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Rutgers Football Game #2 Preview vs. #4 Ohio State

Weather could factor in and Rutgers needs a perfect storm.

Texas State v Rutgers
Stevens and the special teams need a big game Saturday.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-0; 0-0) At Ohio State (1-0; 0-0)

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio. “The Horseshoe”

Kick-off: Saturday, September 8th at 3:40 p.m. ET

Weather: 69 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 45% chance of rain, 12 mph winds

TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst) and Rick Pizzo (sideline).

Stream: BTN2go

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, ESPN NY 98.7-FM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 196, Sirius 106. WRSU 88.7-FM (Jake Ostrove and Matt Howe)

Current Spread: Rutgers +35

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-0; Ohio State 1-0

Series History: Ohio State leads 4-0.

SB Nation OSU site: Land-Grant Holy Land (LGHL). Q & A here.

Ohio State Statistical Leaders

Passing: Dwayne Haskins - 22 for 30 pass attempts, 73.3%, 313 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT. Tate Martell - 3 for 4 pass attempts, 75.0%, 33 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Mike Weber - 186 yards on 20 attempts, 9.3 ypc, 3 TD; J.K. Dobbins - 74 yards on 15 attempts, 4.9 ypc, 0 TD; Master Teague - 56 yards on 6 attempts, 9.3 ypc, 1 TD; Brian Snead - 25 yards on 7 attempts, 3.6 ypc, 1 TD

Receiving: Terry McLaurin - 4 catches for 121 yards, 30.3 ypc, 2 TD; K.J. Hill - 6 catches for 82 yards, 13.7 ypc, 0 TD; Austin Mack - 5 catches for 69 yards, 13.8 ypc, 0 TD;

Defense: Jahsen Wint - 5 tackles, 0.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 INT’s, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries; Pete Werner - 4 tackles, 1.0 for a loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumbles, 2 passes defended; Nick Bosa - 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 0 INT’s, 0 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble, 1 TD

Kicking: Sean Nuernberger - 11 for 11 PAT’s, 0 for 0 FG attempts, Career Long of 44 yards

Ohio State Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Ohio State I Rutgers from 2017

Rutgers Advanced Stats Win Probability - 3% (per Football Study Hall)

What To Watch For

Meyer’s absence, does it matter?

Urban Meyer is at the center of a domestic violence controversy and suspended from coaching on game day for another two weeks. Without rambling about how embarrassing it is to be a college football fan when these stories of indiscretion in the name of wins come out, Ohio State does not need Urban Meyer to be a huge favorite against Rutgers. Meyer is not the only reason his teams have won 90% of their games the last few years.

That being said, Meyer is not only great at preparing his staff and players, he is at least an average in game coach. Aaron’s interview with the OSU SB Nation site indicated that Buckeye Nation does not consider Meyer a great in game coach because he often waits too long to stray from his game plan. Garrett Stepien during his interview on the podcast with Lance Glinn earlier in the week had similar thoughts.

But how many close wins in the past few seasons have we seen from the Buckeyes when it could have gone either way? Off the top of my head, defeating Penn State last season and Michigan in 2016 are a testament to his ability to make in game adjustments. So, the longer Rutgers can keep this one close, the chances of a sudden onslaught will continue to go down and this may resemble a Big Ten football game in the second half.

“Special” teams cannot make mistakes

The season opener is often filled with penalty flags and last week was no different for the Scarlet Knights. Several of those came on special teams which could be a huge factor in this game, especially with precipitation and 12 mph winds expected. Penalties and misplays will be magnified with a wet ball and unpredictable wind gusts. If Rutgers wants to have any shot of keeping this game close they need to avoid mental errors on special teams and capitalize on any committed by Ohio State. Rutgers had a field position edge in the win over Texas State last week that ranked in the top 5 nationally. Doing it again this week will be steep.

True freshman punter Adam Korsak did pretty well in his first action. His ability to kick the ball with different spin may discourage Ohio State returners from risking fumbles and could lead to extra yards in the field position match up. Justin Davidovicz needs to keep doing what he’s doing on kickoffs. He probably will be called upon for momentum preserving field goal attempts in the first half, too, that have a lot more pressure than typical early game tries. Rutgers’s kicking game has to have a good day.

One thing that was mentioned by Coach Ash during the weekly Chris Ash show is that even if a returner decides to signal for a fair catch on a kickoff, he needs to catch the ball cleanly. If he drops the ball and his team recovers, they get the ball at the spot rather than the 25 yard line. Raheem Blackshear is touted as Rutgers best offensive weapon but he dropped the opening kickoff and misplayed a punt as well. Raheem or Avery Young will need to be sure handed or the home crowd will surely let everyone in the stadium know RU is doomed.

Was the Beavers’ Big Play success in the run game an aberration?

In last week’s game, the Oregon State Beavers had some success on the ground, particularly on their 3rd and 4th touchdowns. Ohio State played a lot of cover-1 and was vulnerable to quarterback option runs. This doubt was enough to keep Ohio State off balance and at times over pursue. Oregon State may not be a great team for the Power Five, but they really have some speedsters including Artavis Pierce and Trevon Bradford. Once those players got in open space, they were off to the races. LGHL had a piece describing how Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty may utilize Raheem Blackshear in much the same way until the Buckeyes prove they can stop it.

The Buckeyes are a juggernaut, but their only non-strengths (wouldn’t even call them weaknesses) are the linebacker play and inexperienced defensive backs. When an Ohio State defender did have a chance at the ball carrier, there were some missed tackles and bad angles. The tackling for almost every team in the country improves between week one and week two because live hitting in training camp is so limited these days, so Rutgers shouldn’t count on that. If star safety Jordan Fuller suits up, expect better angles from him as well. Expect these blue chip players to improve over the course of the season, but perhaps Rutgers getting a crack so early on is a blessing.

Rutgers wants to get Art Sitkowski as many reps as possible, but with Ohio State’s only obvious weakness last week being against quarterback runs, Johnathan Lewis could see some action. Last year Lewis looked pretty good on his first two drives against the Buckeyes before getting injured. Throwing an extra look at the Buckeyes and practicing against the nation’s best in what could be a blowout anyway has no real downside. Ohio State’s back seven will be in a lot of press coverage looking to stay in their lanes, so rollout passes could take advantage of this if Lewis can get outside the pocket.

So the Beavers’ success was not an aberration, but expect plenty of coaching from Greg Schiano and his staff this week to clean up the miscues. To truly open up space for Blackshear and co, it will take success through the air to make the defense retreat which brings us to week two of the ...

Sitkowski watch

The true freshman signal caller faced an FBS team last week, but now has to face the #4 team in the nation. It will be a true test in less than ideal weather conditions. Rutgers offense was dedicated this off-season to coming up with ways to get “chunk plays” which either come on long passes, yards after the catch, or runs into open space. Quarterback Art Sitkowski is not a scrambler, but has mobility to create space on run-pass options if the defense respects the run which is set up by the pass. Confused yet?

Sitkowski possesses the necessary skills to give Rutgers a chance in games against Big Ten elite down the line. He demonstrated ability to recognize coverages and how the routes would be run, allowing him to throw the ball to the spot where his receiver would become open before it happened. Art also has a strong enough arm with solid accuracy to fit the ball into those windows that few Rutgers quarterbacks in recent memory were able to do. So he may not be ready to slay a giant yet, but the upside is there. You can see examples of both sides of the coin in my film breakdown earlier in the week.

Art threw three interceptions against a team that hadn’t gotten a single one in over a year, but on the whole I thought he read defenses pretty well. Of course any quarterback will rush throws when there’s pressure. Oregon State was forced to keep it on the ground because they struggled in pass protection when the lead got big. Ohio State possesses a vicious pass rush coached by legend Larry Johnson, all capable of defeating blocks and compromising even the best playcalls. Rutgers’s offensive line has their hands full.

Rutgers defensive depth concerns

Ohio State exploded for 77 points (not a misprint) against the Beavers last week. Rain sometimes benefits receivers because it makes it tougher for defensive backs to react to the routes, but wind usually benefits the defense. Rutgers has an experienced and opportunistic defensive backfield to capitalize if the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, word is that Bless Austin is now out. His logical replacement, Tre Avery, sat out against Texas State and is a game time decision as is playmaking safety Kiy Hester. If the starters can stay on the field Rutgers should have a chance to play straight up, but it may be baptism by fire for some backups like we saw in 2017 in the secondary vs. the Buckeyes.

So without as much flexibility in coverages, the pressure on Rutgers defensive front is even higher. The already-thin Rutgers defensive line lost backup jack and pass-rush specialist Tijaun Mason to a broken leg. With Mason out, fellow redshirt freshman Mike Tverdov will get more action. Tverdov wears the same number (97) as his older brother Pete and looked the part in his first game. Tverdov is a high energy, “hard charging” guy in the words of the coaching staff but he will be giving up a good 50-60 pounds to his opposition. Rutgers will also mix in linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi at times opposite Elorm Lumor to get more speed on the field. Lumor had a breakout game last week and is key to any sort of pass rush, the Scarlet Knights’ biggest question mark heading into the season. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann has prove to be a good game planner, but his options are limited in this one.

Here’s to a competitive game this weekend that demonstrates the Scarlet Knights’ growth in year three of the Ash era.