Rutgers is coming off its first loss of the season, a 27-10 result at home to Iowa.
After an unimpressive performance, the Scarlet Knights will take on the toughest task in the Big Ten. Of course, it’s a trip to Columbus to face Ohio State.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon. Before the match, we spoke with the editor of Land-Grant Holy LandMatt Tamanini.
OTB: CJ Stroud is the early season favorite for the Heisman Trophy. He appears to have improved on a 2021 season where he finished with nearly 4,400 yards and 44 touchdowns. What did you see from Stroud to take even more steps forward? Especially as he prepares for the next level.
LGHL: I think what sets him apart, especially in his second year as a starter on the team, is his anticipation and his precision. He has an incredibly strong arm, but not as strong as his immediate predecessors in Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields. However, he has proven capable of inserting balls into just about any window on the pitch, 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 those other clichés we hear about quarterbacks, but his ability to get the ball in places only his extremely talented group of wide receivers can catch is his most impressive trait and most important, in my opinion.
And, it’s worth noting, running parallel to that is the fact that this season he looks a lot more confident and relaxed both on and off the pitch than he was in 2021. He’s apparently grown in his leadership role on the team and seems to better understand (and feel comfortable with) what he can and cannot do as a player.
OTB: Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been short on time but is one of the most explosive players in the country when healthy. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka stepped in in his absence. Is this the next big wide receiver duo at Ohio State and are we seeing them emerge this season?
LGHL: Harrison and Egbuka have been amazing with JSN essentially missing the first four games of the season (and almost certainly today’s game as well), but they weren’t alone. After missing the first two games of the season with a shoulder injury, former No. 1 wide receiver Julian Fleming has hauled in three touchdowns in two weeks and is finally starting to become the player everyone is looking for. expected him to be when he arrived in Columbus.
Also, for the first time in recent memory at Ohio State, the Buckeye Offense actually uses a tight end as a pass-catching weapon. Cade Stover — who played linebacker in the Rose Bowl last January — is proving just as good at big plays as his receiving counterparts.
But, you’re right, Harrison and Egbuka are suspiciously similar to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson when it comes to providing two top-tier talents at quarterbacks at Ohio State. They both have the ability to catch balls in tight coverage and turn them into big wins, while also possessing the athleticism to beat defenders from deep.
It’s a testament to receivers coach Brian Hartline’s ability to recruit and teach the position that there has been a seemingly endless line of difference makers at WR since he took over the hall.
OTB: In the backfield, we all know what TreVeyon Henderson can do. Now the Buckeyes also include Miyan Williams. How has the offense used the backfield so far? Which is the best of each back in attack?
LGHL: Honestly, despite having quite different builds and skill sets, Ohio State hasn’t done much to differentiate how the guards are used. This may be partly because Williams really changed his body during his time at Columbus to be less of the bowling ball he was in freshman year and more of a potential home run hitter as a junior.
Another part of this is that Henderson was limited by injuries early in the season. Although these are widely believed to have been precautionary measures, it gave Miyan a higher carry percentage than he likely would have had if Trey were 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 on the outside. The former lacks the top speed that the latter has, but it more than makes up for it with its ability to clear tackles and never get knocked down. Miyan has an amazing ability to turn three-yard gains into eight and 10-yard gains into 25.
Henderson can do some of that too, but – when fully healthy – he’s still only a side-hop away from smashing one home.
OTB: After last season, is there a sense of urgency around this team to meet expectations and achieve their goals? (Big Ten title, potentially National title, etc.)
LGHL: Among the fans? Most likely. But Buckeye fans are a pretty irrational, titled bunch; so whenever things don’t meet our high standards, there’s more than a little panic to be had.
Of the team ? I don’t think so, but it definitely has a different vibe than what we saw in the first three seasons of the Ryan Day era. Coaches and players all seem to be a little angrier than they have ever been before. I think losing their two standout games, including against their rivals, honestly just pissed them off, and that became the rallying point for the team; don’t let this happen again.
A big part of those losses was that the Buckeyes were basically being pushed from both sides of the line of scrimmage, leading many (including Jim Harbaugh) to call them soft. And while I don’t think that distinction is totally incorrect, it really stuck in the minds of this team, and they’re here to prove everyone wrong about them.
The only other time under Day we’ve seen the team look like this was in 2020. In the 2019 College Football Playoffs, they felt they outplayed Clemson in their semifinal game, but that they had bad calls and that bad luck had pitted them against each other, leading to their defeat.
They highlighted that loss throughout the offseason and vowed that the next time they faced the Tigers things would be different. Then in the 2020 playoffs, the Buckeyes won 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl. It really feels like they’re trying to recreate that energy in 2022.
OTB: Defensively, what did you see from secondary school? Cornerbacks have been flagged as an area where Ohio State is a little thin.
LGHL: In recent seasons, under the former defensive coaching staff, the secondary was one of the top two concerns, narrowly ahead of linebackers. However, in defense of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, OSU is now playing a 4-2-5, instead of the traditional 4-3.
This led to much better play from both linebackers and put the safeties in much better places to make plays. So that was a big improvement for that defense. However, across four games, corners have not shown the same type of improvement.
To be fair, this is a seriously understaffed position group for the Buckeyes, with only six scholarship corners on the roster, and the top three all ran out of time; Jordan Hancock has yet to play this year (and won’t for at least a few weeks) and Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown were both out last week against Wisconsin.
Jyaire Brown and JK Johnson played reasonably well in their first career starts against the Badgers, but should be rotational players at best at this point in their careers. Burke, and possibly Brown, are expected to be back today, but trying to figure out what’s going on with Ohio State’s injuries is a pretty tough task.
But, anyone playing CB against Rutgers will have to do a much better job at men’s coverage and reduce penalties, as these have been major issues in the first four games.
OTB: Finally, what is your prediction for this match? Rutgers is a huge underdog on the road. Is there a chance the Scarlet Knights can cover 40 points?
LGHL: Predicting scores is always difficult in games run by Day, as he tends to keep his starters longer than necessary in blowouts, but also doesn’t ask them to do any of that too late in games. Plus, he still has a lot of respect for Greg Schiano after helping get him under his feet when he took over as OSU’s interim head coach with Urban Meyer being suspended in 2018.
But, that being said, I think Day and his team are on a mission this season, so I imagine they’ll score a fair amount of points against Rutgers. I think they will also give up some points. We know Schiano likes rigged plays, and I could see the Buckeyes get burned on at least one, and Knowles has been very open that giving up chunk plays is part of his defense design.
He says he has four or five a game because he’s willing to give them up in exchange for the benefits of being aggressive.
So I think I’ll go Buckeyes, 52-13.