One week after throttling Oregon State to open the season, Ohio State begins Big Ten play Saturday with a visit from Rutgers.
Here are six things to know about the game scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium:
1. Rutgers should be better than Oregon State.
The Beavers are expected to be one of the worst teams in college football this season, and Ohio State made them look the part in a 77-31 decision last week.
Coming off a 35-7 win over Texas State, Rutgers ranks 68th in the country according to Football Outsiders advanced stats published by SBNation.com. (Oregon State is 114th).
2. The Scarlet Knights are a defense-first squad.
While Rutgers had one of the worst offenses in the country last season (ranking 120th out of 129 teams in scoring and 128th in total yards), the defense was nearly average (72nd in total yards and 77th in points allowed per game).
The tilt of the team is not a huge surprise given second-year head coach Chris Ash is a former defensive coordinator — including two years at Ohio State.
The Scarlet Knights’ chances of hanging tough against Ohio State could be undercut by health, though.
Ash declared the team’s top cornerback, Blessaun Austin, out as he deals with a knee issue, and reserve defensive backs Tre Avery and Kiy Hester are considered game-time decisions according to NJ.com.
3. Ash is not the only connection between the teams.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano made his name as the head coach at Rutgers from 2001-11, and he still speaks fondly of a place he only left to become head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
One of the key assistants during his tenure was John McNulty, who is back in Piscataway as offensive coordinator after spending the last nine seasons in the NFL.
Although Ash downplayed either side getting an advantage from the familiarity, Schiano pointed out a potential issue for Ohio State.
“He knows the verbiage, and I’m sure he’s going to tell his players that, so we’ll have to change some of the words we use on the field, some of the calls, so they’re not aware exactly what’s happening,” Schiano said.
4. The Scarlet Knights have a freshman quarterback, but watch out for the running game.
Artur Sitkowski, a New Jersey native who played at IMG Academy last season, completed 20 of 30 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown in his college debut last week. The 6-foot-5, 224-pounder also also threw three interceptions.
“I’m familiar with the quarterback because he’s a Jersey kid, and I knew him back when, and then obviously through recruiting,” Schiano said. “He is a big, strong arm drop-back passer with good mobility. He’s not a stiff back there, so you have to be ready to be able to have ways to get him down when he does move.”
McNulty told local reporters the team’s best player is sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear, who had 150 all-purpose yards last week.
He ran for 62 yards while Jonathan Hillman and Isaih Pacheco added 66 and 76 yards on the ground.
Don’t be surprised if Rutgers tries to shorten the game and protect its young signal-caller by running the ball frequently.
5. What has Ohio State learned defensively?
While the Buckeye offense was stellar in week one, the Silver Bullet defense had some misfires.
Coaches and players said they expect Rutgers to try to exploit Ohio State’s speed and aggressiveness with screens and misdirection, though that could be true of most offenses the Buckeyes face this season.
“Yeah with our defensive line, especially the third down package being so elite, we’re expecting a lot of teams to try to go quick pass, run screen plays, do a lot of misdirection things to kind of throw us off up front, but that’s what halftime is for,” Ohio State defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “Make the halftime adjustments if that is the case. And that’s what practice is for. Get prepared for those type of situations and make the proper preparations leading up until Saturday.”
6. Prepare to get wet.
After Ohio State endured a 72-minute weather delay last week, will Mother Nature interfere again?
“Saturday’s forecast is quite tricky forecast, but our latest data is showing steady rain may be falling up to kickoff then slowly taper through the game,” said Storm Center 7 meteorologist McCall Vydraghs. “There may be a few leftover passing showers around.
“Good news is the overall threat for lightning looks to be minimal, but it does exist. Bringing along something to stay dry during the game would be a good idea. The stands will be wet regardless.”
She also noted there is a chance of wind ranging between 10-20 mph, though temperatures (upper 60s to lower 70s) should be pleasant.