Rutgers will enter Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. ET contest against #4 Ohio State somewhere around five touchdown underdogs. After not scoring in the previous two meetings, the Scarlet Knights hope to end the drought behind the arm of true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski. One intriguing matchup in this game is Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty going head to head against his former boss and RU head coach, Greg Schiano. We profiled their chess match here.
Our contributors give their take on what to expect in the Horseshoe on Saturday and whether we think Rutgers can be more competitive against Ohio State than they have been in any of the four previous meetings. Let’s kick things off!
Patrick Mella: Rutgers fans are aware of the history between these two teams and well, needless to say its been pretty ugly especially the two previous years where Rutgers has yet to score against the Buckeyes. And although it may be true that Ohio State simply has the more talented squad, it’s their depth that really creates nightmares for Rutgers. Couple this with an enigmatic offense and you get the results you saw last year. The good news is Rutgers looks like it finally has an offense that is willing to open the playbook up and this week will face an Ohio State defense that just gave up 31 points to Oregon State (keep in mind, the offense put up 77 points). But if you’re like me and looking to find some glimmer of hope the defense did surrender several big plays including two rushing touchdowns of 78 and 80 yards, and a passing touchdown of 49 yards. I think the offense will surprise a few people and find a way to put up points (look for McNulty to take a deep shot early). The effort will be there on defense, but ultimately Rutgers runs out of gas come the second half. But if they can have a few good drives, get some points and the defense keep the score from getting out of hand, I’d consider that a victory. Ohio State 52, Rutgers 17
David Anderson: In 2015, I predicted Rutgers would have absolutely zero chance to beat Ohio State before 2025. Of course things change in college football and the now mostly unlikely possibility Urban Meyer’s days are numbered means we can re-evaluate in 2020. Until then, OSU is filled with four and five star talent that is prepared well for every game and S&P saying Rutgers has a 3% chance to win this game is probably accurate. It would take bad weather, amazing luck for RU, mismanagement by the OSU coaching staff, and more for Rutgers to pull off the upset. Stranger things have happened (WVU v Pitt in 2007) in NCAA Football, but with Ohio State playing a Power Five team in Oregon State last week, they worked out plenty of kinks.
Ohio State’s final point total is predicated on how long Chris Ash risks injury to his defensive starters to prevent a ridiculous scoreboard tally. Regardless of how many points the Buckeyes put up, Rutgers fans want to see if their team can move the ball when trailing by a few scores. That has only happened once in the Ash era (Minnesota 2016), but if RU can get some yards and push the ball into the end zone it would build confidence that a comeback against a lesser opponent down the line is at least in the realm of possibilities. Ash and Niemann will try to keep the home team under 50 while McNulty has enough in the bag to get the ball down the field more than the past two seasons, especially against the reserves who Schiano probably will have focused on avoiding big plays. With the banged up secondary, the Buckeyes will score 50+ even in the rain. Ohio State 51, Rutgers 20
Cara Sanfilippo: I wish this game was not happening this week. Well, actually, I wish we didn’t have to play Ohio State at all right now, but at least later in the season there would be less downside for injuries, and we would have more time to gel as a young team. This to me is always a game where we lose a key player to injury, i.e. Bless Austin last season. To me, a key to this game will be having our team coming out healthy and/or minimally banged up.
On a more positive note, I was happy with the level of talent and play calling I saw on the offense last week, and with the level of play delivered by the defense. While Texas State is nowhere near the level of talent we will see in the B1G, a defensive shutout is always a great feat. If we are going to be more competitive against Ohio State, we will need to make the following glaring improvements: limit careless penalties and mistakes, limit Sitowski interceptions, and improve open space tackling. There are obviously other areas on which we can improve, special teams being one of them, but these were key weaknesses in the opener. If we can do this, and McNulty is able to get the offense to open up the field and take advantage of OSU’s weakest unit, I would be excited for us to finally put some points on the board and limit their offensive production. That to me would be an improvement, and one that would give a lot of fans hope for the future. Ohio State 49, Rutgers 17
Dave White: I’d love to be the one who picks the major Chris Ash era defining upset. The shock win of a generation. The moment we all stood up and said, “Yes, we are Rutgers.” Look at it, Urban Meyer is suspended. There are distractions for the Buckeyes. John McNulty knows Greg Schiano’s defense. Rutgers is more talented than they’ve been in a while. Rutgers can go in with a “What do we have to lose” attitude and stun a top ten team in a legendary stadium. Sigh. However, that’s not going to happen. Meyer is still coaching the team during the week. There is way too much talent on the Buckeye side of the ball and Rutgers is starting a talented exciting freshman who is going to be good, but threw 3 interceptions against a team that hadn’t had one INT in over a season last week. I don’t think we’re out of the bloodbath era yet, folks--though I do believe that’s coming. Rutgers gets on the board early and gives us all something to cheer about...but after that Ohio State dots all their eyes and Rutgers goes home bruised. OSU 48 - Rutgers 10
Nick Kosko: I think all Rutgers fans are glad this one will be over and done with early in the season. While RU is near and dear to my heart and an upset would be absolutely monumental, I cannot pick that way. Ohio State is just too good. With or without Urban Meyer roaming the sidelines, QB Dwayne Haskins is the real deal. In our conversation with Land Grant Holy Land’s Matt Tamanini, he mentioned almost immediately that Haskins’ ceiling is higher than J.T Barrett’s. If so, that’s scary. It doesn’t help that Rutgers has struggled to stop the run in their brief history in the Big Ten and Buckeye running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins are quite a handful. The Scarlet Knights might be improved overall by season’s end, but the defense won’t be able to slow down Ohio State for sixty minutes.
The offense is a different story. Artur Sitkowski is starting only his second career collegiate contest and it so happens to be against a top five team in the country. No pressure! Let’s hope Sitkowski doesn’t see Nick Bosa in his nightmares so the offensive line needs to be stout in the passing game to give Rutgers any sort of chance to score points. Sure, Jonathan Hillman, Raheem Blackshear, and Isiah Pacheco can carry load and grind out a few drives, but for RU to stay in this game, at least early, they have to be able to stretch the field and get downfield. Without that, it could be a long day in Columbus. I’ll be generous in the score. Ohio State 45, Rutgers 20
Jim Hoffman: Among the more depressing parts of writing about Rutgers football is making predictions for games you believe in their heart of hearts are unwinnable. This is one of those games. Whether Urban Meyer or Oscar Meyer are coaching this squad, they have more talent at almost every position than Rutgers does this year, and so it is an uphill slog with every possession. Rutgers has come a long way since Chris Ash has arrived on the banks of the ol’ Raritan, but not far enough to beat the Buckeyes at home in front of 105K passionate OSU fans. The big get for this game is how many points can be scored on the Greg Scieno-led defense by a Rutgers offense that shows some promise for 2018. Rutgers has only scored 24 points total on Ohio State since entering the Big Ten in 2014, and those were in 2014 (17 points) and 2015 (7 points). So, after two years of goose eggs, I think this offense under the direction of John McNulty will be able to put up at least 15 points this year, which is a definite step forward. In terms of defense, I think this will be the first year since 2015 that Rutgers will keep the Buckeyes under 50 points as well. Will it be competitive? Not yet, but they are getting there. Ohio State 42 Rutgers 16
Namrita Singh: Don’t know what to add that hasn’t been said already! I do think we don’t get shut out for the third season in a row against Ohio State. I think the offense will get off to a good start and we’ll see Sitkowski keep developing, fix some of the mistakes from last week, and continue to grow as a starting QB. I would love to not lose anyone else to a major injury. Austin is already inactive for this game and is considered week-to-week so we’ll see what happens. I think the defense can and should cause some issues. I expect Raheem Blackshear to have another big game. Ohio State dropping 77 points on Oregon State isn’t doing anything to make me feel less queasy; however, I do think Rutgers is the better, more complete team between them and Oregon. If the team can come out of this almost completely unscathed and they aren’t shut out or don’t lose by more than 30 points, I would consider this a major improvement. Ohio State 49, Rutgers 20
Aaron Breitman: The average score of the previous four meetings since Rutgers joined the Big Ten has been 55-6 Ohio State. Moral victories aren’t typically the goal, but from a Rutgers perspective this week, staying in the game into the second half would be a major improvement.
I really believe the defense has the potential to be a top half unit in the conference and this is their chance to prove it. Of course, if three of the top six defensive backs sit out this game, the secondary will certainly be tested to keep up with the passing game of the Buckeyes. Overall, the front line talent is improved on both sides of the ball, but depth is still an issue. Rutgers has also struggled to stay healthy against Ohio State, so getting out of this game without major injury is key as well, as a winnable stretch of games follows this one. I’m optimistic Rutgers will produce it’s best showing against Ohio State in this series and the heavy rain expected may help keep the game closer as well.
My guess is Rutgers leaves the Horseshoe with more confidence than they entered with after being more competitive in this matchup than ever before. For a program trying to rebuild in the Big Ten East, this would be considered a baby step forward. Ohio State 38 Rutgers 14
Are we being too negative or too optimistic? Let us know in the comment section how you think this game will play out.