Saturday’s game between the Buckeye and Scarlet Knights will mark the 8th time that these two teams have played in a series that has been as lopsided as one might imagine with Ohio State winning the previous seven games by an average margin of 43 points. Rutgers has been shut out twice in those seven games, held to seven or fewer points in two more of those games and has never allowed fewer than 49 points to be scored by the Buckeyes.

Are times changing, at least a little? Over the past two games, Rutgers has scored at least 21 points and while the margins have still been large with Ohio State winning by 35 in 2019 and 22 in 2020, the games are becoming at least a little more competitive.

The 2021 line opened up at less than 20 points, a milestone in this series where Ohio State has been at least a 21-point favorite in the previous seven and as big of a favorite as 52 points in the 2019 game (Ohio State failed to cover).

Ohio State is 5-2 ATS in this series with the two losses against the Vegas line occurring in the past two games. So, somebody believes that the series is getting tighter, even if the Buckeyes have outscored Rutgers by 301 points over the past seven games.

What are we to make of this 2021 games? Rutgers is coming off of a close loss to Michigan, a game that Rutgers in all honesty had a chance to steal. Head coach Greg Schiano still knows the Ohio State personnel quite well as a former coordinator of the team just a few short years ago and will certainly have some plans to combat the Buckeyes. But does he have the personnel that will be able to execute that plan to a level to shock the world and upset the Buckeyes?

We go to the Tale of the Tape to look at what Rutgers is bringing to the table and see where the Scarlet Knights have closed the gap.  

Ohio StateStatRankRutgersStatRank
Rush Defense155.2 YPG82ndRush Offense157.2 YPG75th
Pass Eff. Defense120.0348thPass Offense194.0 YPG98th
Scoring Defense23.2 PPGT-68thScoring Offense34.0 PPG45th

Ohio State Defensive Backs vs. Rutgers QB/WR/TE

Get ready for a big dose of, “It was only Akron” but the Buckeyes held Akron to just 153 yards throwing on the game last weekend and while it may have only been Akron, there is something to be said about having a successful outing, which Saturday night’s game has to be considered, especially after you factor the first twq series of the game out of the equation, where 53 of those yards took place. From the third series to the end of the third quarter, Akron would only account for 35 additional yards of passing before the Buckeyes would have many of their 2s and 3s out on the field for the final frame. Several players had a strong outing against the Zips but it was not the best we have seen Sevyn Banks look, and the Buckeyes are going to need Banks to bounce back in a big way as he has shown throughout his career and even this season that he is so much more capable. Denzel Burke continues to impress in his role and the Buckeyes leaned on him as Cameron Brown was not in action as one of many players that the Buckeyes held out of the Akron game. But as we started, it was only Akron and it is premature to declare “the patient is healed” and that the Ohio State defense is now operating with a clean bill of health, but Saturday’s game may have been just what the doctor ordered and the Buckeyes will not be facing one of the nation’s top passing offenses this week in Rutgers.

Quarterback Noah Vedral has not gone out and had a lot of mistakes this year but outside of a game against Delaware, the passing numbers have not been remarkable in terms of results. The former Nebraska quarterback has not thrown an interception on the year and is completing nearly 68-percent of his passes but is also only averaging just 190.5 yards per game and that number is just 146.3 yards against Division I-FBS opponents. Receiver Bo Melton is back for his 12th year (okay, it just feels like that, but he has been there for a long time) and leads the receivers with 24 catches for 253 yards and two scores. Melton was among team leaders in 2020 with seven receptions against Ohio State and had a score in the 2019 game. Former Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank is back again and he was right there with Melton with seven catches against Ohio State in 2020, this season he has 14 catches for 104 yards but has been held out of the end zone. Through the years the Scarlet Knights have had zero success throwing the ball against Ohio State, maybe outside of 2020, which was an odd year all around. Over the previous seven games, Rutgers has averaged just 132.6 yards via the pass per game, and that accounts for the 232 yards in 2020, the high point of Rutgers passing against Ohio State. In the previous seven games, Rutgers has been held below 100 yards passing in three games with names like Artur Sitkowski, Kyle Bolin and Chris Laviano being brought up from the record books. Not all of this can be put on the quarterbacks as players like Leonte Carroo are not walking through the door for Rutgers and while Greg Schiano is working hard to turn things around, the skill guys are just not quite there yet in this rebuild.

Ohio State Linebackers vs. Rutgers Running Backs

With the departures of Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope, the Ohio State linebacker rotation is getting smaller just due to diminishing numbers. Is it too much to say that former linebacker Steele Chambers might just be one of the best linebackers in the room right now for Ohio State? Tommy Eichenberg and Chambers were paired up for a good amount of action and while yes, it was only Akron, the pair looked good working together out there. Cody Simon had a big play with his interception, one of two on the night for the Buckeyes against the Zips. Are the Buckeyes any closer to figuring out a rotation of who is going to play and ride with just those guys? We saw a couple of years where it was going to be Borland, Browning, Werner with a change-up of Hilliard, and you could put that down in “pen” because it was not going to change much, if at all. Now you just are not sure who is going to be out there from series-to-series and even play-to-play. We are not in the coaching room, we don’t know what the discussions sound like but it might just be more fair to everyone involved to have an idea going into the game as to who is going to play and allowing those players to go and make plays.

If Bo Melton has been in the program for 12 years than Isaih Pacheco has been there at least eight. He’s back and leading the Rutgers ground game with 65 attempts for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Against Michigan, Pacheco had 20 carries for 107 yards but was kept out of the end zone. Kyle Monangai is his understudy and has seen action in all four games with three touchdowns on the year, two against Temple in the opener and one against Syracuse in week two. The third name to keep an eye on is quarterback Noah Vedral as he can tuck it and run and has 117 yards on 33 carries but has not found the end zone. Aaron Young is another back to keep an eye on as the Rutgers offense will share the load but Young has not seen as much action as of late with just two carries against Michigan and four against Delaware. Rutgers’ rushing numbers against Ohio State have not been great throughout the series with an average of just 110.4 yards per game against Ohio State and never breaking the 150-yard mark with 141 last season (2020) and a top mark of 149 in 2014, the first game of the series between these two teams. Granted, this Ohio State defense may have the most struggles out of any that Rutgers has faced throughout the years, but history shows patterns of where it has been a ‘No Contest’ when it comes to moving the ball against Ohio State on the ground. In 2020, Pacheco and Vedral led all Rutgers ballcarriers with just seven attempts, Pacheco had a respectable 68 yards on his carries while Vedral did not fare quite as well with just 15. The only touchdown on the ground occurred when backup QB Johnny Langan took it in from a yard out in the 4th quarter.

Ohio State Defensive Line vs. Rutgers Offensive Line

Sticking with the, “It was only Akron” theme, the Buckeyes went into Saturday’s game without Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyreke Smith and Taron Vincent (for linemen who have seen extended action this year) and did just fine. You have to wonder if the opponent was not Akron, how many of those linemen may have been game time decisions instead of just ruled out to being with. It really did not matter as the Buckeyes recorded nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss in the mismatch. Haskell Garrett led the team with three sacks and was creating havoc on many more plays while true freshman Tyleik Williams had a pair of his own sacks, from the defensive tackle position. It is strange how so much more of Ohio State’s havoc is coming from the interior line rather than the edge rushers, but that is just how 2021 has been so far. We won’t know until Saturday what the make-up of Ohio State’s defensive line will look like but the challenge will be much stiffer with a Big Ten opponent lining up across the field rather than an overmatched team that was a seven-touchdown underdog.

Rutgers has done a good job of keeping opponents away from its quarterbacks with just five sacks given up this season and just giving up one against Michigan last week. It is pretty obvious from the numbers that the pass protection is much stronger than the run blocking and if Rutgers is ever able to get all the pieces working in the throw game, that will bode well. But Rutgers is not talented enough to be one-dimensional, so that is why we saw the offense bog down against Michigan last week, even with a few gift wrapped opportunities in the game, the Scarlet Knights went a dismal 1-4 on 4th down conversion attempts. The Rutgers offensive line is veteran with juniors and seniors across the board and everyone tipping the scales north of 300 pounds. The Scarlet Knights don’t have household names when it comes to the line but keep an eye on both Raiqwon O’Neal and Reggie Sutton as both linemen are in the upper tier of Big Ten linemen and worth noting. Outside of the Akron game, the Buckeyes have struggled generating a pass rush and Rutgers has done a good job of keeping its quarterbacks un-harassed. Will Rutgers play out of its league throwing the ball if Vedral has time? That might be their only hope in this one.

Ohio StateStatRankRutgersStatRank
Rush Offense222.2 YPG19thRush Defense112.8 YPG39th
Pass Offense337.0 YPG10thPass Eff. Defense95.708th
Scoring Offense43.2 PPG7thScoring Defense13.5 PPG8th

Ohio State QB/WR/TE vs. Rutgers Defensive Backs

Will it be CJ Stroud, Kyle McCord or Jack Miller? Smart money sits with Stroud, as long as he does not suffer any sort of medical setback this week in getting ready for the game. Will a week of shutting it down be just what he needs to get his injured shoulder back in working order or will the shoulder be something that plagues him throughout the season? At least now the coaches know what the other two quarterbacks are capable of and prevailing wisdom should dictate that if Stroud is ineffective due to his shoulder at any point this season, that one or the other quarterback could be inserted into the lineup. Through the years the Buckeyes have thrown the ball very well against Rutgers, to the tune of 307.7 yards per game and you have to go back to 2016 for the last time that Ohio State did not hit the 300-yard mark. Justin Fields threw nine touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights over two starts and while expecting 4.5 to be a baseline for whoever starts for the Buckeyes could be a reach, it is something to shoot for. We should probably talk about the Ohio State receivers here as well but what is left to say that we have not said before? Emeka Egbuka took a big step forward with his catch-and-run for 85 yards while Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jayden Ballard both got onto the stats sheet as well in the Akron game. This is still going to be the Olave/Wilson/JSN offense, but there is just so much depth there for the Buckeyes at receiver, now consistency from the quarterback position is needed to maximize that potential.

Teams have thrown for 150 yards per game against Rutgers thus far this season, a grand total of 600 yards and one touchdown. Look, we are not going to say that Rutgers is not doing its part but a further look at the schedule shows Rutgers has gone against four poor-to-quite poor passing teams with Temple ranking 84th in passing offense, Syracuse 108th and Michigan ranking 116th. Even FCS foe Delaware is 62nd out of 123 teams in that classification throwing the ball. So, are those numbers based on Rutgers throwing these teams off schedule or just the fact that these teams can’t throw the ball? We are looking at the latter as we struggle to find much to get excited about with any of those passing offenses. Tre Avery may not be a familiar name to Ohio State fans but before he changed his name, cornerback Kareem Felder was part of an Ohio State signing class, never playing with the Buckeyes, transferred to Toledo and then followed Chris Ash to Rutgers. He is flanked by freshman Max Melton, a 6-foot-1 corner with a lot of upside but a corner who will be under fire by the Buckeye offense. It is not going to be just a walk in the park for the Ohio State passing offense, the Rutgers secondary is better than people are going to give them credit for going into this game, but under no circumstances do I believe that this is honestly the No. 8 pass efficiency defense in the nation based on the four games that have been played going into this contest and I fully expect Ohio State to do quite well and bring some of these incomplete numbers crashing back down to Earth.

Ohio State Running Backs vs. Rutgers Linebackers

The Buckeyes have been able to run through the years of Rutgers, to the mark of 278 yards per game in the previous meetings with a high of 410 yards in 2016 and a low of 203 in the 2020 game. Granted, Justin Fields threw five touchdown passes in that 2020 game, running was a bit of an afterthought. Fans are hoping it is no afterthought this year with all eyes on freshman back TreVeyon Henderson and the hope of getting the first-year player into an undefined Heisman field. No back was busy last week against Akron as Ohio State had the luxury of spreading the ball around and having a chance to get players like Evan Pryor their first collegiate experience at the position but look for things to tighten up a little bit in this game as guys like Henderson and Master Teague will be called upon with the big question revolving around how much will Miyan Williams see after returning to the lineup after not getting a single carry against Tulsa the previous week. Ohio State has rushed for at least 200 yards in three of the four games this season with Oregon being the outlier in a 484-yard passing day. Ohio State has not had a truly balanced game in terms of run/pass production this season and this might be the game where Ohio State tries to strike the balance but the name of the game is putting up points and getting wins, so if the run is working, look for the hot hand to stay out there and on the other side of things, if the pass is there, that might be the path as the Buckeyes not only need to win but it would not hurt to look good in doing so.

Rutgers has given up even less yardage on the ground than via the pass this season and teams are averaging 3.3 yards per rushing attempt. Temple can’t run the ball, Delaware is middle of the pack but Syracuse is No. 20 in rushing offense while Michigan is No. 5. What the Scarlet Knights were able to do against Michigan, holding that run offense to just 2.9 yards per carry, shutting down September Heisman Blake Corum to fewer than 70 yards on 21 carries… it is impressive. Granted, Michigan can’t throw the ball. So, a defensive-minded head coach in Greg Schiano had a plan for a one-dimensional team and Michigan’s inability to complete (or even really attempt for some odd reason) a forward pass skewed the numbers heavily. Ohio State cannot come into this game one-dimensional, because we see what comes of that, even if Ohio State’s running back room is more diverse and explosive than Michigan’s running back room. The Scarlet Knights have four seniors for three positions in the linebacker room and all of them are more than capable of making plays. We are not going to take anything away from this group but while nobody is more critical of Ohio State than Ohio State fans, let’s be honest here, Rutgers has not faced an offensive group like Ohio State’s this season, not by a longshot.

Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Rutgers Defensive Line

In typical fashion, we get down to the line and we have kind of talked everything through and there is not much left to say here. Harry Miller is back “in the mix” but being in the mix and being back in the starting lineup are not always the same thing, we would be shocked to see him overtake Luke Wypler at this point for the center duties. Thayer Munford missed last week to a non-long term injury but with the play of Matt Jones, it would not surprise us to see Jones out there at guard again this week. Ohio State has so much depth at offensive line that people really didn’t even bat an eye when Miller and Munford left the lineup. Sure, we have been asked repeatedly when each will be back, but has anyone really seen any sort of step back at either position? Neither have we and that is meant as kudos to Wypler and Jones and nothing negative about Miller and Munford.

Rutgers can get after the quarterback and the team has recorded 14 sacks to date this season. Lineman Julius Turner leads linemen with 2.5 sacks and is second on the team to linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi’s 3.5 on the year. The line is full of seniors, much like the entire defense, a starting 11 (based on the current depth chart) that has two juniors, one freshman and eight seniors. This unit has done a good job at takeaways when it comes to forcing fumbles with five on the year and the team is 5/5 in recovering balls when they hit the ground, so ball security will be of utmost importance. There is one thing that we can say for sure, while we are not overly impressed with what we see as some inflated numbers on the offense, the front seven on defense does not look like a Rutgers team of past (in the time between Schiano’s departure to return to be more specific).

CategoryOhio StateRankRutgersRank
Net Punt42.73 YPP24th48.31 YPP1st
Punt Return1.71 YPR118th20.12 YPR10th
Kickoff Return22.25 YPR45th22.00 YPRT-46th
FG Percentage4-4 (100%)N/A5-7 (71%)N/A

Rutgers leads the nation in net punt with more than 48 yards per punting play, five more yards than Ohio State. That’s all well and good but generally you don’t want to punt a lot, Rutgers has 16 punts (four per game) and Ohio State has 11 (fewer than 3 per game), so neither number is uncharacteristically high. Rutgers has done a better job in the return game but neither of those numbers really are predictors for much with teams generally opting for fair catches on kickoffs and punt returns becoming fewer and fewer over the years. Field goal percentage is something that could be more impactful and while Ohio State generally does not settle for three, Rutgers shouldn’t expect to win this game if it has to settle for three. Both of the Rutgers missed field goals were from 29 yards out, kicks that should go at a high percentage, so that could be problematic, but kicker Valentino Ambrosio still has been good from 40 yards out, you just have to wonder if Schiano is going to take chances with long kicks at risk of giving a familiar Ohio State team short fields if things go awry.

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