COLUMBUS — Conference play is set to roll on for No. 3 Ohio State this Saturday when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-1) travel to Columbus for the final of five home games to begin the season for the Buckeyes.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the series has not been kind to Rutgers as it has been outscored 428-88 across eight games against Ohio State. The oddsmakers are expecting another similar outcome on Saturday as Ohio State has been listed as a 40-point favorite to move to 5-0 on the season.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, however, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day talked about the “dog fight” he is expecting to get from Rutgers.
“They’re 3-1. They’ve played good football this year, and they have good players,” Day said. “(Head coach) Greg (Schiano)’s into his third year now, so now he’s starting to get his guys in there, and every year, they get stronger. Nothing changes in terms of our preparation. We have to do a great job because they’re better than they have been in the past.”
One element Ohio State can count on seeing from Rutgers is a motivated, energized football team under Schiano, who Day was very complimentary of on Tuesday.
“(Greg)’s an excellent motivator who creates great relationships with his players,” Day said. “He’s very intelligent and can really drive the whole program at a high level. He sees it and understands what needs to get done. I think he’s an excellent leader and a very smart coach.”
Although Rutgers has, indeed, improved since Schiano returned to the program in 2020, the talent gap between the two programs remains so wide that little else figures to matter come Saturday. But while Ohio State is unlikely to get much of a test from Rutgers, the opportunity it does have in front of it is the chance to continue building the competitive stamina and toughness Day has challenged his team to develop dating back to winter workouts.
Since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2019, Day has repeatedly stated Ohio State is its own standard, and each week of preparation should be in line with that standard rather than the opponent on the schedule. Coming off a big win over a more traditionally-imposing Wisconsin team in a primetime atmosphere, Day and his team will need to guard against relaxing against an overmatched opponent.
“We have to be all over the human element, and the human element is to not be disciplined and just do the same things that you did the week before,” Day said on Tuesday. “But that’s exactly what we talked about on Sunday, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today going into this week. Every time that you go into a game, you have to get physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to play in that game, and it usually takes 24-48 hours to come down off of that. That’s how competitive it is to play in an environment like that, in a conference game like that.
“So we have to do that again at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday against Rutgers. And that’s the discipline of trying to become great and trying to reach the goals that we’re striving for. It’s a new challenge this week, but we’ve talked about this, we’ve prepared for this, and it’s been implemented. Now it’s just a matter of executing it.”
Smith-Njigba still recovering
Ohio State is likely to be without star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba once more this weekend after he aggravated the hamstring injury he suffered early in the season-opening win over Notre Dame.
Smith-Njigba returned in Week 3, but played sparingly in the blowout of Toledo, and he was unavailable against Wisconsin last week. Day’s comments on Tuesday suggested it will be at least a couple more weeks before he suits up again.
“I just think it’s a long season … I don’t think we want to move forward until we all feel really good about everything,” Day said. “Jaxon still has a mindset of day-to-day, and we’re not going to put any kind of timetable on it. He and the training staff are going to work hard. I know he’s frustrated, but we’re not as far away as we think, and if he just has the mindset of showing up every day, getting as much treatment as he can, and taking care of his body, this will be behind us soon, and we still have a lot of football to play.”
After entering the season with so much hype following a breakout sophomore campaign a year ago, Smith-Njigba has been unable to showcase his talents as quarterback C.J. Stroud’s primary target. In what is surely his last season at Ohio State before declaring for the NFL Draft, Day said Smith-Njigba has struggled at times in handling his inability to be on the field. But while he acknowledged it’s far easier said than done, Day said Smith-Njigba must keep the larger picture in mind.
“He’s one of the more competitive players I’ve been around before,” Day said of Smith-Njigba. “But rarely does it go the way you expect it to go. That’s just life in general. Life’s going to throw adversity our way and we control the response.
“There are just so many things in our life that we’re not going to be able to understand, so these are great opportunities for us to help (our players) deal with that down the road … We try not to talk to them too much about focusing on expectations and just focusing on the moment the best they can. That’s not easy for him, I’m sure, but if he can keep doing that, then this will be behind him soon and he’ll be stronger for it.”