Rutgers readies for playoff-contender No. 2 Ohio State lineup
Fresh off its final bye week of the season, the Rutgers football team will host one of the country's most prolific programs in Ohio State.
The No. 2 Buckeyes (9-0, 6-0) are looking to continue their undefeated streak, as College Football Playoff berth looks imminent in over a month. Ohio State topped the first poll for the playoffs and are considered contenders for the championship game.
The Buckeyes underwent a coaching change when former head coach and current Ohio State Assistant Athletics Director Urban Meyer announced his retirement from collegiate football as a coach.
Since last December, Ryan Day has taken over, and the team has not missed a stride. Day's offense maintains the same prowess and explosive energy that Meyer had in his famous spread offense.
Leading the second-best team in the AP Poll is Georgia transfer and likely Heisman nominee, Justin Fields. Fields was a backup to Jake Fromm last season. He was awarded immediate eligibility this past winter and participated in spring practices all the way up to the start of this current season.
Fields has an almost 70% completion rate, throwing 27 total touchdowns. His legs are just as much of as threat as his arm. He ran for 347 total yards and 10 scores, with his longest being a 51-yarder.
The Scarlet Knights (2-7, 0-6), on the other end, run a more run-pass-option offense (RPO), which they have run since interim head coach Nunzio Campanile took over the helm at the start of October.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan brings in a 53% completion rate with four touchdowns and 498 passing yards. He is averaging less than 70 yards per game with his arm.
Rutgers will have sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco back from injury. Pacheco did not play in the Knights' 28-point loss in Champaign, Illinois, two weeks ago. Pacheco leads the team with 541 total rushing yards and six scores, four of which were against UMass back on Aug. 30.
Rutgers will still be without junior running back Raheem Blackshear, who has not played in a game since the Knights' 52-0 loss at Michigan back on Sept. 28. Blackshear is contemplating a redshirt and has only appeared in Rutgers' first four games of this season.
Ohio State is one of the nation's top 10 defenses, according to ESPN, averaging opposing backs 2.5 yards per carry. The team limited Maryland's backs to 62 total yards in its 73-14 route over the Terrapins (3-7, 1-6).
Ohio State has only given up 77 total points to opponents this whole season. They shutout Cincinnati 42-0 back on Sept. 7, the lone shutout of the season for the team. Maryland's 14 points were actually the most points that the Ohio State defense allowed this whole season.
The Buckeyes have only allowed five passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks this whole season, a testament to a veteran secondary.
Ohio State was without star defensive end Chase Young last week, but he could be on the turf in Piscataway for this weekend's Big Ten East matchup. Young was suspended for last weekend's contest. Young is ruled out indefinitely because of an NCAA violation.
But, without Young, the Buckeyes defensive line is still one of the best in the country. Jashon Cornell, a 6-foot-3-inch, 285-pound defensive tackle, has made 21 tackles. Cornell has constantly berated opposing backs and should prove to be a challenge for the Knights' offensive line to handle.
Rutgers' offense will have to deal with an elite linebacking group led by Malik Harrison. He has the most tackles on the team with 46 tackles. He has 10.5 tackles for a loss, only behind Young in that category.
Pete Werner is another skilled linebacker on the team. He has 35 tackles this season as a junior. The Indianapolis native 99 career tackles since 2017. Werner had three tackles against the Terrapins.
Safety Jordan Fuller anchors the secondary. The Old Tappan, New Jersey, native will make his return to the Garden State this weekend. The senior has 43 total tackles on the season.
But, according to Campanile, the Buckeyes bring the whole package to Piscataway, on both sides of the football.
"Honestly they're about as complete a football team as I've seen," Campanile said about Ohio State. "Really in all three phases of the game, they're pretty darned good. If there's a team out there better than them, I'd like to see it, but there's some pretty good teams out there."
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