First off, I think most people would agree with the fact that Rutgers most likely wasn’t going to win this game and they probably feel I don’t need to write this type of story to tell them that. But there were rumblings around the fan base about a Michigan upset before last weekend’s game. After Rutgers almost pulled that off, and coming back home, some of those rumblings were here for round two.
But let’s get right to the point— Rutgers had very little chance at pulling off the upset against Ohio State on Saturday. Even after a dismal performance, however, the way the Scarlet Knights played in their first four games should still breathe hope they can win their next three games and get to six wins.
Look, Rutgers is much improved since Greg Schiano and company took over before the 2020 season but they had a long way to go before then to compete with the best teams in the Big Ten. I’m glad fans were excited and Rutgers was even in the position for upset talk, that’s a far cry from the not-so-distant past, but we still need to think logically, even if hope is tugging at our heartstrings.
From 2016-2018, Ohio State outscored Rutgers 166-3. The good news is that’s three years removed now and last season’s score of 49-27 was a little more palatable. That 22-point defeat is the most competitive the Scarlet Knights have been in the eight meetings since they joined the Big Ten in 2014. That’s thanks in no small part to the coaching staff for Rutgers, as the overhauled roster of 2020 was still thought to be devoid of much talent. In the 2019 meeting, the Buckeyes were a 52-point favorite over the Scarlet Knights. Last season saw Rutgers close the gap to 37.5. Rutgers was a 14-point underdog for the latest matchup. Unfortunately, but not totally surprisingly, Ohio State jumped out to a 14-0 lead on its first two possessions.
Rutgers has really made an impressive turnaround in such a small amount of time but Saturday’s game looked more like their earlier meetings. During the OTB staff predictions, I even had Rutgers losing by one just score at 41-33, but that’s as close as I could see the game getting. Right now Ohio State still has to be considered a top team in the nation and Rutgers just isn’t deep enough to beat such a talented team for four quarters. They couldn’t even beat them for a quarter. That best case scenario I predicted didn’t even come close to fruition, even as others around the fanbase were calling for an upset.
The talent gap was closing each season and Schiano had been getting the most out of his players before this game, but Ohio State still has too many playmakers in all phases of the game. Ohio State had the number two ranked recruiting class in 2017 and 2018 before a slip to fourteenth in 2019. A jump back to fifth in 2020 puts the Buckeyes in territory Rutgers has never approached, let alone on a consistent basis. Now recruiting isn’t the end all be all, but when you’re that dominant at it, it usually shows on the field.
Ohio State has one of the best offenses in the nation and are much more well-rounded than anything Rutgers had faced thus far. After a change of play calling duties on the defensive side for the Buckeyes, they look to be rounding into form. Even with the improved play of the Rutgers defense, falling behind early again like they did last week to Michigan proved impossible to get the Buckeye foot off the pedal.
Rutgers isn’t going to give up in any game. That has become clear since the start of the 2020 season. Schiano has stamped his signature on this team. That includes fighting hard every play, every game until the last whistle. The problem is Ohio State is a touch above the rest of the conference. A near Rutgers upset over Michigan in triple overtime last season and their season opening win over Michigan State show they are ready to upset almost any conference foe at anytime, just not Ohio State. An improved Michigan State team is on the docket next week and that matchup should show exactly where Rutgers stands in the Big Ten this season.
Ohio State was able to exploit Rutgers’ weaknesses like other foes haven’t because they have the talent advantage at every position on the field. The improved Scarlet Knight offense line looked overwhelmed by a Big Ten-laden front seven. The talented secondary looked too thin to stick with the bevy of OSU options and Noah Vedral was rendered ineffective as the Buckeyes threw multiple looks at him and threw him off his game. Rutgers has depth issues that had been kept at bay for the most part because of their style of play and coaching but Ohio State has the same reputation in playing hard and having great coaches.
Sloppy play, missed tackles, gaping holes, poor execution—it was all on display for the Scarlet Knights Saturday. But what was on display most was how big the talent gap still is. In the first half Ohio State scored seven times on seven drives with six touchdowns from six different players. Rutgers just doesn’t have the depth to deal with that much playmaking ability. The defense was consistently torched for 7 or 8 yards a play, not including the long touchdowns Ohio State was scoring. The Buckeyes averaged 5.6 per rush and 18.5 per completion. Four of the six first half offensive touchdowns by OSU were for 20+ yards and another went for 19 yards.
Rutgers could’ve played the best game they’ve played against Ohio State. They could’ve played the best game they’ve played this season. They needed to play good enough to make the next three conference games look winnable, giving the fan base something to get excited about. But the outcome was almost set in stone from the get go. Even if this year there was more hope for a competitive game out of the Scarlet Knights.
The next three games are more important for Rutgers seasonal outcome and chances of getting to six wins and making a bowl game. Beating Ohio State might’ve been better publicity in the short term, but getting ready to win games during the rest of the Big Ten schedule is more realistic.
Rutgers is still rebuilding, no matter how good Schiano and company had them playing throughout the first four weeks of the season. And in this phase, you will get some embarrassing losses against really good teams like what happened Saturday. But being able to win their three non-conference games to begin the season has set the Scarlet Knights up nicely to reach bowl game eligibility, which seemed like a long ways off even before the 2020 season.
With seven games left and an inspiring performance against Michigan just two weeks removed, Rutgers will host Michigan State with an upset on the mind. And that’s okay because that is a goal many feel is attainable. Even though there were rumblings of an OSU upset, that just didn’t seem feasible heading into the game and it became evident very quickly.