September 21, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers simplifies approach to dynamic OSU playmakers

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With two of the top playmakers in the country entering Piscataway in JT Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott, Rutgers simplifies its defensive approach to slow the Buckeyes.

Where do you even start?

Among all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in Division I college football, Ohio State has been ranked at the top throughout the course of the 2015 season — and for a reason.

While the old adage, “Defense wins championships,” still largely stands true in sports today, the No. 1 Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) possess some of the top playmakers in the nation. The depth of those athletes at their respective positions has further fueled OSU's quest for back-to-back College Football Playoff titles.

Of course, the Rutgers football team is not in the dark on any of that.

“This offensive system … (is) always predicated on getting the ball to your playmakers in space and winning the one-on-ones. And for us, we've got to make sure when we get some of those one-on-ones, we make tackles,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “We try as much as we can trying to make sure they are not one-on-ones by getting guys swarmed to the football the way we do.”

The Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) don’t need to look too far back to remember any of Flood's sentiments there.

Last year, Ohio State rolled Rutgers, 56-17, at Ohio Stadium in a brutal welcome to the Big Ten.

One glance at the box score is all anyone needs as a reminder that the Knights stood no chance. OSU racked up 585 yards of total offense, and with ease.

That all began with the coming out party of JT Barrett.

As a redshirt-freshman, filling in while Braxton Miller was out for the season with a shoulder injury, Barrett carved Rutgers up with his arm and his legs. He went 19-of-31 with 261 yards and three touchdowns through the air to complement his 107 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries.

One year later, he makes his first start of the season for the Buckeyes after head coach Urban Meyer elected to go with the sophomore over junior Cardale Jones for the eighth game of the fall.

As the second man in Bucks' two-quarterback system, Barrett has 249 yards on 27-of-44 passing with four touchdowns to two interceptions. On the ground, he’s done even more with five touchdowns and 228 yards on 29 carries for an average of 7.9 yards per carry.

That is without even mentioning Ohio State’s top weapon in the running game — Ezekiel Elliott.

“(An) amazing back, as far as I can say … poses a huge challenge,” said sophomore nose tackle Sebastian Joseph. “We’ve just gotta make sure we keep him on the perimeter. Don’t let him turn his shoulders and get vertical. That’s when he’s most dangerous — when his body’s facing the goalposts.”

The Heisman Trophy candidate leads the Big Ten in rushing with 988 yards and 11 touchdowns on 148 attempts. He helped fuel last year’s blowout in Columbus with 12 carries for 69 yards and a score to balance Barrett in read option run schemes.

Joseph especially remembers the combination of the two giving the defense fits in its alignments all over the field.

“(Barrett and Elliott) both pack a one-two punch,” he said. “Both are athletic … they’re both amazing players, so we’ve just gotta make sure we swarm, we get up there as fast as we can and (make) gang tackles.”

For Julian Pinnix-Odrick, his flashback to the OSU rout remains one the junior defensive tackle is looking to keep in the rearview mirror.

“I remember them having their way with our defense and us letting up way too many points and us not playing physical enough,” he said. “I think this game is gonna come down to physicality as most of these conference games do, and you’ve gotta come out there and put our big boy pants on and play football.”

For what it's worth, Rutgers has improved greatly against the run. Through six games, the Knights ranked No. 30 in the nation — behind five more Big Ten teams — yielding 126.2 yards per game.

As much as the Knights have already broken down the film and installed various methods to prepare for a high-octane attack that thrives off of big plays in the run game, Pinnix-Odrick tries to simplify the preparations down to the assignments each member of the defense has.

He knows Rutgers will have its hands full when the Buckeyes look to run the tempo — that aspect is almost inevitable. 

But behind the madness that goes into keeping up with top scoring offense in the Big Ten (37 points per game), Pinnix-Odrick said it all comes down to each defender simply carrying out their jobs to add up for the unit's collective effort.

From there, the Knights will let their upset odds play out.

“You can’t prepare against a player. Good players are good players, and at the end of the day … you’ve gotta win your one-on-one matchups,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “It comes down to tackling a specific person or defending a specific person or shedding a block on a specific person, and it’s a one-on-one battle that you’ve gotta win when it comes to man-on-man football. But in terms of scheme, as long as we play together as a defense, we should have success.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Garrett Stepien

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