To say a college football team with a 20-game win streak should look out for a lesser, mentally-crippled, 3-3 conference opponent is quite a ways out there.
Yet such a claim can’t be quashed or invalidated.
The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Rutgers this Saturday night in a Big Ten matchup that puts the odds ever in Urban Meyer's favor to improve to 8-0.
However Rutgers, fresh off a near-upset of seventh-ranked Michigan State and a 28-point comeback victory over Indiana, is eager for an upset and won’t go down easily come kickoff time.
Led by receiver Leonte Carroo, the Knights significantly tested the Spartans two weeks ago, and won’t back down from the challenge the top-ranked Buckeyes bring to the table Saturday.
Carroo has been the ultimate warrior in Piscataway this season, and despite missing two games for a non-football-related suspension, has racked up nine touchdowns on 21 receptions for 472 yards through just four games.
He ranks fourth in the nation (in a five-way tie) with his nine touchdowns, second in terms of scores per games played (2.25 TD/game). Against the Buckeyes, he will be the key to Rutgers’ offensive success.
Quarterback Chris Laviano has had an up-and-down season, but in the Knights’ last two games he has completed 43 passes for 594 yards, six scores, and most importantly, just one lone interception. Laviano’s consistency and efficiency will also be crucial for Rutgers in sticking with the Buckeyes, and a potential breakout performance could add to the stun factor of this possible upset.
At 3-3, Rutgers has relied on their passing game, however their strong mix of running backs has showed up as of late, starting with junior Robert Martin, who rushed for 124 yards and three TDs in last week’s win, and has had his three best outputs of 2015 lead to Rutgers victories.
As for the other side of the ball, it’s pretty safe to say Rutgers’ defense has been more than lackluster compared to past years and teams. Ranked 85th in the nation for least points allowed per game and an even worse 106th in yards allowed per game, the Knights frankly just have to take a major leap to even attempt to slow down J.T. Barrett and company Saturday night.
The big difference in this one will be the harder-to-measure categories. Rutgers has been one of the best schools in special teams categories for a decade, easily blocking the most kicks in all of Division I since 2009 with 43. That, along with the general athleticism on punt and field goal coverage gives the Knights a severe advantage in the field position and turnover battles.
What’s more, speed demon Janarion Grant is back returning kickoffs and punts for Rutgers. Grant has three total return touchdowns on the season, and combined with the blocking units has brought the Scarlet Knights to fifth in the nation in special teams efficiency behind Marshall, Michigan, Auburn, and Notre Dame.
Pretty good company, eh?
Rutgers will have to be on their game Saturday night to bring it to Ohio State. Barrett was named just this week as coach Meyer’s new starter, and maybe his gelling with the Buckeyes offense could affect the outcome in this one.
The last time Rutgers faced the top team in the nation was back in 2002, and while Miami scored 28 unanswered fourth-quarter points to claim a 42-17 victory, the Knights had a 17-14 lead through three, and scored one of their two scores on nothing other than a blocked punt.
So it seems Kyle Flood's side should be good competition once again for a highly-touted Big Ten side this week.
Prior to Ohio State's 38-10 win over Penn State last week, the undefeated team had given up 55 points combined to Indiana and Maryland, perhaps shedding some light on defensive weaknesses to middle-tier opponents in the conference like Rutgers.
A win for Rutgers is certainly doubtful Saturday, but the Knights and Chop Nation should not be counted out of this bout from the get-go.
Watch out America. This one will either be an instant classic or a blowout.
It shouldn’t take too long to tell.