate. pic.twitter.com/xgp6m2Y3RH— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 22, 2022
Against teams without C.J. Stroud at quarterback, this is an incredibly effective way to challenge QBs with intermediate skill sets. The pressure forces the opposing quarterbacks internal clock to speed up, and if they are not well-prepared this pressure can force mistakes. Schiano and defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak will blitz in any situation, forcing offenses to always be prepared.
In the first play, Iowa is running a long developing downfield passing concept. Their quarterback takes a three step drop, and the pressure forces him out of the pocket before he has time to locate a throwing option. He scrambles for almost no gain and this is why Rutgers brings pressure. Ohio State has handled pressure well this year, and the Buckeyes will need to continue this trend to have a chance to make some big plays.
The vulnerability comes from Rutgers getting a little too aggressive, and when the blitz doesn’t get home, big plays can happen for Rutgers’ opponent. Iowa once again runs a long developing passing concept, but this time they protect the quarterback long enough to set up a throw. The Scarlet Knights defense brings a safety blitz from the deep safety. The corner gets beat by the receiver and the safety, needing to disguise his formation, can not get across the field in time. The window for this throw is gigantic, and this is the risk a team runs when the blitz doesn’t get home.
Rutgers Offense in 2022
Offensively, Rutgers runs a spread offense with a lot of 11-personnel. Their tight end Johnny Langan is often utilized as a motioner across the formation, and also is utilized as a wild cat quarterback at times. The passing game relies on attacking horizontally and trying to get the ball into their receivers’ hands in space. In the running game, they use almost exclusively zone runs with a quarterback read. And the final thing you should always expect when they play Ohio State is a few trick plays.
Looking at Rutgers’ read option concept, they are willing to run the quarterback inside, which gives them more options. Having the quarterback as an inside run option changes how the read defender needs to react. The Iowa defensive end plays the read option poorly by taking the running back, and this allows the quarterback to pull the ball.
By over-pursuing to the running back, the Rutgers offensive line is able to get up field and get their blocks at the second level. Rutgers will look to challenge Ohio State’s discipline in a lot of ways, but this play type will be the primary test for the Buckeyes.
Now Rutgers has improved in a lot of ways under Greg Schiano, but the main issue for Rutgers is turnovers. In the play below, Rutgers shows how this issue can rear its ugly head for the offense, and why this is the defense’s worst enemy. The Rutgers offense throws a pass down field that gets picked off and Iowa runs it back for the score. Rutgers actually played a solid football game against Iowa, but they spotted the Hawkeyes two defensive touchdowns. This is the one thing Rutgers can’t do against Ohio State, and if they want to make the game more interesting, limiting turnovers is the place to start.
There is not a lot to say about this matchup, Ohio State has dominated the series on both sides of the football. Rutgers has been playing catch up in so many ways since joining the Big Ten, and they are still on the journey. Playing in the Big Ten East hasn’t helped by any means, and every time they play Ohio State, the talent differential is not the only issue needing to be overcome.
Rutgers doesn’t run a complex scheme on either side of the ball, but they are aggressive in everything they do. They will bring pressure at an incredibly high rate on defense to try to throw off opposing offenses. On offense, they will attack down field and get creative with a few trick plays. Throwing the kitchen sink at teams has worked when the talent is close, but against Ohio State, that is not the case.
Ohio State is more talented and they are a team that can capitalize on any mistakes Rutgers makes. Historically, the moment is too big for them every time they play Ohio State, but Greg Schiano is going to throw some punches. Rutgers deserves respect in the growth they’ve had recently, and the toughness of this team grows on a yearly basis. Schiano has added more talent to the roster, but it still has not netted any crazy gains.
They will throw the playbook at Ohio State with blitzes and trick plays. With how Ohio State is playing, it won’t be enough. The Buckeyes are always well-prepared for Rutgers and this game should be no different. The Buckeyes just need to remain disciplined and they will move to 9-0 all-time against Rutgers on Saturday.