The Buckeyes first sat idle Sept. 20 following their 66-0 demolition of Kent State and prior to their victory over Cincinnati. Coach Urban Meyer welcomed that open week as it gave his young team an opportunity to get plenty of game reps with nothing on the line. As for the second week off, coming on the heels of strong performances against the Bearcats and in the conference opener against Maryland, the coach was uneasy about the prospect of losing momentum, going so far as to use the word “paranoid.”
“I'm going to talk to them like grown men, say this is where we're at, this is what we have to do, you've had three days off, let's pick up and go,” Meyer said in his Oct. 13 press conference. “I'm anticipating that they'll answer. That's why we're having a team meeting. I want to look them in the eyes and say this is where we're at and what we need to have happen.”
Ohio State averaged 51 points on over 621 yards of offense in its two wins following its first open week. The Oct. 4 conference opener at Maryland was particularly dominant as the Buckeyes defense hauled in four interceptions while the offense gained 6.9 yards per play en route to a 52-24 win over the Terrapins that was never close.
Both sides of the ball were clicking the last time they suited up on a Saturday and offensive lineman Taylor Decker admitted that the idea of losing some momentum as a legitimate concern.
“I think there’s always a chance for it, but throughout the bye week we actually had a really good demeanor,” the senior tackle said. “I thought practices went really well, personally. Everybody seemed to be excited to be out here getting better. There’s always going to be a chance for something like that to occur, but as guys have matured through the season and gone from rookies to veterans, I think they understand how we’re going to have to approach preparations like all other games.”
Meyer said that he allowed some of his established players, like defensive lineman Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett, to get more rest during the second open week than he did during the first, working to develop more depth across his team.
With their homecoming game against Rutgers the Buckeyes enter a stretch of seven straight weeks with a Big Ten game, eight if they win the East Division and play in the conference championship game. Safety Tyvis Powell said how Ohio State plays this week will determine whether the seven-week grind is a good or bad thing.
“The way I see it could be good is that we basically pick up where we left off, get that momentum going. It’s good to keep it going and keep playing and keep progressing,” the sophomore said Monday. “But if we come back this week and be lackadaisical because we had a week off, then I could see where it would bad.
“But I don’t see that. I see that everybody’s focused. After suffering that one loss earlier in the season, everybody’s mindset has totally changed. We’re trying to get the job done on Saturdays now.”
Buckeyes Prepare For Second Conference Newcomer
Saturday not only marks the second time the Buckeyes return to the gridiron after a week off, it is also the second time they will line up against a Big Ten newcomer. Rutgers comes to a Columbus with a 1-1 record through its first two games in the league, and when the Scarlet Knights take on Ohio State it will be the first game between the two schools.
“I don't think it makes a bit of difference,” Meyer said. “I think nowadays with all this technology you have, they're going to be watching hours upon hours of film.
“Our guys will really prepare for this game, I can tell you that. We never played them before, I don't think that matters.”
Rutgers is also coming off an open week. The Scarlet Knights defeated Michigan 26-24 last time they took the field. A win over the Buckeyes arch rival caught the eye of Meyer and the entire team, the coach said.
The Scarlet Knights run a more pro-style offense than any the Buckeyes have seen this season, employing two running backs and two tight ends at time, using a lot of play-action out of those sets.
“(Their offense is) a little unconventional from what we've seen so far this year but they do a nice job of mixing up their run game and play-action passes off of it,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “Like anything in college football you have to have a package that's flexible from week to week, have to be able to defend a no huddle spread teams that throw it all around the teams that pack it in.”
On the other side of the ball the revamped Ohio State offensive line will face their biggest test since their loss to Virginia Tech in the second game of the season. Rutgers leads the conference with 24 sacks through six games. Freshman defensive end Kemoko Turay is tops in the Big Ten with 5.5 sacks to his name.
A lot of those sacks are a result of creative pressures on third down, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, while Rutgers usually just rushes four on first and second down.
Though the Scarlet Knights are new to the conference, Decker was confident the Buckeyes weren’t taking Rutgers lightly.
“You never want to overlook an opponent,” the senior said. “Everybody’s going to have good players, and they have good players. You want to have respect for your opponent, but also realize that if we go out and do what we’re supposed to do, that’s going to dictate how the game’s going to go.”
Red Zone Work
In preparing for their first meeting with Rutgers, Ohio State put a heavy emphasis on the red zone in the two weeks of practice leading up to Saturday’s game.
In 28 trips to the red zone this season Ohio State has notched 19 touchdowns and four field goals, a far cry from their nation-leading 84 percent touchdown percentage inside their opponents 20 yard-line last season. In their most recent outing the Buckeyes turned the ball over on downs in the red zone twice against Maryland.
“It's not the players' fault,” Meyer said of the difficulties inside the 20. “It's our fault. It's coaching errors, whether it be tempo, we just have to do a better job.”
That was a point of emphasis during the open week and Herman acknowledged that his own stubbornness was a major factor in the red zone failures against the Terrapins. Against Rutgers the Buckeyes expect to see improvement when the field gets smaller.
“I think as with anything in offensive football, the defense is going to present itself strengths and weaknesses each time you line up and snap the football,” Herman said. “And to say that we have taken advantage of those weaknesses down there and on the goal line, we haven't. And we need to. And we don't care what those weaknesses are. We just need a better job of exploiting those weaknesses and not trying to beat our head against the wall into their strengths.”
Meyer said in his weekly radio show that Ron Tanner, a contributor on special teams, will not play against Rutgers due to a foot injury. He will be replaced by Cam Williams.
After sitting out the Maryland game with a thigh bruise freshman running back Curtis Samuel is expected to be full-go against the Scarlett Knights. Meyer said there is no guarantee he works right back into the rotation as Rod Smith has performed will as the No. 2 running back.
This week is homecoming at Ohio State and the Buckeyes are 67-19-5 in homecoming contests.
The Buckeyes are is 17-9 all-time in games played after an open week and Meyer is 37-3 all-time in games after an off week (including season openers and bowl games).