COLUMBUS, Ohio — Coach Greg Schiano knows consistency is the key to building a winner, and he recognizes his Rutgers team is still struggling with that.
Now the Scarlet Knights (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) have to go to Columbus as heavy underdogs and try to keep up with well-rounded and talent-laden No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday.
Schiano knows how the Buckeyes operate. He was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State for three seasons under Urban Meyer, coaching 10 players who became NFL draft picks.
“They’re the third-ranked team in the country for a reason,” Schiano said. “I’ve been there. I understand the culture, I understand the program, I understand the level of talent. For us to have an opportunity to win this game, we have to be consistent, we have to be at our best consistently. And (consistency) is the last thing to come. But the challenge is great. That’s what I love about this league, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Scarlet Knights' defense is playing well — No. 2 in country against the run — but they could still have difficulty keeping up with the Buckeyes. Two turnovers cost Rutgers in its 27-10 loss to Iowa in the Big Ten opener last week.
Meanwhile, Ohio State (4-0, 1-0) is doing just about everything right. Quarterback C.J. Stroud has thrown for 16 touchdowns, the Buckeyes are piling up yards on the ground with running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, and the defense is greatly improved under new coordinator Jim Knowles.
“You could see a lot guys playing with an edge,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “And that’s what our expectation is. Now we have to find out if this is something we’ve done in a couple games, or if this is our identity moving forward. I think we’ve shown that we can do it.”
FAST AND FURIOUS
Ohio State scored touchdowns on its first four drives last week and was up 28-0 before the Wisconsin Badgers could catch their breath. The Buckeyes rolled to an easy 52-21 win behind Stroud's five touchdown passes and 100-yard games from both Henderson and Williams.
With quarterbacks Noah Vedral and Gavin Wimsatt battling undisclosed injuries, second-year player Evan Simon has been carrying the load for Rutgers. Schiano said this week that Vedral and Wimsatt are “progressing,” but he didn't know if either would be available Saturday.
Simon was 28 for 49 for 300 passing yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, one of them a pick-6, against Iowa.
“One thing you can say is he’s a tough son of a gun now,” Schiano said. “He stood in there and made some throws, and as he was letting it go he was getting hit, but he didn’t flinch. And you can’t teach that.”
Ohio State's star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has seen limited playing time this season because of a hamstring injury. In his absence, Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming have more than picked up the slack. Egbuka and Harrison each have five touchdown receptions.
“I think what we’ve done is built the offense around those guys, which is a little bit of a different feel,” Day said. “And I think C.J. has embraced that, and he’s gotten some chemistry with those guys over time. And those guys have settled into some roles, which has been really the blessing — the silver lining — of not having Jaxon here for a few of these games.”
Rutgers will be the last in a string five consecutive home games to start the season for the Buckeyes. They played five straight games at Ohio Stadium in two other seasons — 1999 (4-1) and 2003 (5-0). Rutgers has lost eight straight to the Buckeyes since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014.