July 19, 2019 | 93° F

Rutgers battles its flaws in No. 11 Ohio State at home


It seems as though Ohio State was made for the Rutgers football team — in the worst possible way.

In strolls a team with the 18th best rushing offense in the country with 919 yards to take on another team who has noticeably struggled at stopping the run through its first four games.

Being able to guess which team is which is one thing Scarlet Knights fans can look forward to.

This Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Rutgers (1-3, 0-1) will return to High Point Solutions Stadium to battle No. 11 Ohio State (3-1, 1-0) in its second primetime matchup of the season.

But for head coach Chris Ash, it is not the running game out of Ohio State that scares him, it is the unit that can stifle his.

"Well, at Ohio State, when you look at Ohio State over the years, there's one thing that's been pretty consistent, and it's been a pretty good defensive line," Ash said. "This year is no different. They have got an outstanding defense."

It is a side of this Knights offense that had been relatively consistent up to the game against Nebraska, but the backfield only mustered up 68 rushing yards throughout the entire contest, with graduate transfer Gus Edwards's 58 leading the way.

But to avoid a repeat of last year's 58-0 defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes, keeping Ohio State's freshman J.K. Dobbins and even its quarterback J.T. Barrett from finding cracks in the defense is as crucial as it gets.

Dobbins has not let his 69 rushing attempts go to waste, as he has over 300 rushing yards more than the player next to him on the team with 521 in total, notching 3 touchdowns on the way.

That player next to him is Barrett, who has had no issue running the ball out of the pocket with 217 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns of his own.

"Absolutely," said fifth-year senior defensive end Darnell Davis, on whether or not the defensive line will be able to pick up any sacks against Barrett. "We can do it against anybody in the country. ... We can get to them. We just gotta scheme around them and do us. And just — keep like I said before — clean up those mental errors. Because if we clean up and play a great game — not perfect, but a great game — we'll get to them."

As Davis mentioned, part of the Knights' inability to stop its opponents in the run game has been mental errors, which has led to untimely missed tackles and penalties. In the case of the Nebraska game, that cost the team its win.

At the moment, the sole bright spot on the defense remains the secondary — despite the unfortunate season-ending injury to Blessuan Austin — as the unit has collected five interceptions over the last two games, with junior safety Kiy Hester grabbing himself a 33-yard pick-six last time out.

Of course, where Rutgers excels on defense is also where Ohio State hits the least. Wide receiver Parris Campbell remains far and away the greatest threat for the defensive backs, but other than that, the Buckeyes will most likely attack the Knights where it hurts — and that is in the middle and through the defense.

Approaching a fixture that favors the other side with a combined score of 107-7 the last two times out, prospects look dim, especially when the matchups so heavily point to Ohio State running up the score, literally.

Rutgers has shown in the past that its conservative play style just does not align with taking big games from big teams, but people around the Knights camp are still optimistic. If not for the final score, then for the attendance.

"When you get a team like Ohio State coming into town, I am hoping that it will be an outstanding environment," Ash said. "A lot of people are going to want to come and watch Big Ten football, and an opportunity for us to go out and play a common opponent from last year and again measure improvement that we've made from last year to this year."

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

Jon Spilletti

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