In scouting Ohio State, the first thing that comes to mind is the talent level across all areas of the team. The past few years, Ohio State is second to only Alabama in overall recruiting rankings. The Buckeyes this past recruiting cycle, landed six five-star players, and 13 four-star recruits. There is talent across the team as Ryan Day has kept pace with his predecessor Urban Meyer in bringing blue chip recruits to Columbus on a regular basis.
“I just think the Big Ten, period, every week, you’re playing in what I think is the elite conference in college football,” Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said Monday during his weekly press conference inside the Hale Center. “I liken it very much to the NFL, my time there. Any team can beat any other team in this league on any given Saturday.”
Beginning with quarterback, it is still up in the air whether CJ Stroud will play. Day indicated this week if Stroud was healthy enough to play then he would start against Rutgers. If he is unable to answer the bell, New Jersey native and 5-star recruit Kyle McCord will most likely get the nod. Last Saturday in his collegiate debut, McCord, whose father Derek played for Rutgers in the late eighties and early nineties, got the start. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 319 yards, as well as two touchdowns and one interception in a 59-7 win over Akron.
It is not a certainty that McCord will get the start if Stroud is unable to play. There is also another highly recruited 5-star freshman in Jack Miller, who according to Ryan Day looked more poised than McCord. In his postgame interview, Day said McCord looked nervous — “He was playing at hyper-speed.” Day was impressed with Miller’s poise, stating, “Jack gave us some energy.”
Through four games, the Buckeyes are averaging 43.3 points-per-game and have averaged the most total yards per game (559.3) in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are solid with a balanced ratio of pass-runs, ranking second in the Big Ten in both statistical categories.
Last Saturday, Rutgers particularly in the second half, had a lot of success forcing the Wolverines into numerous three-and-outs. This was echoed by Schiano. “Third-down offense and defense keeps you on the field or you get off. We certainly make a big deal of it around here on both sides of the ball.’’ The challenge this Saturday is that Ohio State is converting third downs at an efficient 53.3%, best in the Big Ten. Rutgers does have the best third down defense in the conference coming in, so it will be a matchup to watch for.
Regardless of who is at the helm for Ohio State, Rutgers will still have to contend with running backs TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and Master Teague, and wide receivers Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
On defense, things don’t get much easier for the Scarlet Knights. Apart from a relatively thin linebacking group, Ohio State is deep in 4 and 5-star players across the board. Where questions are raised is not about the talent, but for lack of a better term, the locker room culture, i.e., intangibles.
Emotion and playing for your teammates and coaches is an integral part of any football program and cannot be discounted. Developing a culture of fraternity, brotherhood and unselfishness is always the X-factor in a football game and at the intercollegiate level—a football program. This is one of the reasons that has come to define the Ohio State program.
Last week, however, seemed to reveal some chinks in the armor. The week started with the news that senior linebacker Dallas Gant was entering the transfer portal but that only served as the opening act for what happened during the Akron game. Rarely will you ever see a player quit a team in such a public display as K’Vaughan Pope did in the middle of the Akron game.
After the game Ryan Day attempted damage control by dismissing the Pope issue as an “isolated” incident. Is it? Perhaps, but at a minimum these two events leave the Buckeyes with a depleted linebacking unit and at worst issues in the locker room. Like Gant, Pope has also entered the transfer portal. Both were veterans that had not been playing much this season with OSU shifting to just two linebackers on the field the majority of the time. They do still have seven linebackers on the roster, but they will move forward with less experience in that group.
How much this will affect Ohio State and particularly the Buckeye defense this Saturday remains to be seen. The OSU defense from front-to-back has the talent to be a top ten defense nationally but the game is played on the field. It remains to be seen how the Buckeyes will respond to potential dissension among their ranks.
While Ohio State dropped one spot to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, they are considered a top 10 team in the coaches’ poll. Still, this is the first time, the Buckeyes have found themselves outside looking in the top-10 of the AP poll since Oct. 21, 2018.
Last season, Rutgers played its closest-ever game against Ohio State last season, falling 49-27 to the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe. Ohio State led 35-3 at halftime, but the Scarlet Knights rallied in the second half with Sean Gleeson pulling out all stops from his play-calling repertoire.
This year the game is at home and Rutgers received a shot of confidence matching up physically with Michigan, arguably considered the only threat to the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten. There are a lot of moving parts going on during game week which could make Saturday a very interesting day in Piscataway.