With games against Penn State and Michigan looming over the final weeks of November, second-ranked Ohio State must first take care of one last piece of business with a trip to New Jersey to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-7).
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers has won just seven total conference games and zero dating back to last season. Chris Ash was fired from his heading coaching position in September following a 52-0 loss to Michigan and a 1-3 start.
In stepped Nunzio Campanile, who served as the tight ends coach earlier this year before being thrust into the spotlight following Ash’s dismissal.
While Campanile inherited a hopeless task in trying to turn around an already-lost season for an already-lost program, things haven’t gotten any better for Rutgers over the past five weeks. Rutgers is just 1-4 in those games, with its lone win coming against FCS opponent Liberty. In the four losses, Rutgers has been outscored 163-24.
Ohio State opened this week as a 50-point favorite over Rutgers, and while there are cautionary tales of teams overlooking opponents all across the sports landscape every year, it is difficult to conjure up any scenario where this game remains competitive into the second quarter.
Still, Rutgers will field a team on Saturday, and here is a look at what that team will look like as the massive underdogs attempt to go toe-to-toe with the bullies of the Big Ten.
The Rutgers offense ranks near the bottom of all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs in every offensive category, including total offense, where it ranks 126th of 130 teams with an average of 280 total yards, and in scoring offense with an average of just 14.7 points per game, which is the fourth-worst average in FBS.
Johnny Langan has taken over at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights since Ash and offensive coordinator John McNulty’s firings in September. Langan, a Boston College transfer, has some prior history with Campanile, who coached Langan and Bergen Catholic to the program’s first New Jersey state championship in 2017 before being hired onto Ash’s staff at Rutgers.
The results have not been pretty for Langan over his first five starts. He is completing just 54 percent of his passes and has thrown six interceptions to just three touchdowns. In their Oct. 19 loss to Minnesota, Langan completed just nine of his 19 attempts for 48 yards and three interceptions.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the Rutgers offensive line has given up 19 sacks already this season. With Ohio State coming off a season-high seven-sack performance last week against Maryland, expect that total to rise significantly on Saturday.
If there is a bright spot to be found along the Rutgers offense — and bright spot is a relative term in this case — sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco is it.
Pacheco has accounted for six of Rutgers’ 15 total touchdowns scored this season, and he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Last season, he ran for 142 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against Michigan.
Pacheco has missed Rutgers’ last two games with an injury but will return to give Rutgers at least some semblance of a playmaker on offense.
Over the five-game series since Rutgers joined the conference, the Scarlet Knights have given up an average of 54 points per game to Ohio State.
Facing a Buckeye offense that is currently ranked third in the country in scoring offense, averaging more than 48 points per game, well, you do the math.
The low point in a season fulls of lows came in the loss at Michigan, where the offensively-challenged Wolverines racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense, including 335 yards through the air, in what became Ash’s final act at Rutgers.
The issues for Rutgers’ defense start up front, where it simply doesn’t have any threats to rush the passer. They currently rank 116th in FBS in sacks with just 11 on the season. Defensive end Elorm Lumor and linebacker Rashawn Battle make up more than a third of that production with two sacks each.
In the middle, junior linebacker Tyshon Fogg is the most productive member of the defense. A former four-star recruit from Baltimore, Maryland, Fogg leads the team in total tackles (75) and is second in solo tackles (31).
Senior cornerback Damon Hayes is the best of the bunch in the Rutgers secondary. Hayes has played a lot of football for Rutgers, having been a regular starter for them since the 2017 season.
Hayes has nabbed six interceptions in his career, including two this season. His two interceptions make up half of the Rutgers defense’s turnover total this season as the team has forced just four takeaways.
Opposite Hayes, Avery Young also brings experience to the cornerback, having started 11 games last season.
Rutgers kicker Justin Davidovicz has proven to be one of the more reliable kickers in the Big Ten since taking over the kicking duties last season.
After connecting on nine of his 11 attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, Davidovicz is 9-12 this season. His long this season is a 50-yarder he drilled in Rutgers’ loss to Boston College in week two.
Rutgers is first in the Big Ten and eighth in the country in net punting with an average of 42.58 yards per punt. Redshirt junior Adam Korsak, another in a long line of Australian punters to have success in college football, was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season.
This season, Korsak has three punts that have traveled more than 60 yards, including a season-best 69-yard boot against Iowa. His career-long is a 79-yard effort he bombed last season against Northwestern.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.