No. 17 Rutgers starts Big Ten slate against No. 4 Ohio State

The Rutgers men's lacrosse team will kick off the toughest part of its schedule on Saturday afternoon, as it opens up Big Ten play against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.

The No. 17 Scarlet Knights (5-4) have shown flashes of brilliance in their non-conference games, led by a dynamic attacking duo of attacks sophomore Adam Charalambides and junior Kieran Mullins. But they’ve struggled to play up to the level of highly talented opposition, currently holding a 0-4 record on the year against ranked teams. 

The Big Ten is home to some of the best lacrosse teams in the country, and Rutgers will prepare for one of the toughest teams in the country in the No. 4 Buckeyes (7-0). 

“(The Big Ten has) three teams in the top five and two more in the top 20, so it’s a gauntlet,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “Every week is going to be challenging.”

A key strength for the Knights will be the attacking unit. Mullins and Charalambides combined for 5 goals and four assists in last week’s win against Hofstra, playing a vital role in almost every goal.

Mullins has established himself as one of the most creative attackers in college lacrosse, as he is currently eighth in the nation, averaging 5.29 points per game.

Rutgers will have to operate with a shorthanded face-off unit in conference play, as true freshman face-off specialist Michael Ott will be on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. 

The injury poses a major challenge for the Knights, as they’ll have to find a way to neutralize Ohio State’s starting face-off man Justin Inacio, who has won 60.6 percent of his face-offs through six games. 

To win possessions against the Buckeyes, Rutgers will have to rely on backup fifth-year senior face-off specialist Alex Schoen. Schoen has struggled this year, only winning 39.8 percent of his face-offs.

“(Winning face-offs) is going to be very challenging for us,” Brecht said. “Sometimes it’s just about finding the right matchup.”

Defensively, the key for the Knights will be to continue disrupting opposing attacks through forcing turnovers and winning ground balls. Rutgers has executed well in that respect, as it is currently sixth in the country in turnovers (14.44 per game) and successful clears (88.3 percent). 

The Knights will look to three-time Big Ten Defender of the Week, senior defenseman Kyle Pless, to disrupt the Ohio State attack. Pless currently leads the Big Ten with 16 caused turnovers on the year. 

An important matchup to keep an eye on in this game will be in goal. Rutgers has a slight advantage here, as fifth-year senior goalkeeper Max Edelmann has established himself a premier net minder in the Big Ten, leading the conference with 16 saves per game and 34th in the nation for goals against average with 10.43 goals per game. 

In the opposite net will be the Buckeyes' Josh Kirson, who has been a rock for Ohio State this season. Kirson has saved 57.9 percent of shots faced, helping the team hold its opponents to an average of 8.94 goals per game. 

The Knights will face a daunting task as they looks to finish in the top four of the Big Ten to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament in May. 

The team remains unfazed about the challenge that lies ahead, and is looking forward to redeeming themselves against the Buckeyes.

“We just need to work as hard as we can and be as good as we can be every time we step onto the field,” Mullins said. “We just want to focus on ourselves.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's lacrosse team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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