While the colors won’t exactly clash in Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Rutgers Scarlet Knights are set for battle in their first-ever meeting on the gridiron.
The Scarlet Knights (5-1, 1-1) enter Columbus coming off a bye week of their own after defeating Michigan on Oct. 4 in just their second-ever Big Ten game.
Now, Rutgers enters Columbus to play its first-ever Big Ten road game, and it comes during homecoming week at OSU.
The Scarlet Knights are led offensively by senior quarterback Gary Nova, who is coming off a game in which he threw for 404 yards and three scores in a win over the Wolverines, a performance OSU coach Urban Meyer said he noticed.
“The quarterback (Nova) had a hell of a day against our rival,” Meyer said. “We got our hands full. We feel that (they) have very quality receivers. We are going to be very aggressive and we got to get this quarterback down ‘cause he is playing the best he has ever played right now.”
OSU redshirt-freshman cornerback Eli Apple said the Buckeye defense has been preparing to limit the big play. The Buckeye defense allowed three scoring plays of 60 yards or more the last time they played at home, against Cincinnati.
“They’ve got great receivers who can take the top off of defenses so one thing is just making sure to eliminate the deep balls and make sure we keep Gary Nova in the pocket and make sure he doesn’t scramble and beat us like that,” Apple said.
While Nova may be playing the best he has ever played, he has struggled with turnovers in the past.
Nova entered the 2014 season with 39 career interceptions and has added seven more this season, five of which came in Rutgers’ first Big Ten game against Penn State on Sept. 13.
Apple said the Buckeyes are going to try and exploit Nova’s tendency to turn the ball over.
“That is something that we definitely watch, and feel like we can take advantage of,” Apple said. “Sometimes he does get a little bit rattled and he feels like he just has to throw it up there. That is something we are going to try and capitalize on.”
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said it is his unit’s job to fluster the quarterback, something the defense focuses on each week.
“We have a count each game about how many hits this guy is going to take to break, and so we will have a count on Gary and we will find out how many he has,” Bennett said. “He gets flustered, he kind of gets a little nervous so I’m sure against us he will bring everything he’s got, but we are going to try and hit him and we are going to try and hit him a lot.”
During his five-interception game against Penn State, Nova was sacked three times, losing 19 yards. He scored the Scarlet Knights’ only touchdown in the game, a 14-yard run in the second quarter.
In order to fluster Nova, Bennett said the Buckeyes will have to force him to drop back more than usual, which means shutting down the ground game.
“If we are able to stop that run early, then we will have chances to go get the quarterback and it should be a fun night,” he said.
While getting pressure on the quarterback will be the key for the Buckeye defense, protecting their own signal caller will likely be a concern as Rutgers is tied for third in the country in sacks.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said Rutgers is successful rushing the quarterback because of how the Scarlet Knights design their pressure.
“Front four are very active. They don’t blitz a ton on first and second down. I think somewhere in the range of 15 and 20 percent,” Herman said. “On third down, they try to really create confusion and havoc and they’ve got a whole third down specialist-type deal where they’re going to run a bunch of different guys in on the field and line up in some crazy alignments and try to confuse you and pressure the quarterback on third down.”
OSU, which allowed seven sacks in a loss to Virginia Tech against a bear cover zero defense, has allowed just five sacks since.
Despite its recent success, junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker said Monday that he expects to see the kind of defense that gave OSU troubles against the Hokies.
“We are expecting them to blitz a lot. We are probably expecting them to throw that bear cover zero at us too, because everybody has been trying it,” Decker said.
Apple, who is a native of New Jersey, said he believes Rutgers has more talented athletes than Buckeye fans might think, which is critical to being successful when running the bear defense.
“Rutgers, they always have great talent,” Apple said. “They have a great roster, and we just got to make sure we are focused so we don’t take a game off.”
The Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights are scheduled to meet Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.