Scarlet & Gray Matter: Absolute authority missing as Ohio State beats Rutgers again

Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein
Columbus Dispatch

Observations by Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein of Saturday's game:

The game at hand

• Short-attention span synopsis: Apparently there just aren’t going to be any landslide victories this week. Justin Fields is butter. The run game had better get better. Who says trick-or-treat was last weekend? 

• Pregame buzz: Ever since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, in 2014, Ohio State has treated the Scarlet Knights like a man who rents a car immediately after watching “The French Connection.” In six games, the Buckeyes never scored fewer than 49 points and never won by fewer than 35. Such abuse is neither sustainable nor healthy, but the talent gap didn’t figure to narrow any time soon.

Ohio State linebacker Dallas Gant (19) gets a handful of jersey to bring Rutgers running back Aaron Young to the ground in the second quarter.

• Spread the wealth?: Previous games between Ohio State and Rutgers have been so lopsided that the Buckeyes have usually been able to cover some rather large point spreads. They did so in each meeting against the Scarlet Knights until last season when they were favored by 50 points but won by a 56-21 margin. It looked as if they were primed to cover a 38.5-point spread on Saturday, leading 35-3 late in the first half, until the Scarlet Knights stuck around to put up some points in the second half.   

• Strategically speaking: After Ohio State lined up to punt from its 36-yard line early in the second quarter, long snapper Bradley Robinson instead hiked the ball to running back Steele Chambers, who was lined up in the backfield as one of two blockers for punter Drue Chrisman. Chambers ran for 38 yards, picking up a first down and extending a drive that resulted in a touchdown, building a 21-3 lead. Coach Ryan Day thought the fake punt helped the Buckeyes pull away from Rutgers.

• Just wondering: Did Rutgers empty its entire playbook of trick plays at Ohio State?

This week in vanity plates: FOOL ME 1

The View

• How the team sees it: It’s hard to feign interest in playing Rutgers year after year.  

• How the pollsters will see it: A win slots the Buckeyes up one spot in the rankings, thanks to top-ranked Clemson’s downfall in South Bend. Or does Notre Dame deserve to leapfrog the Buckeyes, who have been at No. 3 behind the Tigers and Alabama?  

• How Buckeye Nation sees it: Schiano was more creative installing gadget plays for one game against Ohio State than he was during his last season as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, in 2018.

Hey, what did Day say?

What he said: “We didn’t close ‘em out. We should’ve really dominated in the first five or six minutes of the second half, then allowed some of our other guys to get in the game.”

What it means: “We shouldn’t be in the position of playing our starters in the fourth quarter against Rutgers.”

They said it

• Your turn/the channel: The good thing about games televised by the Big Ten Network is that you get football games, so there’s no enduring endless promos for “Supermarket Sweep” or “The Bachelorette: Seriously, Guys Want to Date this Girl?” The downside is that the Big Ten Network is about the Big Ten. And only the Big Ten. So when the play-by-play announcer throws it to the studio for an update, it’s natural to think: OK, let’s see what’s happening with Notre Dame and Clemson. And then they inform viewers that Indiana beat Michigan eight hours before.

Numbers for dummies

48: Points scored by Rutgers in its past two games against Ohio State; the 27 points on Saturday were its most-ever against the Buckeyes. 

7-0: Ohio State’s overall record against Rutgers, which joined the Big Ten in 2014. 

5: Touchdown passes thrown by Justin Fields, the most in a single game in his college career.

11: Combined incompletions thrown by Fields in this season’s three games, the same number as touchdown passes.  

36: Length of run by Trey Sermon, in the fourth quarter, the longest of any of the Buckeyes’ running backs this fall, excluding a 38-yard pickup by Chambers on a fake punt.  

3: Touchdowns caught by tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the past two games, including a 7-yard snag late in the third quarter.

4: Tackles by safety Brandon White, a former safety for the Buckeyes who transferred to Rutgers late last year, in his return to Ohio Stadium. 

179-13: Margin by which Ohio State outgained Rutgers in the second quarter on Saturday in building a 35-3 lead.

290-164: Margin in which the Buckeyes were outgained by the Knights in the second half.

7-7: Extra-point attempt conversation rate by freshman kicker Jake Seibert, who replaced Blake Haubeil while he was out with a groin injury.  

46.3: Average points for Ohio State in three games, nearly matching the proficiency of last season’s offense, which averaged 46.9 points, the most-ever in a season in school history.  

On tap

Still don’t think 2020 is an odd duck? Four of the top 10 winningest major-college football programs are Big Ten members and three of them – Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska – lost on Saturday. Ohio State won, and the Buckeyes’ apparent soft-shoe schedule next takes them to Maryland, which obliterated Penn State at home. (Then comes Indiana, which bludgeoned Michigan, but that’s still a week down the road.) First things first, Maryland is playing laser-sharp behind quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — and don’t forget the Terrapins put up 51 points the last time Ohio State visited. Strange days, that’s all we’re saying. 

Tweethearts

Reactions to the game on Twitter:

@ohitex: That’s a female ref or that dude has a hell of a ponytail. 

@jleegill: The best part of this game so far has been no political ads 

@davis_wx: We’re punting inside Rutgers 40? Is Ryan Day bored? What is this? 

@KeelingOHIO: Justin Fields is eventually going to go 11/10. It’s just a matter of time. 

@Collin_W1121: That (fake punt) is a yuuuuge middle finger to Greg Schiano there 

@OilerBuck: The 2020 Buckeyes are as good at passing as they are bad at rushing. Justin Fields is a magician. The run game hurts my soul. 

@thewein83: I hate our defense. Call me spoiled last year. But we just do some very stupid stuff. 

@CWilkerson_3: Buckeyes just going through the motions tonight. This team has to get a lot better to make and compete in the CFP this year. 

@patrickglasser3: I know Rutgers ran many trick plays but this Buckeyes defense is getting outplayed and outworked 

@mkremer48: Buckeyes trying to play their way out of the CFP? 

@SMtweets36: Ummm guys... I know these are trick plays and all. But is no one else a LITTLE Concerned about the Buckeyes’ ability to finish a game?? 

Horseshoe haiku

Perfect game? Hardly

But pain can be relative:

Michigan, Clemson

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

rstein@dispatch.com