Rutgers hits midway point in week, preps for athletic No. 1 OSU
Knowing the challenge that awaits all the way around with Ohio State, the Rutgers football team vigorously continued its preparation for the top team in all of college football in its midweek practice on Wednesday at the F3 Turf Field.
One day after the No. 1 Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) named JT Barrett their starting quarterback for Saturday night’s 8 p.m. primetime matchup on ABC, the Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) began their game plan for stopping just one of OSU’s many dynamic playmakers.
Head coach Kyle Flood has been doing everything imaginable to keep his team’s defense ready for whatever Ohio State and Urban Meyer have up their sleeves.
That includes 5-foot-7, 165-pound true freshman wide receiver Chris Parker running the scout team at quarterback.
“We’ve got some guys rolling through playing all of those positions, but it’s not easy to do,” Flood said, referring to Parker. “We’re talking about two of the more dynamic football players in college football (Barrett and senior wide receiver Braxton Miller), so to … think you’re gonna be able to simulate it completely is hard.”
While Barrett makes just his first start of the season, the sophomore is more than qualified.
Before Miller moved over to wide receiver, he missed the entire 2014 season with a shoulder injury after serving as the starting quarterback since his freshman year.
Barrett, who suffered a season-ending injury of his own with a broken ankle in the regular season finale, shattered Drew Brees’s Big Ten single-season total touchdowns record (43) and ranked first in the conference in pass efficiency rating (169.8).
In Miller’s absence, Barrett matured quick for the Buckeyes with an 11-1 overall record and an unblemished 8-0 mark in Big Ten play.
His athleticism resonates clear as day with the returning members of the Rutgers defense.
Look no further than sophomore nose tackle Sebastian Joseph, who needed only two words to describe Barrett.
“Relentless and will,” Joseph said. “We just gotta be real detailed on our assignments, what we have to do. We know how athletic (Barrett) is … We just gotta make sure we’re really detailed.”
Largely used as the backup to Cardale Jones this season, Barrett’s numbers may seem pedestrian on the surface at 249 yards with 4 touchdowns and two interceptions. But on the run, he’s already gone for 228 yards for five touchdowns — not to mention his average of 7.9 yards per carry.
That big play ability is just one aspect that Joseph knows the Knights will need in order to slow the dual-threat down.
“That’s the biggest thing with this conference — one little detail. A 5-yard play can be a touchdown, so just gotta be very detailed and make sure we swarm,” Joseph said."
Reaching the midway point of the week, it almost feels as if Rutgers’ 55-52 comeback win at Indiana was just yesterday.
But since the Knights returned home from Bloomington, much of the focus has shifted entirely to the physicality that Ohio State boasts on both sides of the ball.
Much of that starts upfront on the line of scrimmage.
One of the aspects that might go missing in action from the Knights’ last win is the performance of the offensive line. On top of a rushing attack that gained 210 yards on the ground, Rutgers kept sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano off his back for much of the game with just one sack.
While things won't be nearly as easy with the Buckeyes and one of the top players in all of college football, Joey Bosa, rushing off the edges at defensive end, the likes of junior guard Chris Muller should be put to the test with the possibility of pass rushes in various blocking gaps to provide complicated looks.
But for Muller and the Knights, the point of defending that began in the film room earlier in the week.
“We try and take the same keys that we do every week,” Muller said. “There’s different keys on how we’re gonna win this game and throughout the whole week we have to focus on them. Most physical days, Tuesday and Wednesday, are over. So we just really have to get more in the film room now and just master our craft and get ready for the game.”
Flood listed Leonte Carroo (lower body) as questionable on the Rutgers injury report to start the week on Monday.
The senior wide receiver, who has hauled in nine touchdowns on the season thanks to a hat trick of three-score games, left last Saturday’s game against Indiana after the landing awkwardly on his third touchdown of the game with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter.
After the game, he wore a boot on his right foot.
While Carroo said he would “definitely” play against Ohio State on Saturday, Flood’s update on his star wide receiver’s status did not provide much more clarity.
“He did a little bit more today. Not enough to get him out here on the field, but he’s moving in the right direction,” Flood said. “Whether that means it’ll be fast enough to get him on the field Saturday, we won’t know that until later in the week.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.