PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Led by redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett making his first start at quarterback in 10 games, No. 1 Ohio State thoroughly dominated Rutgers on both sides of the ball to walk away with a 49-7 victory.
Barrett, who last started against Michigan on Nov. 29 of last season before going down with an ankle injury and lost the starting job to redshirt junior Cardale Jones for the first seven games of the 2015 season, picked up 324 yards: 223 in the air and 101 on the ground.
“J.T. doesn’t surprise me,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “I think he’s back … I think he’s in full swing again.”
The OSU defense held Rutgers (3-4, 1-3) to 293 yards, while the offense gained 530 yards of its own, led by Barrett’s 14-of-18 effort through the air.
“It’s getting close to the end of the season, and it’s really time for the best teams in the country to start showing it,” junior defensive end Joey Bosa said. “We’ve got to get going, and I think this was a good start.”
While not reflective of things to come, OSU (8-0, 4-0) looked vulnerable on the game’s opening drive, giving up plays of 18 and 25 yards to senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo and redshirt senior running back Paul James, respectively. The Buckeyes came away unscathed from Rutgers’ red-zone trip, however, when a 29-yard field-goal try bounced off the right upright.
The Buckeyes then embarked on a long, but fruitless, drive of their own. Barrett ran the ball four times for 55 yards, but on his final one he collided with OSU redshirt junior receiver Michael Thomas. The ball came out of Barrett’s hands after the friendly fire and was picked up by the Scarlet Knights.
Thomas said after the game that he will not know what specifically went wrong on the play until he views film later in the week.
OSU used a combination of aerial and ground attacks on its second drive to achieve a better result. Barrett completed two of three passes for 32 yards, while Elliott received four carries, the last of which was a two-yard touchdown run up the middle with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter to put the Buckeyes up 7-0.
Later in the second quarter, Thomas was atoned for his inadvertent tackle by hauling in a pass from Barrett in the open field and cutting past a defender to take it to the house untouched. The 50-yard connection was good for Thomas’ sixth score of the year and gave OSU a 14-0 lead.
“I had to make a play for my team, spark the offense, get them going, show Coach Meyer that we could exploit the secondary,” Thomas said.
Redshirt senior Braxton Miller took over the heavy lifting on OSU’s following drive to bring its lead to 21-0 late in the first half. Barrett aired out a slightly underthrown ball for the H-back 45 yards downfield. Miller juggled the ball but pulled it in while on the ground. He then followed that up with a 16-yard run out of the wildcat formation, before Barrett put the finishing touches on the scoring drive with a two-yard sneak up the middle.
“Braxton is a very unique athlete, an elite athlete, so nothing he can do surprises me,” OSU offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “I’ve seen him do things that make me say ‘wow’ every time, but he’s getting better and better at catching the ball and tracking it with his eyes and hands, so it’s good for him and it’s good for us.”
At the intermission, OSU led Rutgers in total yards 248-145, with 64 of the Scarlet Knights’ output coming on their opening drive.
Barrett was 5-of-7 for 136 yards in his first half as a starter in 2015 and also gained 85 yards on the ground. Rutgers redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano was 9-of-15 at the half for 99 yards, with 55 of them coming on three connections to Carroo.
Despite only picking up 15 yards on the ground in the first half, Elliott came out strong in the second. On the Buckeyes’ opening drive, he had three carries for 46 yards, setting up Barrett to find sophomore H-back Curtis Samuel open in the end zone from 30 yards out to extend the score to 28-0.
Barrett added a 10-yard rushing score on the next drive, a 10-play, 72-yard trek.
“He played awesome,” Elliott said about Barrett. “We had great momentum today, everybody made plays when their number was called. We can’t ask for more from this.”
Just eight plays after redshirt sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley intercepted Laviano on Rutgers’ first play of its drive, Barrett shoveled it to redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, who looked to throw — albeit illegally — but then trotted into the end zone to make it 42-0. The scores were Barrett’s fourth and fifth of the night — three passing and two rushing.
In the final offensive possession for the starters, Elliott took a draw play up the middle for 55 yards and a score. The drive was set up at midfield from a blocked punt by Conley.
Jones entered the game with the win safely at hand in next drive and engineered a lengthy 15-play drive, though it ended with a turnover on downs.
Rutgers spoiled the shutout with 13 seconds to go, as a 58-yard reception set up a four-yard touchdown pass.
“We were pretty upset,” Bosa said. “Of course as a defense we try to go and shut teams out, and we were that close to it. But overall we played really well, so we can’t really be upset.”
Laviano only completed one pass in the second half in five attempts, while Barrett was 9-of-11 for 87 yards in the latter stanza. Thomas finished as the Buckeyes’ leading receiver after piling up 103 yards in five catches.
Elliott finished with 142 yards on 19 carries, extending his streak of consecutive games with over 100 yards on the ground to 13 games.
“I think we’ve improved every week. I think we’re playing at a very high level right now,” Meyer said. “There’s a good mindset in there.”
The Buckeyes have beaten Rutgers by a combined 105-17 in the programs’ two all-time meetings after topping the Scarlet Knights 56-17 a season ago.
The Buckeyes are next set to resume action — following a bye week — against Minnesota on Nov. 7. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.
Correction: An earlier version of the story said last year’s game between Ohio State and Michigan was on Nov. 27, when it in fact was on Nov. 29.