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Q&A with Land-Grant Holy Land on Week 5: Rutgers at Ohio State

The Scarlet Knights will have the difficult task of the Buckeyes in Week 5.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers is coming off its first loss of the season, a 27-10 outcome at home against Iowa.

Coming off the unimpressive performance, the Scarlet Knights will be take on the most difficult task in the Big Ten. Of course, this is a trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 PM ET on Saturday afternoon. Heading into the matchup, we spoke with Managing Editor of Land-Grant Holy Land, Matt Tamanini.

OTB: CJ Stroud is the early season favorite for the Heisman Trophy. He seems to have improved upon a 2021 season where he finished with nearly 4,400 yards and 44 touchdowns. What have you seen from Stroud to take even more steps forward? Especially as he prepares for the next level.

LGHL: I think the thing that has set him apart, especially in his second year as the team’s starter, is his anticipation and accuracy. He has an impressively strong arm, but not as much so as his immediate predecessors in Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields. However, he has proven to be able to fit balls into just about any window on the field, even if that window appears to be closed and hidden behind a brick wall when he releases the ball.

He can “make all the throws” and all of those other cliches we hear about quarterbacks, but his ability to put the ball in places that only his extremely talented group of wide receivers can catch it is his most impressive and important trait, in my opinion.

And, it should be noted, working in tandem with that, is the fact that this season, he appears far more confident and relaxed both on and off the field than he was in 2021. He has seemingly grown into his role as a leader on the team and seems to have a better understanding of (and comfortability with) what it is that he can and can’t do as a player.

OTB: Jaxon Smith-Njigba has missed time but is one of the most explosive players in the nation when healthy. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have stepped up in his absence. Is this the next great duo of wide receivers at Ohio State and are we seeing it emerge this season?

LGHL: Both Harrison and Egbuka have been incredible with JSN essentially missing the first four games of the season (and almost certainly missing today’s game as well), but they haven’t been alone. After missing the first two games of the season with a shoulder injury, former No. 1 wide receiver recruit Julian Fleming has caught three touchdowns in two weeks and is starting to finally become the player that everyone anticipated him to be when he got to Columbus.

Also, for the first time in recent Ohio State memory, the Buckeye offense is actually using a tight end as a pass-catching weapon. Cade Stover — who played linebacker in the Rose Bowl this past January — is proving to be just as adept at big plays as his wide receiver counterparts.

But, you’re right, Harrison and Egbuka are eerily similar to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in terms of providing two next-level talents for Ohio State quarterbacks to throw too. They both have the ability to catch balls in tight coverage and turn them into big gains, while also possessing the athleticism to beat defenders deep.

It is a testament to receivers coach Brian Hartline’s ability to recruit and teach the position that there has been a seemingly unending line of difference makers at WR since he took over the room.

OTB: In the backfield, we all know what TreVeyon Henderson can do. Now, the Buckeyes are including Miyan Williams as well. How has the offense used the backfield to this point? What is each back best at within the offense?

LGHL: Honestly, despite having fairly different builds and skill sets, Ohio State hasn’t done much to differentiate between how the backs are used. Part of that is possibly because Williams has really changed his body during his time in Columbus to be less of the bowling ball that he was as a freshman and more of a potential home run hitter as a junior.

Another part of it is that Henderson has been limited by injuries in the early going of the season. While those are generally believed to have been precautionary, it has given Miyan a larger percentage of carries than he likely would have gotten if Trey was healthy; thus forcing him to do a wider variety of things out of the backfield.

In general, Williams is probably better between the tackles, and Henderson is better outside. The former doesn’t have the top-line speed that the latter does, but he more than makes up for it in his ability to shed tacklers and never get knocked backwards. Miyan has an uncanny ability to turn three yard gains into eight and 10 yard gains into 25.

Henderson can do some of that as well, but — when fully healthy — he is always just one jump cut away from breaking one to the house.

OTB: After last season, is there a sense of urgency around this team to reach expectations and accomplish their goals? (Big Ten title, potentially National title, etc.)

LGHL: Amongst the fans? Probably. But Buckeye fans are a pretty irrational, entitled bunch; so anytime things don’t meet our lofty standards, there is more than a bit of panic to go around.

From the team? I don’t think so, but there is definitely a different vibe than we’ve seen in the first three seasons of the Ryan Day era. The coaches and players all seem to be a little more angry than they ever have been before. I think losing their two marquee games, including to their rivals, honestly, just pissed them off, and that has become the rallying point for the team; don’t let it happen again.

A big part of those losses were that the Buckeyes were essentially pushed around on both sides of the line of scrimmage, leading to a lot of people (including Jim Harbaugh) to call them soft. And while, I don’t think that distinction was totally incorrect, it has really stuck in the craw of this team, and they are out to prove everybody wrong about them.

The only other time under Day that we’ve seen the team look like this was in 2020. In the 2019 College Football Playoff, they felt that they outplayed Clemson in their semifinal matchup, but had some bad calls and bad luck go against them, leading to their defeat.

They pointed to that loss throughout the whole off season and vowed that the next time that they faced the Tigers, things would be different. Then in the 2020 playoffs, the Buckeyes won 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl. It definitely feels like they are trying to recreate that energy in 2022.

OTB: Defensively, what have you seen from the secondary? The cornerbacks have been pointed out as an area where Ohio State is a bit thin.

LGHL: In recent seasons, under the previous defensive coaching staff, the secondary was one of the two biggest concerns, just edging out the linebackers. However, in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense, OSU is now playing a 4-2-5, instead of the traditional 4-3.

This has led to much better play from the two linebackers and has put the safeties in much better spots to make plays. So that has been a big upgrade for this defense. However, through four games, the corners have not shown the same type of improvement.

To be fair, it is a very understaffed position group for the Buckeyes, with only six scholarship corners on the roster, and the top three have all missed time; Jordan Hancock hasn’t played yet this year (and won’t for at least a few more weeks) and Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown both were out last week against Wisconsin.

Jyaire Brown and JK Johnson played well enough in their first career starts against the Badgers, but should only be rotational players at best, at this point in their career. The expectation is that Burke, and maybe Brown, will be back today, but trying to guess what’s going on with Ohio State injuries is a pretty tough task.

But, whoever plays at CB against Rutgers will need to do a much better job in man coverage and cut down on penalties, as those have been major issues through the first four games.

OTB: Finally, what is your prediction of this game? Rutgers is a huge underdog on the road. Is there any chance that the Scarlet Knights can cover 40 points?

LGHL: Predicting scores is always tough in games coached by Day, because he has a tendency to keep his starters in longer than necessary in blowouts, but also to not ask them to do all that much late in games. Also, he still has a ton of respect for Greg Schiano after he helped him get his feet under him when he took over as the OSU interim head coach with Urban Meyer was suspended in 2018.

But, that being said, I do think that Day and his team are on a mission this season, so I imagine that they will put up a considerable amount of points against Rutgers. I do think that they will also give up some points as well though. We know Schiano loves a trick play, and I could see the Buckeyes getting burnt on at least one, and Knowles has been very open about the fact that giving up chunk plays is part of the design of his defense.

He says that he factors in four or five per game, because he is willing to give them up in exchange for the benefits of being aggressive.

So, I think I will go Buckeyes, 52-13.