Rutgers University is off to a surprising 5-1 start to its 2014 season. With a surprising victory in the first week over Washington State, an inspiring victory at Navy, and a scrappy victory in its first B1G contest against Michigan, Rutgers is poised to make the second half of its inaugural season as a member of The B1G Conference quite successful.
While Ohio State has been established as a strong favorite (Ohio State is close to a 20 point favorite), it would be wise for Ohio State fans to not necessarily count this game as being a sure thing. One need only reminisce back to the second week of the season, when Virginia Tech entered Ohio Stadium as an underdog, only to be rejoicing happily upon the conclusion of that game. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will certainly be emphasizing the "don't be cocky" theme to his well-rested squad this entire week. Both Rutgers and Ohio State come into this contest off a bye week.
The three primary areas of concern I have for this game are as follows:
1. How Will Ohio State Handle A Strong Rutgers Pass Rush? - While undersized by traditional B1G standards for defensive lines, Rutgers has strong pass rushers led by Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay. Turay was the player responsible for blocking the Michigan field goal that culminated in the Rutgers victory over the Wolverines. While the Ohio State offensive line has been improving since the struggles versus Virginia Tech, will the Buckeyes be able to adequately protect QB J.T. Barrett against what should be a blitzing Scarlet Knights pass rush?
2. Will Ohio State Be Able To Pressure Rutgers QB Gary Nova? - Nova has improved tremendously this season under the tutelage of new Rutgers offensive coordinator/QB coach Ralph Friedgen. Friedgen is a veteran college and NFL coach, who may have some tricks up his sleeve to help Nova with what promises to be a fearsome Ohio State pass rush, led by DE Joey Bosa. Will Ohio State be able to pressure Nova into mistakes, as Penn State was able to in what turned out to be the only loss for Rutgers this season?
3. Will Ohio State Be Able To Run The Ball Offensively? - The improvement of the Ohio State offense since the Virginia Tech has coincided with the emergence of sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliott as Ohio State's primary ball carrier. While undersized, look for Rutgers to stack the box against Ohio State. Will Ohio State be able to capitalize upon this strategy if Rutgers pursues it?
Even with all of my concerns, I believe Ohio State is starting to find its rhythm both offensively and defensively. The improvement along both lines of scrimmage, as well as within the secondary, will be too much for a talented Rutgers team making its first visit to Ohio Stadium. This game should be close until the second half, but Ohio State has too much size and speed for Rutgers to keep pace with the Buckeyes. I have it Ohio State 42, Rutgers 21.