No. 11 Ohio State a huge favorite over Rutgers (Sep 30, 2017)

Ohio State appeared to sort out some of the issues with its passing game in the blowout win over UNLV last Saturday, and the opportunity should be there for more of the same this week.

The 11th-ranked Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0) return to Big Ten play Saturday night (7 p.m. ET on BTN) at Rutgers (1-3, 0-1) as more than a four-touchdown favorite. Ohio State has won two straight after opening the conference season with a victory at Indiana and then stumbling at home against Oklahoma.

In Ohio State’s 54-21 win over UNLV, J.T. Barrett torched the Rebels with five touchdown passes in less than one half.

Backup Dwayne Haskins added two after Barrett exited for the day as Ohio State’s quarterbacks combined to pass for a team-record 474 yards and a school-record seven touchdown passes to a Big Ten-record seven different receivers.

The Buckeyes might not approach those numbers this week, but chances are the passing attack could continue to thrive against a Scarlet Knights secondary that lost their best player last week.

Rutgers will be without No. 1 cornerback Blessuan Austin, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 27-17 loss to Nebraska. That leaves the Scarlet Knights with inexperience in the defensive backfield against an offense with multiple weapons.

“We felt like going into the year that if we could stay healthy like we did last year that we would be fine,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. “If we got an injury, we’re on pretty thin ice — and that’s where we’re at.”

An added bonus for Ohio State’s offense will be the return of running back Mike Weber, who sat out last Saturday and has been slowed the first four weeks of the season with a hamstring injury.

Weber, a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman last season, is ready to go again, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said, and Weber should be a good complement to J.K. Dobbins. The true freshman running back is No. 6 in the country in rushing yards with 520 and No. 13 in yards per carry (7.5).

Meyer was complimentary of Rutgers, which has been blown out in the first three meetings between the teams since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. Their defense is giving up less than 300 yards per game in the first four games.

“They’re much better, most improved defense I’ve seen in the country this year,” Meyer said. “From last year to this year, they’re really — they changed some things how they do business, and I just got done watching four hours of them on film.

“They had Washington, I think, held to 10 points in the middle of the fourth quarter. Much improved on defense.”

Ash certainly knows what he’s up against facing Ohio State. He spent two years in Columbus as defensive coordinator before taking the Rutgers job. He’s in the second year of a rebuilding job with the Scarlet Knights, who have looked competitive in losses to Washington and Nebraska.

The Ohio State defense’s 13 tackles for loss last week against UNLV were the most since it had the same number against Michigan in 2008.

“They have always had high-level players, players that are going to go on and be high draft picks or go to the NFL, and obviously be great college players,” Ash said of the Buckeyes. “But it’s the depth that they have at the D-line that makes it such a special defensive line unit.

“It’s the strength of their football team, by far. They have got a lot of good players on the football team, but as a unit, the defensive line is definitely the strength. They have got size, they have got explosiveness and they have got depth and they have got experience. You put all those things together; it’s a pretty good unit.”

Ohio State’s concern on defense is in the back end, where it lost three first-round NFL draft picks after last season. Oklahoma and Indiana exploited the Buckeyes’ relative inexperience in the secondary during the first two games.

Against UNLV, Ohio State was flagged for three interference penalties.

“We’ve got to get that fixed and move forward,” Meyer said. “And it’s technique-related. It’s not effort-related. It’s certainly not talent-related. It’s technique-related.”

Meyer will leave those issues to defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, the former Rutgers head coach who led the program to its greatest success.

Schiano will be scheming against a Rutgers offense led by Louisville transfer quarterback Kyle Bolin, who is averaging just over 160 yards passing per game. The Scarlet Knights’ most dynamic playmaker is wide receiver/kick returner Janarion Grant, who is recovering from a concussion and likely will be a game-time decision.