Rutgers sees repeat of last year with 56-0 loss to No. 11 Ohio State
There was a point Saturday night — sometime after the first wave of students and spectators filed out and before the second wave — where the Rutgers football team strung together two passes. Both forward, both illegal. On the same play.
The Scarlet Knights were down 35-0, three minutes removed from halftime, and it still may not have been the lowest valley for them.
Instead, that may have come when kicker Andrew Harte, with less than a minute to go in the game, sent a 32-yard field goal straight into the left goalpost. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.
Whatever the lowest point was, the score remains: No. 11 Ohio State (4-1, 2-0) showed up to High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday night and downed — or drowned — Rutgers (1-4, 0-2) to a 56-0 line.
Still, it was not like last year's dismal 58-0 showing, in which the Knights were introduced to an indomitable J.T. Barrett who ran for 238 yards, completing 4 touchdowns.
Make no mistake, the Buckeyes showed up, but not enough to warrant a 56-0 scoreline — Rutgers did much of the work for them.
It did that through unnecessary penalties, missed coverage and generally poor play through all four quarters. There was no uncharacteristically impressive first drive. No real glimpses of competency defending the run or under center. In front of 46,328 strong — many of which donning Ohio State red, not Rutgers scarlet — the Knights found ways to give the Buckeyes a win akin to last year's fixture.
While it was fairly predicted that Ohio State would exploit Rutgers' inability to stop the run, it did that and then some, with Barrett abandoning his much-maligned passing jitters and occupying the low sky with multiple arcing passes to his receivers down the field.
Of course, much of that was not the Knights' fault at all. With junior cornerback Blessuan Austin sidelined from an ACL injury from last week's Nebraska loss and junior safeties Kiy Hester and Saquan Hampton out with mid-game knocks, the side was practically devoid of a working secondary for the majority of the game.
With that came downfield passes to receivers Terry McLaurin, Benjamin Victor and most of all, Johnnie Dixon. Dixon made the most of Barrett's pass-happy offense, collecting 2 touchdowns on 115 total yards.
On the ground, the Columbus side was just as lethal. Freshman standout J.K. Dobbins put up 53 yards on six attempts, though Mike Weber was on touchdown duty, finishing with 3 on the day.
As expected, Barrett got in on the fun, rushing for 89 yards of his own to go along with his 275 passing yards.
The same couldn't be said of Kyle Bolin. Nor Johnathan Lewis. The duo shared quarterbacking duties throughout the game — often and mostly switching off within series — with almost nothing to show for it.
The graduate transfer and freshman combined for 77 yards, with Bolin going 5-14 and Lewis on a line of 3-10.
It was a never-ending cycle that Rutgers had to endure. When Bolin could not hit his receivers, Lewis would drop in. When Lewis couldn't do the same, Bolin figured back in. And repeat and repeat and repeat.
"I'm kind of trying to figure out what I'm telling myself," Bolin said, on bouncing back from the loss. "When I figure that out, I'll definitely relay the message to (Lewis). Because I haven't experienced a loss like that, it was real tough."
Perhaps the most striking statistic to come out of Saturday on the offensive end — besides the fact that Ohio State scored more points than Rutgers had yards in the first half — was the zero receptions for Knights wide receivers.
Though senior running back Robert Martin and sophomore fullback Max Anthony did their parts on the receiving end — however much that means — Rutgers wide receivers have been invisible the last two games. Some of that absolutely owes to fifth-year senior Janarion Grant's absence, but there's something to say about a unit that cannot function without one player — granted, its best player.
"Quarterbacks and receivers need to work on getting better chemistry," Bolin said. "Not really sure what it is, we gotta figure that out, and we gotta be able to spread the ball out across the field and also down the field."
The lack of receiving prowess remains just a blip on a dismal showing on all accounts for a team that has let mistakes dictate its early season. It was more than mistakes Saturday night. Mistakes turned to exploitation, which turned to the worst loss of the season — so far — for the Knights.
In the wake of a rebuild, it remains to be seen whether there will be many more losses like this one. There have already been a few, and head coach Chris Ash is not shying away from the fact that he needs time — much like Greg Schiano had — to bring this team from the cellar to the top.
"When you're talking about turning around a program, it's working, it's hard work, that's it," Ash said. "You coach your tails off every single day. You develop your players as much as you can physically, mentally, fundamentally, and you recruit. That's it."
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