For the second time in history, Ohio State and Rutgers will square off on the gridiron.
The No. 1 Buckeyes are set to travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, for their Week 8 matchup against the Scarlet Knights on Saturday.
So far in 2015, Rutgers has been riddled with adversity.
It has dealt with the arrests and indefinite suspensions of five players just two days before the season began, the arrest of senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo — who missed two games before the charges brought against him were dropped — and the suspension of coach Kyle Flood for three games following program violations.
Despite all of the troubles, the Scarlet Knights roll into Saturday’s game with a 3-3 record.
Here is a deeper look at Flood’s team.
The right time
It appears the Scarlet Knights are playing their best football at the right time, just as the defending national champions arrive in town.
All of the aforementioned off-field issues bogged Rutgers down during the first month of the season.
The team opened with a win over Football Championship Subdivision’s Norfolk State but dropped its next two games over Washington State and Penn State, the latter being a 28-3 drubbing on the road. A win over lowly Kansas, which currently is winless in six games, followed.
However, the changing leaves of October seemingly have brought about changes to a Rutgers team that now looks much improved.
The Scarlet Knights faced off against then-No. 4 Michigan State on Oct. 10 and dueled with the Spartans down to the final play. A miscommunication that led to redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano spiking it on fourth down cost Rutgers a chance to take one more shot at the end zone for a game-tying score.
Even though the box score pegs it as a loss, Rutgers showed that it has enough talent to compete with other teams in the Big Ten.
Last week against Indiana, that rung true. The Scarlet Knights topped the Hoosiers 55-52 in comeback fashion after eradicating a 25-point deficit in the final frame. A field goal as the clock ran out capped the comeback.
OSU might be a better team than Rutgers’ previous two opponents, but the improved performance on the field as of late has to give the Scarlet Knights confidence heading into Saturday’s showdown.
Carroo is key
Carroo, who was sidelined for two games due to ongoing legal matters, has been back in action during the last two weeks.
In those games, the senior has been nothing short of game-changing.
Against Michigan State, he corralled seven passes for 134 yards and three scores. He topped that last week by racking up a career-high 157 receiving yards on seven receptions with three more touchdowns.
His reinstatement has spearheaded the increase of production for a Rutgers offense that scored just 17 points in two games while he was inactive. It now ranks 34th in the country.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, there is one caveat.
Carroo suffered an ankle injury in the second half against the Hoosiers and, as of Wednesday, his status for Saturday’s tilt is in limbo.
The Edison, New Jersey, native said after the Indiana game that he plans to play against the Buckeyes, but officially he is listed as questionable.
It’s probably not a coincidence that with Carroo back in the lineup, the Scarlet Knights were able to accumulate over 900 yards in two games.
Flood and his team will have their fingers crossed, hoping that Carroo can suit up Saturday. If the type of newfound offensive output is going to continue, he will need to be in the lineup.
Rutgers’ defense as a whole dwells near the bottom of the national rankings, at 105th, but the main reason for its location there lies in the defensive backfield.
The run defense sits 30th in the country — 30 spots ahead of OSU — but the secondary is surrendering 321 yards per game, which places them third from last, at 124th. Twice opponents have accumulated over 450 yards through the air.
These woes don’t appear to be letting up anytime soon, especially against the Buckeyes.
Freshman cornerback Blessuan Austin and redshirt junior safety Davon Jacobs, both starters, are listed as questionable with upper body injuries. Their status being in abeyance — combined with the fact that the secondary struggles even with them in the lineup — does not bode well for Flood’s team.
Behind Austin and Jacobs are two players with freshman eligibility in Ronnie James and Kiy Hester.
With redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett taking over the duties as starting quarterback for OSU, the Buckeyes’ offense seems like it will keep rolling. If Austin and Jacobs can’t go for the Scarlet Knights, it might be an even longer day for the home team.
Beyond the Buckeyes
After Saturday’s matchup, Rutgers is scheduled to travel to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on Wisconsin at Camp Randall. Kickoff is set for noon on Oct. 31.