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Game #5 Preview: #11 Ohio State at Rutgers

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Includes keys to the game and who to know on the Buckeyes

NCAA Football: Morgan State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

#11 Ohio State (3-1; 1-0) At Rutgers (1-3; 0-1)

Where: High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey (Capacity 52,454)

Kick-off: Saturday, September 30th at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: Big Ten Network

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Eric LeGrand - WCTC 1450-AM, ESPN NY 98.7-FM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, Sirius 135, XM 195

Current Spread: Ohio State - 29.5

Series History: The Buckeyes leads 3-0, winning 56-17 in 2014, 49-7 in 2015, and 58-0 last season.

SB Nation Ohio State site: Land Grant Holy Land

Note: This is NOT a blackout game and you are kindly encouraged to wear scarlet

Ohio State Key Player Stats

Offense

QB J.T. Barrett: 76-120 for 63.3%, 10 TD’s, 1 INT; 43 carries for 174 yards, 2 TD’s

RB J.K. Dobbins: 69 carries for 520 yards, 7.5 yards per carry, 3 TD’s

RB Mike Weber: 7 carries for 42 yards; Returns from injury; 1,000 yard rusher in 2016

WR Parris Campbell: 18 catches for 322 yards, 17.9 yards per catch, 2 TD’s

WR K.J. Hill: 18 catches for 177 yards, 9.8 yards per catch, 1 TD

WR Terry McLaurin: 12 catches for 126 yards, 10.5 yards per catch, 2 TD’s

Defense

S Damon Webb: 25 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery

DE Nick Bosa: 10 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 1 pass break-up

OLB Jerome Baker: 21 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 pass break-ups, 1 QB hit

DE Sam Hubbard: 10 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits

CB Denzel Ward: 14 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, 7 pass break-ups

Special Teams

K Sean Nuernberger: 18-18 XPA’s, 7-7 FGA’s with a long of 33 yards

KR Parris Campbell: 5 kickoff returns for 228 yards and 45.6 yards per return

Keys To The Game

Sustained Drives

It would be foolish to expect the Rutgers offense to have a lot of success against the Ohio State defense on Saturday. The unit was only able to produce 10 points against Nebraska last week and 13 points against Eastern Michigan. If Rutgers can't move the ball and they end up stringing together consecutive three and out's on offense, it will lead to this game getting out of hand sooner rather than later. As we saw in the losses to Washington and Nebraska, the defense competed hard and were effective at times, but wore down in the second half. Against the Buckeyes, it's likely to happen regardless, but the more the offense can control time of possession and sustain drives, the longer the defense can potentially put up a fight.

Offensive Line Needs To Hold Up

If the offense has any chance to produce in this game, the line has to stand up against a deep and potent defensive line for Ohio State. They rotate ten guys in their front four and will bring relentless pressure. Tariq Cole is having a great season and needs to play his best in this game. Can Jonah Jackson stabilize the line in returning at center after starting right guard against Nebraska? Will the line be able to contain Nick Bosa from having a monster day? Can the offensive line generate any holes for Gus Edwards and Robert Martin to run through? These are key questions and every Rutgers fan has a right to be concerned. If the line can't hold up, it won't matter who is at quarterback or what plays Jerry Kill calls, the offense won't have a chance.

Contain the Run

The Rutgers defense has been much improved against the run this season and currently rank 32nd in the country, allowing 119 rushing yards per game. They'll face their biggest test on the ground against Ohio State. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has been explosive and it will be a major challenge to contain him in this game. Mike Weber, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, returns from injury and will play a certain amount of snaps Saturday. And of course, there is J.T. Barrett, who already owns two 100 yard rushing performances against the Rutgers defense. Barrett has struggled some in the pass game this season, but that won't be a factor if the Buckeyes can run ragged on the Scarlet Knights defense. It would be encouraging to see them hold up against the run for an extended period of time in this game and prove the defense really is improved. Aside from Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Rutgers is unlikely to face a stiffer test against the run this season.

Penalties Must Be Avoided

Rutgers had a legitimate chance to beat Nebraska last week and the game changed on the 17 play, 97 yard drive in the third quarter when they lost the lead for good. There were _ penalties on that drive, none worse than the Kiy Hester late hit flag after an incompletion that extended the drive and led to a touchdown instead of a field goal. Rutgers can't give the Buckeyes any freebies or they will pay dearly.

Win Special Teams

While this unit has improved this season, particularly with the specialists, the punt coverage team has cost Rutgers leads to both Washington and Nebraska right before halftime. They cannot afford to allow for big returns against the Buckeyes or Rutgers will be putting themselves at a huge disLittle known fact, Ohio State hasn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown in seven seasons. Parris Campbell is averaging 40+ yards on five returns this season. I’m VERY nervous that he and the Buckeyes are due a big return in this game. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. With that being said, Justin Davidovicz on kickoffs, Andrew Harte on field goal attempts, and Ryan Anderson on punts will have a chance to make a difference in this game. Let’s hope it’s a positive one. And, of course, if Janarion Grant does play, which he is questionable to do so as of late Friday afternoon, any significant return he could produce would be a major plus.

Reduce Margin of Defeat

Rutgers has lost to Ohio State by an average score of 54-8 in the past three seasons. That is simply a brutal statistic. This team is playing not only against the Buckeyes on Saturday, but against themselves and the negative perception of the program being embarrassingly non-competitive against the elite teams of the Big Ten East. We all hoped for progress this season and aside from an improved win total, objective 1A was to perform better against top competition. Rutgers did play much better against a top ten team in Washington in the season opener, compared to the previous meeting a year ago. Ohio State is a bigger test though, regardless of ranking, because it’s a divisional foe that has owned them badly since joining the Big Ten. Rutgers needs to show progress and reduce the margin of defeat in this game. It matters to recruits and while it’s not going to drastically change perception around the conference or in the national media, losing 35-10 would certainly get people to say, “hey, Rutgers didn’t get killed last night against Ohio State.” Call me crazy, call me the champion of moral victories, or just call me Al, but I’ll take that kind of small step forward in year two of this rebuild.