They’re of different caliber.
At noon on Saturday, the Buckeyes (8-0, 5-0) will be in Piscataway, New Jersey, for a Big Ten game against Rutgers. After home games the following weeks against Michigan State and Minnesota, they’ll end the regular season Nov. 25 at Michigan. Unlike the highly ranked but scandal-ridden Wolverines, the unranked Scarlet Knights (6-2, 3-2) have never beaten the Buckeyes and have always lost to them by at least 20 points.
“We have to continue to win and win out, so that’s our focus,” coach Ryan Day said. “We’re just going to take it one week at a time and then we’ll come up for air at the end of the season, because that’s what the ultimate rankings are going to matter — after the Big Ten championship game.”
Here are three things to know about the Rutgers game.
Can the Buckeyes spread the wealth on offense?
The story of Ohio State’s offense has been the meteoric rise of Marvin Harrison Jr., who leads the Big Ten in receiving yards with 889 and is second is both receiving touchdowns (eight) and average yards per catch (18.6). NFL draft forecasters are putting him as the first receiver taken, and he’s getting consideration as the top overall pick.
“Marvin Harrison Jr.’s arguably one of the best players in the country,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “He’s continued to improve. You can see he’s a real professional, the way he’s prepared. When you’re going against players of that skill, you know they’re very dangerous.”
Harrison has been a consistent force on an offense that’s had many injuries at other skills positions. After missing three games, running back TreVeyon Henderson returned last week against Wisconsin to great success — 162 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries — but then Day announced this week that running back Miyan Williams, who sat out against the Badgers, is done for the season after being treated for an unspecified injury. Another piece missing at times has been receiver Emeka Egbuka, who has sat out three straight games but could return.
“The attitude he’s had that he wants to get on the field,” Day said of Egbuka. “He’s forced others to pull him back, and that’s the attitude you want to have. It’s a great sign for your team when guys are just fighting to get back.”
With a healthy Henderson and Egbuka back as complements to Harrison and tight end Cade Stover, it could help balance out the offense, which is important as the opponents get tougher.
Does Rutgers have a chance on offense?
To hear Schiano tell it, when the Scarlet Knights line up with the ball, they’ll be straight across from a group made up entirely of future professional players.
“You’re looking at a front that is probably all NFL players,” he said. “They’re front seven will be all NFL players. But the good thing is, the backs — the back four or five — are all NFL players as well.”
You could say Schiano said that with a smile, except that when he said it, he didn’t smile.
The Buckeyes give up 259.9 yards per game, fourth fewest in the country. Their past three opponents went a combined 10 of 49 on third down. Tyleik Williams has had at least one tackle for loss in seven games. Denzel Burke has broken up nine passes. Against the Badgers, Jordan Hancock forced a fumble on a sack and Jack Sawyer made a career-high four tackles. The list goes on.
“I don’t want to be exaggerating,” Schiano said. “I think every single guy there will be an NFL player, including some depth players.”
When those Rutgers players do line up, especially in the red zone, look for them to run. Running back Kyle Monangai and quarterback Gavin Wimsatt have seven rushing touchdowns each.
What connections do Columbus and Ohio State have with Rutgers?
• Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord knows a few things about Rutgers. His dad, Derek, was a quarterback for the Scarlet Knights, appearing in nine games over his four seasons from 1988 to ’91. Kyle is from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and went to high school at St. Joseph’s Prep in nearby Philadelphia. As a major recruit, staying close to home with Rutgers was never a serious consideration for Kyle.
• The Scarlet Knights have a regular on their offensive line from central Ohio. Kwabena Asamoah is a sophomore from Pickerington Central. This season, he started the first five games at right guard and has appeared in every game.
• Schiano’s at Rutgers for the second time after coaching there previously from 2001 to ’11. In between, he worked two seasons coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL, and after that didn’t work out, coach Urban Meyer brought him to Ohio State as defensive coordinator from 2016 to ’18. And to close the loop on this section, Schiano’s first coaching job was a graduate assistant at Rutgers in 1989, when Kyle McCord’s father was on the roster. “I was the box lunch coordinator,” Schiano said. “I probably got his dad a sandwich here and there.”