Rutgers vs. Ohio State: Who has the edge?

Bobby Deren and Kevin Noon, Special to Scarlet Nation
Scarlet Nation

Rutgers vs. Ohio State

Bobby Deren                      Scarlet Nation

Kevin Noon                            Buckeye Grove

It is easy to say quarterback Kyle Bolin, but it really is the truth. If he cannot play well, Rutgers has little chance of keeping this one close. Rutgers is outmatched in the talent department, which means the quarterback needs to be the great equalizer. Bolin has thrown two interceptions in each game against an FBS opponent and the result has been three losses. Rutgers has freshman quarterback Johnathan Lewis waiting in the wings and he should see more action today. However, the staff still seems committed to Bolin for the time being and his ability to make some throws in tight windows would go a long way for the Scarlet Knights. The potential return of Janarion Grant this week would give Bolin one more option and it’s likely that the game plan will focus on the short passing game, which will be better for Bolin.

Who is the offensive “X” factor?

While so much of this offense is on the shoulders of JT Barrett the player that everyone should watch is receiver Parris Campbell. He can take a six-yard pass and take it 60 yards and has shown a knack for the big play. When Campbell first got to Ohio State, there were concerns about his hands as a receiver and while he is not the type of player who is going to have success making the tough deep catch, he is turning into this year’s model of Curtis Samuel for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes have several other guys who have the ability to do the same with the short screen or shallow cross over the middle, so taking Campbell away is not the key to stopping the offense entirely, but he is someone that really make things go.

The obvious choice would be Damon Hayes as he will be the replacement for injured cornerback Blessuan Austin, who was RU’s top defensive player until he was lost for the season last week with a torn ACL. However, for the defense to put up a formidable showing against the Buckeyes, it is going to take more than just a cornerback. Hayes brings in a good amount of talent, but when Rutgers brings in its other extra defensive backs, there could be an issue. Ohio State just has more overall team speed. That means the RU defensive line will have to find a way to generate some pressure to take the burden off the RU defensive backs. Ohio State has not been shy about spreading the ball around and that could spell trouble for Rutgers in the passing game. Nevertheless, head coach Chris Ash is showing his defensive prowess as the RU defense is markedly improved from a year ago. Last season, teams like Ohio State just rolled over the Rutgers defense. This time around, it is very unlikely Rutgers is going to pull off an upset, but the defense expects to fare better than it did each of the last two years against the Buckeyes. However, it is going to take more than one x-factor, with contributions needed from each level of the defense.

Who is the defensive “x” factor?

I don’t know if you can say that there is just one person who makes everything happen on defense for the Buckeyes. A defensive line rotation of 10-plus guys leads the defensive effort. The linebackers are playing well but have not quite been up to the strength that they have shown in past years. And of course, the secondary is a bit of an issue as the Buckeyes try and replace three NFL first-rounders from last year. I guess if I had to pick one person it is Nick Bosa who leads the team in sacks. His numbers would be much higher if Ohio State were playing four or six linemen in the way that many schools do, but Larry Johnson has decided that his line is so deep that rotating fresh bodies on the field is the best course of action and there are just times where Bosa is unblockable and teams cannot put more than two guys on Bosa for fear of what the rest of the line looks like. My runner-up would be Dre’mont Jones who plays on the interior line. He went from a player that few knew about to someone that NFL scouts are drooling over and saying he has first-round potential from the defensive tackle position.

The defense has been the bright spot this year for Rutgers as it played well enough to win at least two of the games this season. However, there has not been a whole lot of help from the offensive end. The defense has run into second-half problems but a portion of that can be blamed on time of possession. The defense currently ranks 24th in the nation in total defense. That is literally night and day from last year. The run defense finished near the very bottom of the FBS last season and now the unit has moved up to a No.38 ranking. This rebuild was not going to be an overnight fix, but the defense is showing quite a few signs of improvement. The biggest keys have been an upgrade in size and being able to develop players over the last year as that has been evident in the play of safety Kiy Hester, linebacker Deonte Roberts, and defensive lineman Kevin Wilkins to name a few. There are still depth concerns, but that is steadily being addressed in recruiting with the addition of some key freshmen and some commits in the 2018 class.

What are the team's strengths?

Running the ball and defensive line. Ohio State did not need to run much against UNLV last week and as the Buckeyes try and fix the passing issues that really emerged during the Oklahoma game, there may be this false narrative that Ohio State is not committed to running the ball. When the chips are on the table, this team is going to run and JK Dobbins, not Saquon Barkley, leads the league in rushing yards. The Buckeyes have a 1,000-yard rusher in Mike Weber, who has not really seen the field this year because of a nagging hamstring injury slowing him, waiting in the wings and Urban Meyer says this will be the week that they really try and get Weber going. Plus, JT Barrett can run the ball in RPO situations and designed runs. As for the defensive line, we talked about that earlier, it is the deepest defensive line I have ever seen covering the Buckeyes through all of these years.

As previously mentioned, the RU passing attack is not striking fear into anyone. The schemes have been different each week as the offense has not really established a true identity. Offensive coordinator Jerry Kill has called the offense multiple, although there are a lot of remnants of a pro-style offense. Rutgers will go out of the shotgun and use a no-huddle, although it is far from being a spread-type offense. It relies on establishing the run, but that has not been a constant this season. The run game has been okay at times, but there have not been big game-breaking runs against FBS opponents. Clock management has been questionable at times while the RU offense has also earned some penalties at inopportune times. Through four games, it looks like a unit that is still trying to find an identity as there have been a mix of schemes and mistakes. The playcalling has also been questionable. Rutgers currently ranks 110th in the nation in total offense while a 65-point performance only managed to earn a No.81 ranking in scoring offense. Take away that game against Morgan State and the RU offense is at the bottom of the FBS.

What are the team's weaknesses?

Ohio State’s downfield passing game and pass defense. While the Buckeyes may have several 50-60 yard receptions in the record book, few of them have been 35-yards in the air. These are all short passes where the receiver runs a real long way. If a team could figure out a way to take away the underneath while not exposing itself for Ohio State’s running game (getting everyone in the box sucked up too tight where one move can spring runners for huge gains) then the Buckeyes might be in a bad spot offensively. Barrett just has not had much confidence in the deep ball and Ohio State’s receivers have done him no favors hauling in those types of passes. As for the pass defense, we also talked about that earlier. Young secondary that is still making a lot mistakes. Last week it was Kendall Sheffield getting flagged three times for either DPI or defensive holding. Denzel Ward is Ohio State’s more polished defensive back but the rest of the group is still trying to figure things out as the Buckeyes try and sort out technique issues and find the right mix of players to be out there in key situations.

Rutgers has to come out and start off strong in every facet of the game; offense, defense and special teams. Falling behind early could cause the game to snowball in a hurry. The coaching staff was able to keep the game close against Washington by calling a more conservative game offensively, with short passes that helped move the chains. That was also complemented by a sound performance by the offensive line, which helped the ground attack. It would not be a surprise if Rutgers attempted to duplicate that game plan in an effort to hang around for a couple of quarters against the Buckeyes. The offense will need to have a better showing this week in the time of possession battle after struggling last week when Nebraska had the ball for more than 10 minutes longer than Rutgers.

What does Rutgers have to do to keep the game close?

Move the game to a different time and not tell Ohio State? All joking aside, this is a bad match-up for Rutgers, any way that you slice it. Rutgers cannot turn the ball over, needs to win the turnover battle and probably have a couple of big plays on special teams. This is not going to be one of the most polished Ohio State teams that Rutgers has faced in the short history of this series and there should be some hope there. But the Buckeyes were starting to find some footing against an extremely overmatched UNLV team last week. The level of competition goes up dramatically as does the level of respect for a Big Ten foe with a familiar coach in Chris Ash. It all comes down to the usual suspects though in terms of not beating yourself, hoping to catch a couple of breaks and see where things go from there.

Rutgers should come out with a lot of energy and if the Scarlet Knights can stay relatively competitive in the first half, it will show significant signs of progress from last season. However, Ohio State is still way ahead when it comes to talent and depth. There is no way to scheme around that for four quarters as the Buckeye playmakers are eventually going to find the endzone. But I think Rutgers comes out and plays competitively through the first quarter and into the second. However, the second half is likely to swing heavily in the favor of the Buckeyes. The Rutgers defense has shown a susceptibility to get gassed in the third and fourth quarter and even though Washington currently has a higher ranking than Ohio State, this Buckeye team features more overall talent than the Huskies. This will be RU’s toughest test thus far. The Buckeyes may come into this game thinking it will be a cakewalk, but will likely see a different Rutgers than they remember from a year ago. However, there are just too many weapons and too much of a talent gap for Rutgers to claim an upset victory. Offensively, Rutgers cannot compete in a shootout with the Buckeyes. Ohio State 42 Rutgers 14.

Who will win? Predict the score.

I think that Ohio State’s defensive line will be a nightmare for the Rutgers OL and the inability to run the ball with any consistency will lead to bad things for the Scarlet Knights. I do think that the Buckeyes will get to Kyle Bolin enough to knock him out of the game and from reading The Round Table this week, I think there are many who would like to see what another QB could do. On the offensive side of the ball, I expected Ohio State to try and run and run some more against UNLV and what did the Buckeyes do, passed and passed and threw seven TD passes to seven different receivers. I am going to say once again that Ohio State will try and run a lot in this game to take a noisy crowd out of the game with energy sapping drives on the ground. The Buckeyes need to figure out their passing game so I could see the Buckeyes passing into the fourth quarter. Ohio State certainly does not want to go in and embarrass a friend in Chris Ash but the Buckeyes also have no margin for error with the College Football Playoff committee as their own destiny is not in their hands but there is so much football left to be played. Ohio State 49 Rutgers 10.

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