Week 5 Preview Rutgers @ Ohio State
Greg Schiano and the Scarlet Knights are traveling to Columbus, Ohio for an in-conference date with their first ranked opponent of the season, the #3 Ohio St. Buckeyes. Rutgers is coming into the road test with a 3-1 record through September, having notched wins in weeks 1-3 of the season during the non-conference schedule in matchups against Boston College, Wagner, and Temple. The lone loss on the Rutgers resume is from last week's Big Ten home opener against Iowa, which only amplified the season long question mark that has been the Rutgers quarterback group. The Buckeyes are currently undefeated, standing at 4-0 with wins against Notre Dame, Arkansas St., Toledo, and Wisconsin in weeks 1-4 of the season respectively. Notre Dame, Toledo, and Wisconsin all stand at 2-2 on the season heading into week five; Arkansas St. currently sits below the .500 mark at 1-3. Checkout the article Rutgers Football Through 4 Weeks for an in depth look at the Knights previous performances.
Ohio State Players to Watch
This deep dive into the Buckeyes’ resume as we approach the midseason mark makes it evident that there was never a doubt that Ohio St. would be hosting the Knights with a spotless record. However, chalking up the Buckeyes success to purely strength of schedule would minimize just how immaculate they have been on both sides of the ball.
The Buckeyes passing attack is a star studded cast featuring dynamic wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, tight end Cade Stover, and of course headliner and Heisman favorite quarterback C.J. Stroud. Through the first third of the season, Stroud has already tallied over 1,200 yards passing, completing 79 passes out of 112 attempts, resulting in a completion percentage of 70.5%. Even more staggering is the 16 touchdowns to 1 interception ratio tossed by Stroud through the first four weeks. The Ohio State running back room is nothing to sneeze at either due to TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. Williams and Henderson each have over 300 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, creating a two headed monster in the Buckeye backfield. If this was not enough, the Buckeyes might be gaining reinforcements to the receiving corps by way of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who set the school’s single season receiving yardage record last season, and deep threat Julian Fleming both of whom are working back from injuries.
The Ohio State defense has been equally impressive through the first four weeks. The unit has recorded 9 sacks and 3 takeaways and a high pressure rate against opposing quarterbacks. The defensive side of the ball has just as much depth as the offense and has multiple viable options at each position. Edge rushers Jack Sawyer and Javontae Jean-Baptiste along with linebacker Tommy Eichenberg have made it near impossible for their opposition to find any semblance of rhythm, with six sacks equally split between the three.
Rutgers Players to Watch
The Scarlet Knights, following an ugly loss to Iowa at home last weekend, find themselves still looking to find a groove on offense. Evan Simon was the only fully healthy scholarship quarterback available to offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson against Iowa due to caution around a potentially lingering injury Gavin Wimsatt sustained against Temple two weeks ago. However, Wimsatt and last season’s starter Noah Vedral, who has been working through an injury since the beginning of the off-season, were both apparently available last week in the case of an emergency, but were reasonably not called upon as Simon remained healthy.
It is unknown who will be starting at quarterback against the Buckeyes and will in all likelihood remain known only by Coach Schiano until just before kickoff at 3:30 pm EST on October 1st. While the quarterback is a huge unknown, there are several known commodities available in the Rutgers backfield. Sophomores Kyle Monangai, a hard-nosed hammer of a back, is averaging over three and a half yards per carry with two touchdowns, and Al-Shadee Salaam has looked like the lighting to Monangai’s thunder so far this year with two scores and a staggering 5.8 yards per carry on the season. Additionally, highly touted freshman Samuel Brown V has put together an encouraging resume, averaging over a four and a half yards per carry leading to over 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns, putting him in the same realm of production as Monangai and Salaam. The backfield by committee approach will likely be in effect against Ohio St. and will be integral to the Knights having success moving the ball. There is also a chance that last year's touchdown leader Aaron Young makes his season debut after being inactive the first third of the season with an injury.
The Rutgers defense has been relatively reliable this season, with opponents not scoring more than 14 points since week one against Boston College. This means they will be expected to shoulder the burden against a Buckeyes offense with talent far exceeding previous opponents. That being said, the five players to watch for the Knights are edge rushers Wesley Bailey and Aaron Lewis and cornerbacks (CB) Max Melton, Kessawn Abraham, and Robert Longerbeam. To this point, Bailey has recorded nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, two pass deflections, two QB hurries, five tackles for loss (TFL), and one fumble recovery. Lewis has 17 tackles, three TFLs, a forced fumble, and two QB hurries through the first third of the season. The sophomore tandem of Lewis and Bailey will need to continue their impressive starts to the season and make Buckeyes QB C.J. Stroud uncomfortable in the pocket to help alleviate long coverage assignments from the three CBs spotlighted earlier. Max Melton, the brother of former Rutgers standout wide receiver Bo Melton, is having a solid showing so far with ten tackles, 1.5 TFLs, one interception (INT), two pass breakups, and a blocked punt. Abraham, a First Team All-Big Ten selection and team defensive MVP last season, has had a somewhat slow start to the season with five tackles, one TFL, and one pass breakup. Robert Longerbeam has had the most impressive season of the three CBs by far with 14 tackles, two TFLs, one sack, a forced fumble, two INTs, and two pass breakups.
What to Expect
The Scarlet Knights are going to be playing one of the top programs in the country on the road, nothing less than perfection will allow them to return to New Jersey with a win in what would be a massive upset. If the stars were to align, it would be on the backs of a stellar stable of running backs in Brown V, Monangai, and Salaam, as well as a defensive group able to hold their own against a Heisman hopeful and several 1st round projected NFL prospects. The odds may be stacked against his team, but Schiano showed his usual demeanor and confidence in the young men he coaches, stating:
“We are going to win the game. That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to Columbus to win the game. Will that happen? You know there’s another team on the other sideline that wants the same thing…That’s why goals are overrated in my opinion. We both have the same goal at the beginning of many games. But we are going to do everything we can, we are going to practice and get ready and go out to Columbus and play our best.”
This came after being asked in his weekly press conference what his goals were against the #3 team in the nation. If this game were at home, I would feel much more confident in saying this could be an instance of overlooking an opponent coming back to bite the Buckeyes, given Schiano’s history against top five ranked opponents in Piscataway during his first stint at Rutgers. Overall, expect Schiano to have his team competing to the final whistle. In both stints at Rutgers, Schiano created a meritocracy, so players will be battling for future playing time no matter what the score is. Above all else, Schiano expects his team to not give up on themselves and that will be on full display against Ohio State in Columbus.