PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The first football game in America was played in 1869 on the campus of Rutgers, which is ironic considering the Scarlet Knights no longer play football.
Seriously, on Saturday morning I caught the acts of several New York City street performers. On Saturday night I caught Rutgers against Ohio State. Verdict? Give me the Elvis impersonator playing “Hound Dog,” complete with barking sound effects, near Madison Square Garden over the Scarlet Knights cratering under the weight of the Buckeyes. Even the off-key guitarist singing the Beatles song near the Dakota apartment building where John Lennon was murdered in 1980 was more entertaining than Rutgers’ offense. And more passionate than its defense.
On the bright side — at least for Ohio State fans — the Buckeyes played like a young Frank Sinatra, which is to say they smoothly crooned their way to a 56-0 blowout in a continuing tune-up for the Oct. 28 rematch against undefeated Penn State in the Horseshoe.
That’s what this was, right? A dress rehearsal. Rutgers is the speed bag hanging in the basement you punch as you pass. Give it a slug. Feel good about yourself. It’s a confidence thing.
Otherwise, remind me again why the $carlet Knight$ are in the Big Ten? Oh, right. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who grew up 25 miles from Rutgers in South Orange, New Jersey, wanted a bigger footprint in the East, particularly for the Big Ten Network. Rutgers rests in the shadow of New York City, making its 2014 invite into the conference mostly about money. Bringing the Scarlet Knights on board was a smart move financially, and certainly big-money boosters are not complaining about being able to bite into the Big Apple every other year. But from a competitive standpoint it’s hard to defend the decision, at least in football, which is the only sport that matters to the Big Ten’s bottom line.
Can Rutgers someday become respectable? The Scarlet Knights were a legitimate program when Greg Schiano — now Ohio State’s defensive coordinator — ran things from 2001-11. But since joining the conference it’s as if they’ve turned their fate over to Tony Soprano, especially when playing the Buckeyes, who have outscored Rutgers 219-24 in four meetings.
Again, how does a game like this prepare the Buckeyes for better teams?
“We got a lot out of this,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We got a win and got our young players (experience.)”
The most generous thing that can be said is the Scarlet Knights allowed OSU to fine-tune its offense. True, the slow-start trend continues, which frustrated Meyer, but the Buckeyes’ offense built speed as the receivers finally began making plays. Of particular note was Binjimen Victor’s 23-yard touchdown catch, in which the 6-foot-4 sophomore took advantage of his talent — if height is indeed a talent — to go up and over the Rutgers’ defender. For fans still pining for a playmaker like wide receiver Devin Smith, who in 2014 made J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones look better on deep balls, Victor’s touchdown catch was sweet relief.
“I told J.T. to give me a chance and he did,” said Victor, adding that it was the most man-to-man coverage OSU has seen this season. “When we saw they were playing man, we knew we had to make big plays.”
But Victor wasn’t alone in revving the offense. Johnnie Dixon scored on pass plays that went for 70 and 39 yards, and Mike Weber blasted into the end zone on three short TD runs. Then there was Barrett, whose 275 yards passing moved him past Art Schlichter into first on the school career passing list with 7,622 yards.
The Buckeyes’ defense also pitched its first shutout of the season. Granted, Rutgers is not exactly Oklahoma, but a goose egg is nothing to dismiss. It was rather humorous, however, to see the Scarlet Knights penalized for completing two forward passes on the same play. Someone needs to tell them it’s no longer 1869. You’re in the Big Ten now. The rules have changed.