September 23, 2019 | 85° F

Rutgers vs. No. 11 Ohio State: What to watch for

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When you think of the Rutgers football program in the 21st century, the name Greg Schiano holds more weight than any, as he transformed the program from perennial cupcakes to an 11-2 season in 2006, reaching as high as No. 8 in the national polls. If Schiano were never the head coach at Rutgers, it is hard to imagine the Scarlet Knights ever being considered for the Big Ten Conference, let alone receiving an invitation. 

Saturday night marks his first return trip to the Banks as a coach since he left after the 2011 season to take the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League (NFL). Hence, the Ohio State defensive coordinator's return is the top thing to watch for when Rutgers takes on the No. 11 Buckeyes this Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Greg Schiano's Defense 

In his second season as the Ohio State defensive coordinator, Schiano has had high praise for his defensive line, which is widely regarded as the best unit in the country. He noted that it is the best defensive line he has ever seen, which includes his two years in the NFL with the Buccaneers. Through four games, the Buckeyes rank just 59th in the country in rushing defense, giving up 139 yards per game. Meanwhile, Rutgers ranks 37th in that same category, giving up 119 rushing yards pergame. While the Buckeyes boast future top NFL draft picks in Nick Bosa and Sam Hubbard, the defensive line has yet to show its true potential this season.

Johnathan Lewis' playing time

The much-anticipated true freshman quarterback has seen his snaps drastically vary over the last three games. He did not play in the season opener against Washington, got just two snaps in a loss to Eastern Michigan, scored 5 touchdowns against Morgan State, then only played one snap against Nebraska last week. Offensive coordinator Jerry Kill admitted he regrets the way he used Lewis against the Huskers. Ohio State has an elite defensive line but a young secondary, so it will be interesting to see how Lewis is utilized against one of the best teams in the conference.

J.T. Barrett's running ability

Historically, Rutgers has struggled with running quarterbacks. But Barrett specifically has absolutely torched Rutgers in the three games he has played against them. He has twice rushed for 100-yards against the Knights defense and scored 4 touchdowns with his legs. What makes him so dangerous is his ability to throw keeping the defense honest. In three games, he has nearly 1,000 yards of total offense and 14 total touchdowns. In his final performance against Rutgers and the pressure from his own fans to perform better this season, Barrett may just be due for a huge performance, which would be a surprise to no one.

Rutgers wide receivers

Junior tight end Jerome Washington has been the star of the pass-catching corps for Rutgers this season, but outside of him, nobody has been able to establish themselves as a legit receiver and reliable target. The receivers struggled mightily to get open against Nebraska after the first drive and did not give quarterback Kyle Bolin much to work with. Janarion Grant's health is still up in the air, but guys like graduate transfer Damon Mitchell need to step up to help the play of Bolin and create a more dynamic offense. Fans love to criticize Bolin's play, but it isn't his fault when there is no one to throw to.

J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber

Dobbins made headlines when he earned the starting running back job as a true freshman, a huge accomplishment at Ohio State. He has not disappointed, running for 181 yards in the team's first game of the season against Indiana. Weber, who started for the Buckeyes in 2016, has been banged up to start this year but should be good to go on Saturday. The combination of Dobbins, who is currently sixth in the nation in rushing, with Weber, who ran for over 1,000 yards last year will be one that the Rutgers defensive line might have a difficult time with, especially considering the way it played against Nebraska a week ago.

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

Griffin Whitmer

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