Rutgers readies for Ohio State with starting quarterback named
The debate over who the Rutgers football team will face at quarterback when No. 1 Ohio State visits High Point Solutions Stadium Saturday night was put to rest on Tuesday by Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer. Sophomore JT Barrett will start for the defending National Champions.
"JT (Barrett) has earned the right to start against Rutgers,” Meyer said on the Big Ten Week 8 Coach's Teleconference, pointing to the performance Barrett displayed inside the 20 and in late-down situations. “It was a difficult decision, but red zone production and third down production were the two areas that made the difference."
Barrett was a Heisman Trophy candidate last season before suffering an ankle injury that gave way to junior Cardale Jones’s emergence. Jones took over for OSU (7-0, 3-0) in the Big Ten Championship game where the Bucks blew out Wisconsin 59-0 before beating Alabama in the National Semifinal and Oregon to take the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship crown.
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood is well aware of the problems Barrett can pose a defense, after accounting for 314 total yards per game in 2014.
“He’s a dynamic athlete,” Flood said of Barrett. “Somebody who can score from anywhere on the field, and you have to pay so much attention to him in the run game that it creates one-on-ones in the other parts of the field.”
With the Scarlet Knights' (3-3, 1-2) best offensive weapon, senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo, questionable with a lower body injury after an awkward landing on his third touchdown catch of the game against Indiana, others may need to step up.
Enter Carlton Agudosi.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound wideout has impressed in the sporadic time he has spent on the field this season, tallying 12 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown in four games played.
“Carlton (Agudosi) is somebody who has been working hard in our program for a couple years now,” Flood said on the Big Ten Coach's Week 8 Teleconference. “Sometimes when you’re behind a guy as talented as Leonte, you don’t get that playing time, but he’s done a great job this year at being ready when called.”
In Carroo's absence, Agudosi attacked. He caught three balls for 72 yards, including a 40-yard hookup with sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano in front of two defenders.
On the very next play, sophomore running back Robert Martin plowed into the end zone to close the gap to 52-46 in the eventual come-from-behind win for the Knights.
“Leonte (Carroo) goes down at the end of the third quarter and Carlton (Agudosi) comes in and plays the rest of the game, makes some big plays — an explosive play on the last drive, a third down catch," Flood said. "So I’m proud of him."
Meyer also noticed the skill set that Agudosi flashed on film. Referring to Rutgers' mini-Megatron as “the big guy,” Meyer told reporters that defending Agudosi is going to be a part of the game plan in the event Carroo is unable to play.
"A big guy came in and played very well,” Meyer said. “I don't know his name, but a very good player came in and played."
Agudosi was just anxious to contribute after starting against Kansas on Sept. 26 and catching his first career touchdown. The return of Carroo for Michigan State had the junior wideout relegated to the sidelines, failing to see a single snap.
“It’s a great feeling because you wanna be there for your teammates when there are plays to be made,” Agudosi said. “So I’m happy I was able to help them out and contribute to the win.”
For Flood, the Franklin High School (New Jersey) product has been a shining example of a team player who may not always see the field but is always in the game.
“I’m proud of how hard he’s worked,” Flood said of Agudosi. “I think it’s a testament to how mentally tough he is to be able to do it and we’ve got high expectations for him when he’s out there.”
The Buckeyes crash the Banks with arguably the best running back in the Big Ten — Ezekiel Elliott.
Ohio State’s sophomore tailback leads the conference with 988 rushing yards this fall, accounting for 6.7 yards per carry. Elliot has shown a knack for getting into the end zone as well with 11 touchdowns in his first seven games in 2015, also top in the Big Ten.
But as the nation’s No. 1 comes to town, it’s Rutgers' offensive backfield that seems to be hitting its stride at the perfect time.
“For us, running the ball creates the one-on-one match-ups that we’re looking for,” Flood said. “We’ve got a talented group of running backs and that certainly helps.”
Robert Martin had a breakout performance against Indiana, busting out for 124 yards on the ground, while breaking off touchdown runs of 24 and 30 yards.
“From Paul James to Josh Hicks to Robert Martin — all three of them, from time-to-time, have been the featured back in games statistically,” Flood said.
Although James has been the starter for every game played this season, he also has the fewest carries of the trifecta (48). But the senior from Glassboro, New Jersey, has found the fountain of youth in the last two contests, ripping off crucial runs to build momentum for the team.
First, it was a 72-yard run against then-No. 4 Michigan State to setup a touchdown. Then, against Indiana on a pivotal third down play, James came alive again.
With Rutgers trailing 52-46 late in the fourth quarter last week, James raced 40 yards into the end zone to tie the game, 52-52. Soon after, senior kicker Kyle Federico sealed the win with a field goal as time expired.
Flood continues to insist that he will not play favorites when distributing the carries. He and his coaches are trusting the rotation.
“That kind of played out again last Saturday where maybe Robert (Martin) had a little bit of a bigger game, but at the same time, Paul James comes in and on a 3rd-and-1 rips off a 40-yard touchdown,” Flood said.
Although performances like these boost the argument for James to get more touches in the backfield, the senior maintains his conviction in the coach’s belief that the rotation is the best recipe for success.
“It was tough, but that’s just the rotation we have,” James said of his limited role of late. “Sometimes you may not get that many carries. That’s just how it is. I trust the rotation and that’s want the coaches want and that’s what we do.”
If the Knights want any shot to topple college football’s top dog, Flood feels Rutgers will need to rely on the running game to chop the Buckeyes down.
“Philosophically — for our offense to run the way we want it to — I think it’s critical that we’re able to run the football,“ he said.
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