PISCATAWAY, NJ - After a hard-fought defeat on the road against Michigan, Greg Schiano and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights looked to make a huge statement at home on Saturday; that they could take down a ranked opponent and establish themselves as an emerging power in the Big Ten Conference.
Unfortunately, Rutgers ended up delivering a far less favorable statement: they're not strong enough to do that. Not yet, at least.
Perhaps the 3-0 start made us think that Rutgers was ready to compete against the best teams in the NCAA, when in reality, this was going to take a bit of time. Hiring Greg Schiano wasn't going to immediately make the team a championship contender. The team is improving for sure, but it's going to take a bit of time before Rutgers can start playing truly competitive games against teams like the perennial powerhouse that is the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Ohio State, top to bottom, is a straight-up better team than Rutgers. And it showed. The game was a rout by the first quarter, and the Scarlet Knights were served a mouthful of humble pie in a 52-13 blowout loss.
To pull off a monumental upset against a team like the Buckeyes, you need to play a near-perfect game. That is what the Oregon Ducks did when they upset the Buckeyes in Week 2. If you make a single mistake, the game is likely a wrap. Any mistake Rutgers made, Ohio State capitalized immediately.
Unsurprisingly against such a strong team, Noah Vedral struggled immensely. The senior quarterback went 16-for-26 for 152 yards and one touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions- his first three on the season- and one of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown.
Even with the three picks, Rutgers still gained 346 yards on offense, but that doesn't mean anything if you give up 541 yards on defense. After holding their own against Michigan's nationally strong run game, the defense outright had a bad day against the second best offense in the nation. True freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud had his way with the defense all game long, going 17-for-23 with 330 yards and a staggering five touchdown passes- which is especially impressive for a true freshman. In sharp contrast with Rutgers, who had the three picks, Ohio State didn't turn the ball over at all.
Rutgers would never recover from their first mistake. On their first drive of the day, Rutgers faced a 4th-and-8 at their own 48-yard line, and seemingly lined up to punt. However, Greg Schiano, who had called numerous exciting trick plays last season, decided to go for the first down with a fake punt play. Unfortunately, Ryan Day, Ohio State's head coach and Schiano's protege when the Rutgers head coach was the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator, wasn't fooled. One of those trick plays Schiano pulled last season was against Day's Buckeyes. This time, they were ready for the trickery and forced an incompletion on the fake punt pass.
With a short field for their first drive, Ohio State now had momentum and they rolled from there. Just two plays after the fake punt, TreVeyon Henderson rumbled through the Scarlet Knights' defense for a 44-yard touchdown run.
Two plays into Rutgers' next drive, Denzel Burke intercepted a pass from Vedral and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. Less than five minutes into the game, Ohio State had a 14-0 lead.
It would only get more lopsided from there. After forcing the Scarlet Knights to go three-and-out, Stroud went right to work. He completed a pair of passes to Garrett Wilson for 22 and 17 yards, respectively, and led a 10-play, 64 yard drive to the Rutgers 6-yard line. Fortunately, the Scarlet Knights' defense put together a nice red zone stand and limited the Buckeyes to a 23-yard field goal from Noah Ruggles.
This stop would mean nothing, however, as the defense had no time to rest after Vedral and the offense quickly went three-and-out again. Ohio State needed only five plays to extend their lead, as Stroud threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Wilson. Ohio State had a 24-0 lead before the first quarter was even over.
Just like in the first half against Michigan, Rutgers had been punched in the mouth early in the game. But just like that game, they were able to get back up and momentarily shift momentum to their side. Vedral, who was clearly struggling against Ohio State's tenacious defense, connected with Aron Cruickshank for a 75-yard touchdown pass on the very first play of their drive. With such a huge play, the question was if Rutgers could keep that momentum and make the game competitive again.
The answer was a resounding no, and it came as soon as the extra point attempt. Valentino Ambrosio's kick was blocked, and Rutgers now trailed 24-6.
Because the Scarlet Knights' offense needed only one play to score, the clearly tiring defense was quickly back on the field, and they simply could not stop the Buckeyes in the second quarter. A 38-yard pass from Stroud to Jaxon Smith-Njigba highlighted a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was finished by a 1-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Rossi. On Ohio State's next drive, Stroud's 19-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ruckert finished a 5-play, 50-yard drive that was set up by another failed 4th down conversion by Rutgers at midfield. After the Scarlet Knights went three-and-out, Stroud threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave just five plays into their ensuing drive. Ohio State led 45-6 at halftime, and it was very clear the game was over as the Rutgers student section quickly emptied after the touchdown pass.
Ohio State closed out their scoring on their first drive of the second half, as a 28-yard pass to Smith-Njigba was the big play on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive finished by a 11-yard touchdown pass to Olave. All that laid ahead for Rutgers was a pair of interceptions for Vedral and a meaningless 11-play, 70-yard touchdown drive led by backup quarterback Cole Snyder, who finished the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Youngblood.
What Does this Mean for Rutgers?
This lopsided defeat for Rutgers was certainly humbling, as the Scarlet Knights clearly aren't ready to emerge as a contender for the time being. They can certainly play well against other Big Ten teams, as evidenced by their games last season (even the losses) and their narrow loss to Michigan, but Ohio State is easily the best team in the conference and the moment of weakness they had against Oregon was a mirage that led Rutgers- and me, as well- into thinking they could pull off a monumental upset that would have been the biggest since the "Pandemonium in Piscataway" game against Louisville during the legendary 2006 season.
The addition of Greg Schiano of head coach definitely brought much-needed credibility back to the football program. But his arrival wasn't going to fix things immediately. The recruiting process and the on-field product are improving, that's for sure, but major results weren't going to show itself in just his second season back. Also remember that Schiano himself didn't have a winning season with Rutgers for his first four seasons. Then came the winning record in 2005, followed by the narrow defeat in the Insight Bowl to Arizona State, followed by the historic 2006 season that saw Rutgers emerge as a legitimate contender. That turn of events will only happen again if we continue to trust Schiano's process.
Although they may not be a contender yet, Rutgers can still shoot for a smaller bowl berth this season, as outside of next Saturday against Michigan State and late-season matchups against longtime rivals Penn State and Maryland, the Scarlet Knights' other opponents look beatable, and considering their victory last season against the Spartans on the road, a victory against them this year looks feasible as well despite them now being in the top 25.
Rutgers is still looking for their first win against Ohio State, as Ryan Day is, so far, looking like a worthy successor to Urban Meyer, and Schiano is responsible in part for his development as a head coach. When they first met, Day was but the learner, now he is the master. Hopefully Schiano can complete that legendary exchange in a couple years.
Next Up For Rutgers
Rutgers will stay on the Banks of the Old Raritan as they play their homecoming game against Michigan State. As they currently rank 17th on the top 25, this is Rutgers' third straight game against a ranked opponent. However, they pulled off a massive upset against these same Spartans in the opening game of the season last year, so a victory here certainly isn't out of the question.