Ohio State-Rutgers has a homecoming feel for more reason than one

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 9: Quarterback Chris Chuguvov #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes passes in the third quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Ohio Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Maryland 73-14. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 9: Quarterback Chris Chuguvov #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes passes in the third quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Ohio Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Maryland 73-14. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

This might be the strangest week of the season for Ohio State football.

One week after beating a Big Ten team 73-14, the second-ranked Buckeyes are expected to have an even easier time winning at Rutgers.

Ohio State is favored by roughly 53 points (depending on the oddsmaker) against another conference opponent, and the first followup question from some upon hearing that was, “That’s all?”

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The Buckeyes are being asked not to overlook the Scarlet Knights despite showdowns with Penn State and Michigan to follow, but there is also a sense that if they do, it won’t really matter. The disparity is just that large.

The backup quarterback came out for interviews on Tuesday, and no one in the media room batted an eye.

Other non-starters also met with reporters the following night, and there was more talk about homecomings than the actual game, making it feel as much like an NFL preseason game as a real Big Ten contest that counts in the standings.

There were questions about whether or not the No. 1 units have gotten enough reps all season given what’s on the horizon, too, with the understanding the reserves might get a full half of action for a second straight week.

No matter how lopsided the matchup looks on paper, Ohio State and Rutgers will play in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon.

Here are three things to know about the game:

1. Chris Chugunov is one of several Garden State Buckeyes are hoping to get show their stuff in front of friends and family.

The Buckeyes’ backup quarterback took a circuitous route to Columbus.

The Skillman, N.J., native spent three seasons at West Virginia before transferring to Ohio State last summer. Since then he has moved up from No. 4 signal caller to surprising backup who has played in all but one game for the Buckeyes this season.

“I just came here and I planned on doing whatever I could here for Ohio State and things shook out the way they did, and I’m just grateful for every opportunity I have to play,” said Chugunov, who has completed 20 of 27 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Day said he has come along away in a little more than a year.

“He came in in not great shape — he’ll tell you that,” Day said. “Changed his body in the offseason, put a lot more work in. He’s in his second year in the program, which we haven’t had a lot of those guys by way of the situation at quarterback.

“When you’re in your second year into the program, whether it’s physically or mentally, you’re understanding the scheme of the offense, it really helps you. I think you can see him when he’s out there, he’s pretty decisive where he’s throwing the ball.”

Three other Garden State natives looking forward to getting to play back home: defensive ends Tyler Friday (Ramsey Don Bosco Prep) and Javontae Jean-Baptiste (Oradell Bergen Catholic) and safety Jordan Fuller (Old Tappan).

2. Day wants to see his team cut down on penalties.

Not only were the 13 penalties accepted against Ohio State last week a season-high, they represent a full quarter of the accepted flags on the Buckeyes in nine games this season.

That was an unwanted flashback to last season when they ranked 124th in the country in penalties.

“One of the things we have to do is we have to hold ourselves to a certain standard,” Day said. “We cannot at any point lose our discipline, lose our focus because we had 13 penalties in a game. That’s unacceptable. That’s going to hurt us in a close game. Execution level has to be at an all-time high, effort. All those things, taking care of the ball, ball security, decision making, communication. All of those things have got to be really good if we’re going to win close games.

“Our team hasn’t really been in the fourth quarter of a dogfight yet. Those are the things we’re really focusing on right now.”

3. Three starters and several regulars will not play for Ohio State.

The school announced Friday morning defensive ends Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young as well as receiver Austin Mack are unavailable.

Young will serve the second game of a two-game suspension levied by the NCAA for accepting and paying back a personal loan while Cooper and Mack have unidentified injuries that also kept them out last week against Maryland.

Young will be back next week when the Buckeyes play host to Penn State.

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Without Young and Cooper, Ohio State lists freshmen Jean-Baptiste and Zach Harrison as the starter at one end spot with sophomores Friday and Tyreke Smith sharing the other side.

Last week, tight end Rashod Berry also saw time on defense to help fill the void.

Baron Browning, the co-starter at middle linebacker with Tuf Borland and a member of multiple sub-packages on defense, is also unavailable, as are backup offensive linemen Josh Alabi and Matthew Jones.

True freshman Enokk Vimahi is listed as the backup right guard with Jones out of the depth chart.

Marcus Crowley, a freshman running back who left last week’s game late with an apparent leg injury, is also out along with a handful of players who have not played all season because of injuries.