How can Ohio State beat Rutgers? Here are keys for the Buckeyes' primetime matchup

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Turnover battle

In Rutgers' season-opening win at Michigan State, turnovers made the difference. It forced seven takeaways against the Spartans, leading to 21 of its 38 points. The Buckeyes have been careful with the ball through two games. Their offense has lost only one fumble, and quarterback Justin Fields has not been picked off. But turnovers would be one way to open the door for any sort of a competitive finish or upset.

Rutgers is second in the Big Ten in rush defense this season. Here, linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi (3) knocks the ball away from Michigan State running back Jordan Simmons in the Scarlet Knights' 38-27 victory on Oct. 24.

Pocket protection

In last week’s win, the Ohio State offensive line contained Penn State’s pass rush, which featured impactful ends Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney, allowing only two sacks and no quarterback hurries. It left Fields with plenty of time to scan the secondary, and he threw four touchdowns, equaling a career high. It’s difficult to envision the Buckeyes being seriously threatened by any opponent in the Big Ten this season if Fields has time to throw. He’s in a groove with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

Coaching matchup   

Ryan Day faced another former Ohio State defensive coordinator last season when Luke Fickell brought Cincinnati into the Horseshoe for a September nonconference matchup. It didn’t fare well for the Bearcats, who were shut out in a 42-0 rout. This time he’s pitted against Greg Schiano, who is back in his second coaching stint at Rutgers and spent 2016-18 leading the Buckeyes’ defense. As Fickell showed in his return, it isn’t easy for a former Buckeyes assistant leading a heavy underdog.  

Key matchup

Ohio State rush offense vs. Rutgers rush defense

In their first season since Greg Schiano returned to take over the program, the Scarlet Knights have shown the most improvement in stopping the run. Through two weeks, they are second in the Big Ten in rush defense, allowing 79.5 yards per game. Over 12 games last fall, they surrendered an average of 201 yards on the ground, ranking last in the conference. Between Master Teague III and Trey Sermon, the Buckeyes have had some unevenness so far in searching for the right combination to replace J.K. Dobbins.

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Key stat

The Buckeyes have scored 49 or more points in all six of their wins against Rutgers, which joined the Big Ten in 2014.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman