Ohio State gives Rutgers rude awakening in Knights' first Big Ten road game
Buckeyes blow out Knights in front of 106,795 fans, rushing for 336 yards on 8.1 yards per carry
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The onslaught was so immediate and relentless — so crisply designed and executed — that the Rutgers football team was left dazed and confused following the game the Scarlet Knights swore they couldn't wait to deliver a statement in.
But this was the Big Ten that fans feared the Knights were walking into before the season started. This was the truest test yet for Rutgers to show that it belonged against the best of the best, and the Knights failed in every facet of a 56-17 pounding at the hands of No. 13 Ohio State.
"When you play a really talented football team, the margin of error is very small," head coach Kyle Flood said postgame Saturday. "We just didn't play very clean football. We didn't play it on offense, we didn't play it on defense, we didn't play it on special teams. As a coaching staff, we need a better plan. The players, we've got to execute better. This is a program loss today."
Ohio State (5-1, 2-0), which seized its 18th straight Big Ten regular season win, made sure of it from the outset in front of 106,795 fans at Ohio Stadium — the largest road crowd Rutgers (5-2, 1-2) had ever experienced.
The Buckeyes' no-huddle offense utilized the length of the field, steamrolling through Rutgers' disoriented defense at will to the tune of 585 total yards.
Run gashes, spread-option plays and zone reads through dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett highlighted Ohio State's up-tempo assault. It caused all sorts of issues for the Knights at the line of scrimmage.
"They knew that if they got chunk plays, or if they got plays that got them to second and short, they instantly knew the next play that they were going to run," said senior linebacker Kevin Snyder. "They came out with different formation adjustments, whether it was unbalanced sets and things like that, that by the time we got set, we weren't completely ready. That was where they got the edge on us a couple times. They were moving fast."
Less than four minutes into the contest, the Buckeyes reached the end zone in six plays after a Rutgers three-and-out. Six minutes later, the Knights found themselves already trailing by two touchdowns.
"It was like a blink of an eye," Snyder said.
Rutgers was only able to temporarily weather the storm.
After two three-and-outs to open the game, sophomore Desmon Peoples picked up his first career score on a 1-yard rush with 27 seconds left in the first quarter. That cut Ohio State's lead to 14-7.
But the Buckeyes marched back into the end zone on their next drive, and even after Rutgers finally recorded a defensive stop, a killer momentum shifter essentially sealed the Knights' fate.
Sophomore wide receiver Janarion Grant fumbled trying to make a move after catching a screen pass, which cornerback Eli Apple scooped and returned four yards for another touchdown.
The Knights never scored again until midway through the third quarter.
"I don't know that one play dictates how the entire rest of the game goes," Flood said of the fumble's impact. "It was an unfortunate play. ... He's trying to make an extra effort play, and a lot of times when you're doing that as an offensive player, the ball can come away from your body. And they did a nice job of getting it loose."
Not much played out nicely for a Rutgers defense that struggled mightily to keep up with Ohio State's speed after performing well in its first two Big Ten tests.
The Knights had their chances to bring down Barrett in the backfield, but too often whiffed on tackles and allowed the athletic redshirt freshman to operate freely in space. Rutgers finished with no sacks for the first time this season after coming into the game tied for second in the nation with four per game.
With time to make progressions on his reads, Barrett routinely torched Rutgers' secondary. He produced 368 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns — three through the air and two on the ground, including a 33-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Seven different Ohio State ball carriers gashed the Knights for 324 rushing yards on an average of 8.1 per carry.
"When you have a team that's running the ball like that and spreading the ball down the field, when you have an opportunity to get them into second and long, you have to do it, and we just didn't do it at all," Snyder said. "They were making us miss a lot. They were good athletes."
As Ohio State continued to pour it on, leading by as many as 42 points in the third quarter, it made for a track meet where Rutgers could not keep pace.
Nova, who was sacked four times, managed just 192 passing yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
"As the score gets the way did it did today, it becomes very hard to protect the quarterback," Flood said. "When you get into the must-pass situations, the defensive line can really just tee it up on you. ... I thought at times today we did a good job of blocking, but not consistently enough."
The Knights praised the Buckeyes' high-caliber athletes and in-game coaching adjustments from the sidelines. They knew their first Big Ten road game wasn't going to be easy.
But after having nearly two weeks to rest and prepare, they couldn't explain the pure lack of execution on several fronts.
"It just hurts to know that it was us not being as disciplined as we should be," said senior defensive end David Milewski. "I tell the guys all the time, 'We have to be the most prepared and most disciplined team on the field every single Saturday, and we can win.' We can beat any team in the country if we play that way, but today we didn't and we need to make the corrections and get better."
Perspective after a gut check, though, allows Rutgers to press onward with hope.
"This game is not going to define us as a team," Milewski said.
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