COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 11 Ohio State returns to Big Ten play to face Rutgers at 3:30 p.m. after going 2-1 in nonconference games. The Buckeyes beat Akron soundly last week with true freshman Kyle McCord at quarterback as regular starter C.J. Stroud did not play to heal a lingering shoulder injury.

Coach Ryan Day said he’s optimistic Stroud will be able to play against the Scarlet Knights.

Ohio State is 7-0 all time against Rutgers, and the Buckeyes have won every game by at least 22 points. OSU has scored at least 49 points in all seven games, but this is a much-improved Rutgers team under former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (2016-18). Schiano coached Rutgers from 2001 to 2011 and returned in 2020.

The Scarlet Knights are 3-1 this season and are coming off their first loss in a close 20-13 game to Michigan. Their wins haven’t been all that impressive considering they’ve come against Temple, Syracuse and Delaware, but they could present challenges to a so far average Ohio State defense.

Below are two things to watch for and two areas Ohio State needs to improve:

Can C.J. Stroud start fast?

In his three games this season, Stroud has yet to get off to fast start. Below is a breakdown of his first quarter completed passes, yards and how many points the Buckeyes scored in the first 15 minutes.

  • Minnesota: 4 completions, 32 yards, 7 points
  • Oregon: 7 completions, 43 yards, 0 points
  • Tulsa: 2 completions, 25 yards, 3 points

Three games is a pattern but the good news is he’s bounced back in a big way in two of those games throwing for nearly 300 yards against Minnesota and nearly 500 yards against Oregon. He didn’t have a good showing against Tulsa, and it was the kind of game virtually every first-year starter is bound to have early in the season. The question is whether Stroud can gain confidence early on and give Ohio State some cushion that the defense has shown it needs.

Pass rush needs to be consistent

The Buckeyes recorded eight sacks against Akron with five defensive lineman getting to the quarterback. Now Ohio State needs to show it can do that consistently after failing to do so against Oregon and Tulsa.

Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral ranks 28th in the country with a 67.9% completion rate. Getting pressure on Vedral will ensure that type of accuracy goes down and possibly result in a turnover, which the Buckeyes have thrived on scoring a defensive touchdown in three of their four games this season. In fact, two of those touchdowns were a direct result of the quarterback being pressured.

Which rushmen are available?

The answer right now is we don’t know. Last week, the Buckeyes played without defensive ends Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste as well as defensive tackle Taron Vincent. Their absence didn’t affect OSU against the Zips, but not having them against a Big Ten offensive line is a whole different story.

The Buckeyes need all the help they can get in the trenches and developing a consistent pass rush starts with having the best players available. Ohio State releases who’s available three hours before kickoff, so that should be made public at 12:30 p.m.

Keep an eye out as well to see if cornerback Cam Brown return this week. Denzel Burke continues to solidify himself as a starter, which is good news in case Brown is unavailable.

Continue to feed TreVeyon Henderson

The true freshman running back has emerged as the clear starter and also as one of the nation’s best backs. Henderson leads the country in yards per carry (9.54) and is tied for 12th in total rushing yards (439) despite the fact that he only played in the first half against Akron.

The key to Ohio State’s success not just this week but all season will be ensuring Henderson gets plenty of carries. Arguably no back is better in the second level than Henderson who’s displayed that ability time and time, as you can see from the two plays below.