The bye week for Rutgers football has passed and optimism increased. Now a reality check is in order. No. 3 Ohio State visits Piscataway on Saturday at noon airing live on the Big Ten Network. The undefeated Buckeyes are three score favorites and pose many challenges.
During his Monday game week presser, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano spoke about several of them. While the OSU offense has been less explosive this season than years past, they have the best receiver in the country.
“Yeah, Marvin Harrison, Jr. is arguably one of the best players in the country. He’s continued to improve,” Schiano said. “You can see he’s a real professional the way he’s prepared, and again when you’re going against players of that skill, they are very dangerous.”
Harrison Jr. has unique connection with OSU quarterback Kyle McCord. The duo started at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia before heading to Columbus together. And McCord has a unique connection to Rutgers. His father, Derek, played under center for the Scarlet Knights from 1988 to 1992. That overlapped with Schiano’s stint as a graduate assistant at RU.
“I think he might have been a sophomore. But yes, I knew his dad,” Schiano confirmed. “You know, I was a GA and I was the box lunch coordinator, so I probably got his dad a sandwich here and there.”
The younger McCord in his first year starter at Ohio State. He’s completed 64.1% of his passes and thrown for 2,163 yards along with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Schiano has been impressed with the Mount Laurel, New Jersey native’s development.
“He’s a really good quarterback. You can see, I’ve been able to watch them on TV, so a little TV scouting. He’s a fiery leader, and you can see his teammates believe in him,” Schiano said. “He’s a young quarterback who is getting better every week. So again, part of the challenge of playing a team that has so many skilled people.”
Another unique familial connection between the two programs this week is with the Igbinosun family. Desmond has been a key starter at safety this season for Rutgers with 34 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. He made four tackles for loss in the bowl clinching win over Indiana. His younger brother, Davison, has 35 tackles and two fumble recoveries for the Buckeye defense. It’s obviously a special moment for the Igbinosun family from Union, New Jersey.
“Well, I don’t know if I recruited or coached brothers that have played against each other. I may have. I’ve been coaching a long time. Doesn’t jump out at me though,” said Schiano.
As for the significance on the field, Schiano said it didn’t change much.
”You know, it’s two teams playing each other. It’s not two brothers playing each other,” commented Schiano. “Although, I asked Des, “Does your mom have one of those split jerseys, half-Rutgers, half-Ohio State?”
As for whether Rutgers had a chance to unite the brothers previously in Piscataway, Schiano explained why that didn’t happen.
”We did recruit Davison coming out of high school, and that didn’t work out. He went to Ole Miss,” stated Schiano. “The second time I talked to him, but he was looking to go to a national championship contender and he didn’t feel we were that, so I understood that we weren’t what he was looking for.”
As for the Buckeyes defense, they’re currently No. 2 in Big Ten play in scoring at 9.8 points per game and yards allowed at just 242.2 yards per game. It’s been the strongest unit for the Buckeyes this season
“They have got a lot of good players.”
Schiano then went into detail as to how good he thinks they actually are.
”You’re looking at a front that is probably all NFL players. Their front seven will be all NFL players. But the good thing is, the back four or five are all NFL players as well. So you’re looking at a defense that is probably — I mean, I don’t want to be exaggerating. I think every single guy there will be an NFL player, which — including some especially depth players, which it is what it is. That’s why they are one of the top defenses in the country. We’ll have our hands full for sure.”
Last season, Schiano and Ohio State head coach Ryan Day exchanged words on the field after a fake punt based on coverage late in the game. The two coaches worked together in Columbus for multiple years. Both were reportedly considered in replacing former head coach Urban Meyer. Day ultimately got the job and Schiano eventually returned to Rutgers.
Schiano was asked about the spirited exchange between the former co-workers on Monday.
“I think that’s in the distant past. It had nothing to do with the fake punt, nothing at all. It was to do with protecting our player that was on their sideline that was surrounded and getting pushed around,” Schiano explained “That fake punt wasn’t called. It was our fault. We didn’t put an edge to the punt block, and the kid is taught to roll, and if it’s there, you take it. So there’s no blame there. It was truly protecting our player, that was it. But that feels like years ago.”
With Rutgers 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, this early November matchup between the two programs is the most intriguing in the series so far. None of the previous nine meetings as conference foes has been close. With the program becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2014 and off to its best start in 11 years, playing Ohio State is a great test to see where this team is at following the bye week.
As for whether there can be any big picture takeaway, Schiano predictably didn’t see it that way.
“I do very little big picture when it comes to that stuff. We’re trying to be 1-0 at the end of the Ohio State season,” Schiano said. “We have to have a great week of preparation to do that, and then we have to go play our best game and see where that stacks up against theirs. And I can’t control anything about them but I certainly can us. And that’s going to be my focus; that we have a great, consistent week of practice, and then go play our best game of the season.”
As Rutgers fans, there is hope that the Scarlet Knights can play complementary football and make Saturday as competitive a game as it’s ever been against Ohio State. RU has its work cut out but this team will definitely not be intimidated by the challenge ahead.
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