No. 1 Ohio State runs roughshod over Rutgers with multiple weapons
Any team that faces No. 1 Ohio State is forced to determine what aspect of the Buckeyes' offense it will attempt to contain. But it is difficult to pick your poison when the options are all equally potent.
The Rutgers football team learned that lesson the hard way Saturday night after OSU ran roughshod over the Scarlet Knights in a decisive 49-7 win.
Rutgers (3-4, 1-3) began the game by crowding the box in an attempt to bottle up the Buckeyes' explosive rushing attack of sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett and the Big Ten leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott.
The Knights were successful in stopping Elliott for the first half, limiting him to just 15 yards on nine carries.
But the passing game eventually opened up late in the second quarter.
“We went into the game knowing that they have a lot of playmakers and a lot of stops, so you're trying to keep them off balance,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “But when you pressure, you're going to put stress on the corners.”
Leading 7-0, the Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) had a 1st-and-10 at midfield with just over seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Barrett scanned the field to find junior wide receiver Michael Thomas one-on-one with redshirt-freshman cornerback Isaiah Wharton and the quarterback hit Thomas right in the chest.
Thomas stiff-armed Wharton to the turf and then raced through the middle of the field for a 50-yard score.
“They were doing a good job,” said Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. “They were loading the box. You have to take shots down the field — I should rephrase that — we have to complete shots down the field. Now we’re completing them.”
But even then, Rutgers remained in the thick of things.
The Knights continued to slow Elliott down and seemed to get a handle on Barrett, at least briefly. That was before senior wide receiver Braxton Miller announced his presence.
After taking a 14-0 lead on OSU's next offensive series, Barrett launched a deep ball to Miller down the sideline. Junior free safety Anthony Cioffi was beaten at first, but trusted his technique and got his hands into Miller’s body as the football arrived.
Miller juggled the ball off his chest before it bounced off of Cioffi’s body back into the Buckeye's waiting arms for a 45-yard reception.
“We practiced this (play) throughout the whole week and finally hit it in a game and at first I lost it in the air because I had to slow down and he put his arms up and I lost it completely,” Miller said. “Then I just got in a good position and just used my senses of catching the ball.”
The very next play, the former quarterback took a direct snap off-tackle for 16 yards to set up a Barrett two-yard touchdown dive — making it 21-0 — and that was all she wrote.
Weary of the pass in the second half, Rutgers began to drop more defenders into coverage and that opened things up for Elliott, who exploded for 129 yards on 10 carries in the game’s final two quarters.
Junior weak side linebacker Steve Longa did his best to explain the difference between Elliott’s production in the two halves.
“(Elliott) was breaking a lot of tackles,” Longa said. “We had a lack of swarm.”
Flood’s team will have to wash this loss off quickly as the Knights turn their attention to matchup with Wisconsin this Saturday in Madison. With only five games remaining on the schedule, Rutgers will need to win a minimum of three games to become bowl eligible.
“We’ve got to turn the page,” Flood said. “We've got another game coming in less than seven days. We've got to learn from this, see what applies next week and then put our eyes forward.”
When David had his shot at Goliath, he didn’t miss.
It may be difficult to understand in the context of a 49-7 blowout loss, but Rutgers had opportunities to strike against No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium — the Scarlet Knights just missed.
It began with a chance to take a 3-0 lead over the Buckeyes in the first quarter. With the entire stadium on its feet, senior placekicker Kyle Federico doinked a makeable 29-yard attempt off the left upright and the sellout crowd of 53,111 — the fourth-highest home crowd in Rutgers history — sat back down.
After a promising 12-play, 64-yard drive on their first possession, the Knights came away empty.
The theme was similar on defense for Rutgers.
Before Elliott dove across the goal line to put OSU up, 7-0, the Knights appeared to get a stop on 3rd-and-1 at their own three-yard line. Elliott plowed into the pile before being driven backward, but was granted a generous spot that gave Ohio State a 1st-and-goal. Although replays appeared to reveal the tailback was stopped short of the line to gain at the two-yard line, official review upheld the spot.
The circus catch Miller made with Cioffi right on him was a perfect example of how even when Rutgers was in the right position, the Knights couldn’t finish.
The trend continued in defense of Elliott in the second half. While Rutgers was successful in suppressing the Heisman Trophy candidate through the first two quarters, even when it looked like Elliott would be stopped, a missed tackle would spring him for big chunks of yardage.
“We weren’t executing,” Longa said. “We were getting there, but we weren’t finishing.”
If there was any doubt about Rutgers' most productive position group on defense going into the matchup with Ohio State, linebackers Steve Longa and Quentin Gause provided clarity Saturday night.
The pair combined for 34 tackles (20 solos) and 2.5 tackles for loss on a night where positives were difficult to discern.
"Those two guys are seasoned performers and guys that we count on,” Flood said. “Quentin (Gause) is the captain and Steve (Longa) has played a lot of football here, and he's always at the top of the tackle list. We always count on those guys to make a lot of plays."
Longa entered the game as the Big Ten’s leader in tackles per game (11) and was second in total tackles (66) behind the Buckeye’s middle linebacker RaeKwon McMillan.
Longa’s career-high, 19-tackle performance comes a week after he set a career-best against Indiana with 16 tackles, showing remarkable resilience as he fought through an early injury. The weak side linebacker leap-frogged McMillan and now leads the league in total tackles (85) tackles per game (12.1) and solo tackles (56).
But the individual achievement didn’t take away the sting of a lopsided defeat. Despite his statline, Longa feels he could have done more.
“I definitely left a lot of plays on the field,” Longa said. “I’m not happy about the way we played. There’s a lot more we could’ve done, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Gause was equally effective, duplicating Longa’s production in the last two weeks, after collecting a career-high 10 tackles against Michigan State and then at Indiana. He shattered his personal record with 15 tackles Saturday night.
The strong side linebacker also extended his team lead in tackles for loss (7) after dropping two Buckeyes in the backfield. But like Longa, the wound was still too fresh after the 42-point loss.
“I didn’t know I had 15 (tackles), that's awesome," Gause said. "But at the same time, it’s not awesome because we lost."
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