Game Preview: Rutgers at No. 13 Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Rutgers faces Ohio State for the first time in school history and does so after its first Big Ten win as conference members. In a clash of one-loss teams, the Buckeyes are heavy favorites on Homecoming at the Horsehoe.

Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) at No. 13 Ohio State (4-1, 1-0)

Time:3:30 p.m., Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/Radio: ABC, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: First Meeting

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 20-12); Ohio State – Urban Meyer (13th Season, 132-26, at third at Ohio State, 28-3)

Storyline Central

  • Bad News Barrett -- Look for the Rutgers defense to be in attack mode on red-shirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. The Scarlet Knights had no issues creating pressure against Penn State or Michigan offensive lines, but the Buckeyes are a step up in competition. Step one for Rutgers is to be creative in its pass rush, and step two is to get Barrett on the ground. Rutgers cannot afford missed tackles behind the line of scrimmage this week against a quarterback showing consistent improvement.

  • Running Through Struggles -- The Scarlet Knights are down to 3.5 yards per carry since losing Paul James for the season with a torn ACL. The combination of Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin dominated behind the offensive line against Navy, but decreased in production every week since. For a team that runs to open up the pass, the Scarlet Knights have to find a way to set up manageable third downs. Does that mean shaking things up with true freshman Robert Martin? What kind of role can captain Michael Burton play at fullback? Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen cannot win with a one-dimensional offense against the Buckeyes.

  • The Implications -- This game means a lot more when it comes to the big picture than many guessed preseason. Ohio State and Michigan State remain the front runners to win the Big Ten East, and Rutgers has the best record of anyone on the Buckeyes’ remaining schedule. A win for Ohio State makes the Nov. 8 battle with the Spartans that much more dramatic. Rutgers pulling off an upset keeps the Scarlet Knights in control of their Big Ten destiny. The upset makes Flood bowl eligible for the third straight season, and a 6-1 record means everything in off-the-field momentum.

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers defensive end Kemoko Turay against Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker

Rutgers is third national and best in the Big Ten with 24 sacks through the first half of the season. Red-shirt freshman freak athlete Turay is the Rutgers leader, and does so with only about 20 snaps per game. The Buckeyes, led by an experienced left tackle, need to keep Barrett safe in a better way than it did in the loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes are 101st in the country with 2.6 sacks allowed per game, including seven against the Hokies for 54 yards.

Scarlet Knights Win If…

Everything clicks -- Rutgers needs to be borderline perfect against the No. 13 team in the conference and a coach averaging one loss per year since taking over in Columbus. Trick plays, a big kick return, a blocked punt, the deep ball, sacks, interceptions – Rutgers needs it all and cannot hold anything back. Rutgers needs impact plays from Nova, Leonte Carroo, Turay, Darius Hamilton and more, and the Scarlet Knight play callers better have used the bye week wisely.

Buckeyes Win If …

They control Gary Nova -- The only way Rutgers escapes Columbus with an upset is behind the best game of Nova’s career at quarterback. Nova is on a hot streak after beating Michigan and setting a touchdown record against Tulane, and the Buckeyes have the job of bringing him down to earth. Without Nova leading drive after drive, the pressure goes on an inconsistent Rutgers running game and a banged up offensive line against Joey Bosa and a dynamic defensive line.


Impact Player

QB Gary Nova — Who else? If Rutgers wants to win this game, it has to happen behind a stellar showing from Nova. Rutgers had enough trouble establishing the run against Penn State and Michigan, and the Ohio State defensive line is even tougher. Nova needs to show up and then some. If playing in front of 72,000 in Arkansas as a sophomore is any sign, crowd noise is no issue for the school’s all-time leading touchdown passer.

Something to Prove

LG Kaleb Johnson – This is a big film game for Johnson when it comes to preparing for the NFL. Rutgers needs Johnson to show up big against what Flood considers the best defensive line he has seen in three years as a head coach. How does Johnson match up against some of the top defensive linemen in college football? Can Rutgers get back to establishing the run? Time to find out.

Looking to Build

TE Tyler Kroft — Opposing defenses made Kroft a non-factor in the passing game during the first half of the 2014 season. That has to change for Rutgers, which cannot continue to rely solely on Leonte Carroo and Andrew Turzilli as big-play threats. Kroft heated up against Michigan but is a long way from his 43 receptions and 573 yards last season. Kroft was a preseason All-Big Ten candidate at his position but has just eight catches for 92 yards so far.

Freshman to Watch

RG Dorian Miller — The red-shirt freshman out of Metuchen is next in line on the offensive line should Betim Bujari be unable to go. Miller saw mop-up time twice this year, but Ohio State in front of 100,000 is a different animal. The former four-star recruit could be in for a memorable role against the Buckeyes – one that he feels ready to attack.

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