A loss is a loss. Rutgers had six trips to the red zone against Ohio State and only scored one touchdown. The OSU defense cancelled that out with a red zone interception and devastating pick six. In short, the Scarlet Knights lack of execution when it mattered most cost them a chance to shock college football by taking down the No. 1 Buckeyes. It was an oddly frustrating and disappointing loss against a team RU had never been competitive against in nine previous meetings with an average margin of defeat of 42 points.
“I don’t believe in moral victories, no,” head coach Greg Schiano explained in his postgame presser. “I believe that you learn lessons. We learned some lessons today. I did. The players did. But no, moral victory, I don’t really — we’ve got a really tough game against Iowa here in seven days and we have to go out to Iowa City which is a tough place to play. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We started downstairs when we broke it down.”
Schiano is right, of course. Even so, there are still some positive takeaways when evaluating how Rutgers fared against Ohio State compared to its other eight opponents this season. When you are discussing the undefeated No. 1 team in the country, any positives carries more weight. RU was able to do some things against the Buckeyes no other team has this season.
The most impressive stat that RU achieved against OSU was becoming the first team to run for more than 200 yards against them in a game this season. The Scarlet Knights gained 232 yards on the ground on 43 carries. The next best performance against the Buckeyes was Notre Dame, who rushed for 176 yards on 39 carries. Only two other teams rushed for over 100 yards against Ohio State. Purdue ran for 123 yards on 35 carries and Maryland ran for 106 yards on 35 carries.
Rutgers also had the highest yards per carry average of any team against Ohio State at 5.4 yards per rush attempt. Only one other foe was even over 4 yards per carry against the Buckeyes. Notre Dame averaged 4.5 yards per rush attempt.
It’s not surprise that Rutgers attempted to run the ball against Ohio State, just that they were as effective as they were. Schiano explained going into the game the coaching staff felt they could.
“We could run the ball if we stuck to it.,” Schiano said in regard to the game plan. “Kyle and the offensive line, I thought they ran the ball hard, Gavin ran the ball hard. Sam got in there and ran the ball hard.”
A surprising development on Saturday was the Rutgers offensive line’s ability to generate consistent push and open holes in the run game. They matched up against the front four of Ohio State and were extremely competitive. It was a very encouraging sign and more proof of the terrific job that offensive line coach Pat Flaherty has done this season. The Scarlet Knights also only allowed one sack, marking eight of nine games the offensive line has only allowed one or no sacks.
Asked about the play of the offensive line, Schiano commented, “That’s always the hardest thing for me to comment on because not unlike what you see, it looks like a mosh pit of people, and sometimes Kyle comes spitting out of there and sometimes doesn’t, right. But you don’t rush for the yards that he did and that Gavin did without some good offensive line play, it just doesn’t happen. Coaches are never satisfied. Obviously the execution is such a finite thing, so we’ll just keep working to get it fixed.”
In addition, the Rutgers defense held Ohio State under 200 yards passing for the first time this season. Kyle McCord threw for a season low 189 yards although he did complete 73% of his passes. It was just the fourth time OSU threw for under 250 yards in a game. In addition, Rutgers held Ohio State to a season low 15 first downs.
“Yeah, they played — I thought they played some really good football,” Schiano said of the defense. “There was a couple plays that we all want to have back but you know, some critical plays, but I think the defense kept us in the game.”
Another thing Rutgers did was eat up the clock better than any other team has done against Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights finished with a time of possession of 35:36. Notre Dame was a close second at 34:59.
Rutgers was just the second team all season to get more first downs than the Buckeyes. They tied Notre Dame with 22. They were also second behind the Irish in averaging 5.3 yards per play on offense.
In the end, Rutgers didn’t play good enough to ultimately do what no other team has done, beat Ohio State. However, they showed real signs of improvement. One measure is to realize they were more competitive against the Buckeyes than any other team not named Notre Dame and Penn State. It doesn’t make up for a loss, but is a encouraging footnote that bodes well for the future.
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