For the first time ever, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Rutgers Scarlet Knights are set to meet on the football field. The matchup also marks the first time the Scarlet Knights will play a Big Ten game on the road.
With so many firsts, and so many unknowns, there are a plethora of storylines to watch in the matchup. The Lantern sports editors picked five of the most important things to look for in the game.
1. Will the Buckeyes be able to force Gary Nova turnovers?
It has been well-documented that Rutgers senior quarterback Gary Nova is turnover-prone.
With Nova coming off of an impressive performance in which he tossed for 404 yards through the air and three scores against Michigan, the Buckeye defense will have to do its due diligence to slow Nova and the Scarlet Knights down.
The Rutgers run game is average at best, ranking ninth in the conference, which has forced the Scarlet Knights to throw the ball early and often in recent weeks.
If they can force Nova into his old habits, the Buckeyes should succeed as Nova has thrown 46 career interceptions, five of which came in his first Big Ten game against Penn State.
2. Will sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott have his third-straight 100-yard game?
After struggling to get off to a strong start, Elliott is coming off of back-to-back 100-yard rushing games against Cincinnati and Maryland, respectively.
Getting his third-straight 100-yard game could prove to be easier than some think.
While the Rutgers defense ranks tied for third in the country in sacks, they struggle to stop the run as they rank eighth in the conference in yards allowed on the ground.
If the Buckeye offensive line has improved as much as many think they have, Elliott will have a chance to rack up considerable yards for a third straight game.
3. Can J.T. Barrett make a Heisman Trophy push?
I know, I know. we are crazy. But are we really?
After the recent Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston fallout, this could be the most wide open Heisman race in years.
With that said, Barrett will have a chance to shine on national television for the next four weeks as games against Rutgers, Penn State, Illinois and Michigan State are scheduled to be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.
In addition, aside from Saturday’s game against Rutgers, all of those games are set for 8 p.m. kickoffs, putting Barrett and the Buckeyes in the spotlight for three straight weekends.
Closing that stretch of games is the Michigan State matchup, one that most are claiming will be the de facto Big Ten Championship game. If Barrett can help the Buckeyes win out, and impress during prime time, there is a chance the redshirt-freshman could earn an invite to New York.
However, it all starts with Rutgers on Saturday.
4. How will a second early-season bye week effect the Buckeyes on the field?
More than anything else, OSU coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that he didn’t want to have a week off after the Buckeyes beat Maryland on Oct. 4.
If it were up to him, they would have kept on rolling after the 52-24 win, but it’s not.
Instead, OSU had to take an off-week and get ready for a two-week gap between taking the field for an actual game. For some teams, that can be needed rest. For others, it can simply stunt momentum.
It’s likely the Buckeyes will either have an extremely fast or an extremely slow start depending on how the players took the time off. If a slow start is in fact the case, look for OSU to be in an early hole with a need to scramble back late in the game.
5. Will freshman running back Curtis Samuel be worked back into the fold?
Through the first few games of the season, an argument could have been made that Samuel was the best running back on OSU’s roster.
He might well be just that someday, but it’s clear that Elliott is the guy for the 2014 Buckeyes, especially considering Samuel missed the Maryland game with a leg injury. Meyer said he’s back and ready to go, but what will be the real point of rushing him back into the lineup when Elliott has been dominant for two consecutive games?
Samuel has a bright career ahead of him, but an untimely injury might have put a damper on what could have been a standout first season in Columbus.
The matchup between OSU and Rutgers is scheduled for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.