Rutgers braces trenches for NFL prospect, OSU defense
With as much firepower as Ohio State brings to the field with an offense ranked atop the Big Ten, the Rutgers football team doesn’t lack far behind.
The Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) quietly enter Saturday night’s primetime matchup against the No. 1 Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) ranked second in the conference with 34.3 points per game.
On the surface, that number is a reflection of the balance brought the offense with a versatile running game to complement the constant growth of sophomore Chris Laviano in his first year as the starter.
But one unit that does fly under the radar for the Knights’ success is the cohesion established along the offensive line. After yielding five sacks to Penn State on Sept. 19, Rutgers moderately cleaned up its protection of Laviano with four sacks over the span of the next three games.
Perhaps the bigger progression came with the running game. After 43 yards on 32 carries at the Nittany Lions, the Knights reestablished the focal point of their pro-style offense with 221 rush yards per game starting with 312 yards on 58 carries against Kansas on Sept. 26.
But with a physical counterpart in OSU’s front seven swarming their way into High Point Solutions Stadium led by top NFL prospect Joey Bosa, head coach Kyle Flood expects Rutgers to have its hands full along the line of scrimmage.
“He's a tremendous player. As live a body on film as I've seen,” Flood said of Bosa. “Everything he does is explosive. So if you're just a little bit off from a technique standpoint, you're going to be in trouble.”
There’s a reason why the junior defensive end has been atop the big boards of analysts and scouts alike for the 2016 NFL Draft since logging 13.5 sacks and 55 tackles in Ohio State’s national championship season.
At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Bosa poses a physical specimen on top of his strong football IQ. In between rushing off the left and right ends, Bosa mixes in looks lining up inside to shoot up the a-gap and b-gap to stuff the run and get pressure on the quarterback.
Senior left tackle Keith Lumpkin said Bosa’s versatility and athleticism forces Rutgers to stay honest in what should be their tallest individual task of the season.
“He’s a great player. He’s a guy, you know, coaches feel like he demands attention, so we’ve got stuff to handle him to make sure we matchup against him,” Lumpkin said. “So it’s gonna be a great matchup with whoever’s on him … I feel that we’re prepared. We prepared all week for it, we know what to expect. We just gotta go out there and execute.”
Considering Bosa’s tendency to line up on the defense’s left end on the line of scrimmage, that likely leaves junior right tackle JJ Denman to contain him for majority of the night.
That means just two weeks after Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State collected three tackles and 0.5 sacks, the Knights and Denman go right back to the drawing board for Bosa.
But if the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Denman is tasked with the challenge, his battery mates in the trenches like their odds.
“I think JJ stacks up well against Bosa,” said junior right guard Chris Muller. “JJ’s an extremely, incredibly strong human being. He’s able to take a bullrush, he’s able to take a speed-to-power rush and it’s gonna be a challenge for JJ.”
Lumpkin admitted the attention for Bosa is well-deserved, but the 6-foot-8, 325-pounder reaffirmed that Rutgers has to account for the rest of the pass rush and run defense scattered in the Buckeyes’ box.
“They’re very good," Lumpkin said. "They have a lot of upperclassmen on the front line, a lot of experience, a lot of guys who have played a lot. As a team defense, they’re good. They’re active, they fly to the ball. It’s gonna be a good challenge to the guys up front.”
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