Ohio State travels to SHI Stadium to take on Big Ten East foe Rutgers on Saturday. The No. 11 Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) defeated Akron 59-7 in their last game and will turn the focus for the remainder of the regular season on conference opponents. While Ohio State is favored, this game has a vibe of being far more difficult than any of the previous games versus Rutgers.
"I think [Rutgers head coach] Greg Schiano has done a very, very good job these past two years of getting his team ready," Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "He does a good job coaching in all three phases. It is a challenge going on the road. You see what he did last year. Last week, they took The Team Up North to the fourth quarter. They played excellent defense in the fourth quarter. He has the guys believing and playing hard. ... It's going to be a Big Ten Conference road game that we have to do a really good job. ... We have to get on the road and handle the environment. It will be rocking. We need a great week of preparation."
Schiano, who was understandably disappointed in Rutgers' first loss of the 2021 season last week at Michigan, sees Ohio State as a challenging opponent that the Scarlet Knights need to be well-prepared for after the Wolverines. In many respects, Rutgers (3-1, 0-1) outplayed Michigan in the second half of the 20-13 loss in Ann Arbor, but Schiano is taking nothing for granted.
"I think the Big Ten is a very tough league, and every game is its own entity," Schiano said at his press conference on Monday. "So you can't say 'Well, because you were able to do that in the second half that you'll be able to do that against somebody else.' ... I mean everybody talks about the physicality, that's absolutely the most important because it's a battle, but it's got to be a precise physicality too, otherwise you create issues. So we need to be really physical and really precise. And, you know, Michigan's line was very good and Ohio State's maybe better. So, here we go."
No. 11 Ohio State at Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Ohio State -15
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Ohio State played true freshman quarterback Kyle McCord last week versus Akron. After a rough start, McCord settled down, completing 13 of 19 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. While McCord could get another start, C.J. Stroud is expected to reclaim the job as soon as his ailing shoulder is deemed healthy enough for him to play.
No matter who plays quarterback, the Buckeyes have been unleashing true freshman running back sensation TreVeyon Henderson on their opponents. Henderson has 439 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and could be the focal point on offense while the young quarterbacks develop. Fellow backs Miyan Williams and Master Teague III could get involved as well. Both have a physical style of play that may be needed to help control the clock and wear down the Rutgers defense.
On defense, the Scarlet Knights have proven to be resourceful in creating turnovers and making their opponents earn everything that they get. Rutgers is only giving up 14 points a game, which ranks third in the Big Ten and seventh nationally. The Wolverines were the first opponent to score 20 points on the Knights this season. A key defender for Ohio State fans, and more importantly the offense, to be aware of is Rutgers linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi. Fatukasi has 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble this season. The Buckeyes' offensive line and the coaching staff will need to account for wherever Fatukasi lines up on the field.
When Rutgers Has the Ball
Scarlet Knights quarterback Noah Vedral is a dual-threat signal-caller. Last week, Vedral completed 18 of 31 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown while also carrying the ball 11 times for 46 yards. Facing an Ohio State defense that is still struggling with assignments, Vedral may be able to capitalize upon any defensive mistakes.
Isaih Pacheco leads Rutgers with 259 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He's coming off of a 107-yard effort against Michigan, who has been better on defense in the early going compared to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State has struggled tremendously with getting opponents off the field on critical third downs. If the Knights are able to convert on third down, not only does that keep drives alive it also adds to the frustration for Buckeye defenders. One bright spot on that side of the ball has been the emergence of "Bullet" Ronnie Hickman, a hybrid safety-linebacker. The leading tackler thus far, Hickman may be used as a spy on Vedral to limit the damage he does as a runner.
The days of Ohio State crushing Rutgers are over. Schiano has returned to Rutgers and made this team competitive once again, and given the Buckeyes' defensive struggles, this could be a tremendous opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to pull off an upset. On the latest Silver Bullets podcast that I recorded with my co-host Michael Citro, Greg Patuto of On The Banks even stated that Rutgers fans are looking at this game as their team's big chance to take down the defending four-time Big Ten champs.
The Buckeyes are flawed defensively but still have the edge when it comes to speed and overall depth. This is going to be a slugfest into the fourth quarter, but Ohio State will do enough to pick up a second Big Ten win.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Rutgers 21
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— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Buckeye Scoop. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.