After having their way with Wisconsin last week, Ohio State will try to close out their season-opening five-game home stand with a win over Rutgers on Saturday. This marks the third five-game home stand in school history for the Buckeyes. A win over the Scarlet Knights would match the opening stretch to start the 2003 campaign, where Ohio State won their first five games of the season, with all of those wins coming at Ohio Stadium.
History with Rutgers
Ohio State will be looking for another easy win over Rutgers. Since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014, the Buckeyes have dominated the series, scoring at least 49 points in each of their eight meetings with Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have at least found a little bit more success against the Buckeyes over the past few years. After scoring just 27 combined points in the first five games with the Buckeyes, Rutgers scored 27 points in 2020. Last year, Ohio State beat the Scarlet Knights 52-13 in Piscataway.
Tough nut to crack at Ohio Stadium
The Buckeyes are coming off a 52-21 win over Wisconsin that saw Ohio State score touchdowns on each of their first four drives. Ryan Day’s team has now scored a touchdown on their first drive in three consecutive games. The victory in Columbus extended Ohio State’s home winning streak to 26 Big Ten home games, which is a conference record. The streak started with a 58-0 win over Rutgers in 2016 after the Buckeyes lost their Big Ten home finale to Michigan State in 2015. Ryan Day teams are now 22-1 at Ohio Stadium, with the only loss coming last year against Oregon.
Movin’ on up
C.J. Stroud continues to rocket up the Ohio State record books. Last week against the Badgers, Stroud threw five touchdowns, which makes him the third Buckeye quarterback with at least 60 touchdown passes. With four more touchdown tosses, Stroud will pass Justin Fields for second-most in school history. Fields threw 63 touchdowns in two seasons in Columbus.
Stroud also has moved into the top-10 in career passing yardage at Ohio State. Heading into this week’s game, Stroud has amassed 5,657 yards through the air, putting him 64 yards away from tying Troy Smith, who sits eighth on the school’s all-time passing yardage list. The second-year starting quarterback is now less than 2,000 yards from passing Art Schlichter for second-most in school history.
Picking up the slack
After it sounded like Jaxon Smith-Njigba was trending towards playing last week against Wisconsin, the wide receiver was announced as inactive for Saturday night’s contest. Smith-Njigba suffered a hamstring injury early in the season opener against Notre Dame, sitting out against Arkansas State before getting in some work against Toledo. The status of Smith-Njigba this week is still up in the air, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Day sit Smith-Njigba this week and next week against Michigan State since Ohio State’s bye week follows the game against the Spartans.
Even though Smith-Njigba has been sidelined for most of the year, Ohio State’s passing attack is still working like a well-oiled machine. Emeka Egbuka has five touchdown receptions so far this season, recording at least one in each of Ohio State’s first four games. Last time out, Egbuka went over the 100-yard receiving mark for the third straight game. Egbuka’s output was the 49th time the Buckeyes have had a receiver reach triple digits in yardage in a game under Ryan Day.
What has helped to lessen the loss of Smith-Njigba has been the emergence of Julian Fleming and Cade Stover. Fleming is the healthiest he has been since arriving in Columbus, scoring three touchdowns over the last two games. Stover scored the first two touchdowns of his career last week, as he is giving Stroud a versatile threat at tight end. With each game, it is evident that Stover is getting more comfortable at tight end.
Along with the success through the air, Ohio State is churning up yardage on the ground. After Dallan Hayden became the first Buckeye running back to rush for 100 yards this year in the win over Toledo two weeks ago, last week both TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams rushed for over 100 yards against Wisconsin. The duo become the first pair of Buckeyes to each rush for over 100 yards in a game since Trey Sermon and Justin Fields both hit the century mark in 2020 against Michigan State. Henderson is leading Ohio State with 318 yards this year, while Williams isn’t far behind, rolling up 308 yards.
The nasty bunch
The big numbers Stroud, Henderson, and Williams have put up this year wouldn’t be possible if Ohio State didn’t have the offensive line that they do. The big uglies of the Buckeyes are the reason Ohio State has just 12 plays of negative yardage this season. The offensive line has allowed only two sacks this year, which is tied for second-fewest, trailing only Georgia.
The offensive line not only protects Stroud, but they also create the holes for Henderson and Williams to run through. The Buckeyes are averaging 219.8 yards rushing per game this year, making them the only team in the country to pass for over 300 yards per game and rush for more than 200 yards per game this season. The 558.8 yards per game the Buckeyes are averaging this year ranks second in the country.
The seeds of the pressure Jim Knowles wants from his defense are becoming evident. Through four games, Ohio State has nine sacks and 30 tackles for loss. Four Buckeyes have two sacks each so far this year. Michael Hall Jr., Tommy Eichenberg, Jack Sawyer, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste are the quartet of defensive Buckeyes that have put opposing quarterbacks down twice this year. Hall and Eichenberg are tied for the team lead five stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Tommy Eichenberg continues to establish himself as one of the best linebackers in the country. Last week Eichenberg recorded 14 tackles, marking the second game in his last five contests that he was credited with at least 10 stops. The next tackle by Eichenberg will give him 100 career tackles.
The performance by Eichenberg earned him Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors. This is the second time this year Eichenberg has earned recognition for his play. The linebacker was named Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after the Notre Dame game.
Banged up Bucks
The area of most concern for the Ohio State defense is the secondary because of injuries. Last week Denzel Burke and Cam Brown weren’t able to play against the Badgers. Prior to the injury, Burke’s play has been spotty. Even with the up-and-down play, Burke still leads the Buckeyes with four pass breakups. In a way, Burke is like NFL cornerback Trevon Diggs, who led the NFL with 11 interceptions last year while also ranking third amongst cornerbacks in terms of yardage allowed.
A positive sign in the secondary was the return of both Josh Proctor and Tanner McCalister last week. Both players missed the game against Toledo to give the two safeties time to heal minor injuries. Last week McCalister intercepted Graham Mertz, giving the Oklahoma State transfer his first interception as a Buckeyes. Between Proctor, McCalister, Ronnie Hickman, and Lathan Ransom, Ohio State has outstanding depth to handle the three-safety look Knowles likes to run.
Summarizing the Scarlet Knights
Rutgers enters Saturday’s game with a 3-1 record. After three straight wins to start the season, Rutgers lost their Big Ten opener 27-10 to Iowa last week. The Hawkeyes used two first half defensive touchdowns to hand the Scarlet Knights their first loss of the season. Rutgers has now lost its Big Ten opener eight times in their nine seasons as a member of the conference.
Prior to last week’s game, Rutgers had a couple of close wins sandwiching a 66-7 win over Wagner. To start the season, Rutgers rallied from a 21-12 deficit in the second half to beat Jeff Hafley’s Boston College squad, 22-21. A couple weeks later, Greg Schiano bested another former Ohio State assistant, as Rutgers slipped by Stan Drayton and Temple 16-14. Now Schiano will be squaring off for the third time against the school he spent three years at.
One thing Rutgers has struggled to find over the years is consistency at quarterback. The latest to take snaps at quarterbacks for the Scarlet Knights is Evan Simon. After attempting 40 passes and throwing for 266 yards over the first three games of the year, Simon threw 49 passes and recorded his first 300-yard passing game last week against Iowa. Obviously, the number of passes wasn’t in Schiano’s game plan, but the early hole the Scarlet Knights were put in by Iowa forced Simon to throw the ball more.
Rutgers has had an easy time getting their running game going than by throwing the football so far this year. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 185 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 43rd in the country. Five Rutgers players have rushed for over 100 yards through four games this sesaon, with Kyle Monangai leading the team with 157 yards. Al-Shadee Salaam sits second with 145 yards rushing, while Samuel Brown V has rushed for 131 yards. All three backs have two rushing touchdowns this year.
Even though Rutgers hasn’t found much success through the air, the Buckeyes can’t lose track of Aron Cruickshank, who is leading the Scarlet Knights with 18 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank is close to equaling his total from last year, when he caught 20 passes. Cruickshank the only Rutgers receiver with more than eight catches thus far.
Rutgers’ defensive recipe
For as many issues as Rutgers has had on offense at times this year, the defense of the Scarlet Knights has picked up the slack. Heading into last week’s game, Rutgers had only allowed 42 points on the season. Last week the defense can’t be blamed for a whole lot, since two of Iowa’s touchdowns were defensive touchdowns.
What can make Rutgers so tough to find offensive success against is because they are so good at forcing turnovers. Since 2020, the Scarlet Knights have a +9 turnover margin, with 42 turnovers during that span. Along with the turnovers, Rutgers is tough to move the football against. The Scarlet Knights enter this week with the ninth-ranked defense in the country, allowing 249.5 yards per game. The defense is especially stingy against the run, giving up just 56.5 rushing yards per game, good for second-best in college football.
The heart of the Rutgers defense is defensive back Christian Izien. The safety leads the team with 33 tackles this year. Izien has been a standout on the Rutgers defense for a number of years, coming into this season having made at least 65 tackles in each of the last three seasons. Last week, Izien set career-high with 15 tackles. Josh Dooley dug deeper into Izien’s impact on the Rutgers defense earlier this week.
Izien may get a lot of the headlines for the Rutgers defense, but there are a number of other defensive backs that are making plays. The Scarlet Knights have five interceptions this year, with all five coming from defensive backs. Robert Longerbeam leads the team with two picks, while Shaquan Loyal, Max Melton, and Christian Braswell have added to the total. Avery Young is also an experienced defensive back, patrolling the secondary since 2018.
A shot of Bailey’s
While Izien is patrolling the defensive backfield, working to put pressure on the quarterback is defensive lineman Wesley Bailey. The sophomore from Ontario leads the Scarlet Knights with 5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this year. Bailey came up huge to start the season, notching a sack and a half in his first collegiate start. Bailey has also recovered a fumble and gotten his hands up to breakup two passes.
The special specialists
The area where Rutgers has been most consistent this year has been with their special teams. Jude McAtamney has been solid in his first season with the team, hitting six of eight field goal attempts. The Irish native kicked for Chowan University last year before hitting the transfer portal.
When your offense has trouble moving the football, you need a punter to pin opponents deep. Adam Korsak does exactly that, with seven of his 16 punts ending up inside the 20-yard-line. Korsak has 16 punts this year, averaging 42.1 yards per punt. Korsak has a streak of 140 punts that haven’t resulted in a touchback.
For all the nice things we said about Rutgers, this game shouldn’t be close. The talent gap between the teams has been evident since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten, and if anything, the gap has widened in Ohio State’s favor. The results prove this as well, with Ohio State scoring at least 49 points in every game against Rutgers. While the Scarlet Knights have found some more points against the Buckeyes over the last few years, it’s still not even close to threatening the Buckeyes.
What makes Ohio State so tough is how quickly they can jump out onto teams. Last week the Buckeyes scored on their first four drives against Wisconsin, putting the Badgers in a hole that they didn’t have the ability to dig themselves out of. The offense of the Buckeyes is so hard to stop, since they can hurt you so many ways. Even if teams are able to slow down Ohio State, it’s hard to do so for the entire game. Just ask Notre Dame.
Though Rutgers does has some playmakers in the secondary, it’s not going to be nearly enough to slow down the arsenal of weapons Ohio State throws at you. Even if the Scarlet Knights are able to slow down the Buckeyes, then Rutgers has to find a way to put points on the board, which has been tough at times to do. There isn’t enough trick plays that Rutgers can throw at Ohio State to put the Buckeyes in danger. C.J. Stroud should have no problems throwing at least four touchdowns in an easy win.