The Buckeyes close their season with games against No. 9 Penn State, No. 15 Michigan and a potential Big Ten title clash with No. 8 Minnesota or No. 14 Wisconsin before discovering their fate for the College Football Playoff or a major bowl game.
First, No. 2 Ohio State (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) travels to Piscataway, New Jersey, to play Rutgers (2-7, 0-6) Saturday.
“At the end of the day, the focus is it comes back to us, what is your standard? We have to make sure we’re holding up that standard,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “We got a lot at stake here. We can’t put any of that stuff to risk.”
The Scarlet Knights have lost 18 of their past 20 games dating back to 2018 and are on an 18-game conference losing streak dating back to a Nov. 4, 2017, win against Maryland.
Although Ohio State has outscored its opponents 459-77, Rutgers has been outscored 330-132.
Ohio State will pit the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 scoring defense against Rutgers’ No. 128 scoring offense and No. 125 scoring defense — out of 130 teams.
Despite the disparity, Day said the Buckeyes aren’t taking the Scarlet Knights lightly.
“If we’re going to take anything for granted, we’re going to show up in Piscataway and win a game. That’s not going to happen,” Day said. “We have to do a good job. Those guys are going to play really, really hard.”
Saturday’s contest serves as Ohio State’s last potential trap game — a matchup against an opponent perceived as weaker played before or after a matchup with a stronger one — this season, considering its remaining games will likely be against ranked teams.
Following Ohio State’s Week 5 win at Nebraska, junior running back J.K. Dobbins said the team refuses to fall victim to trap games on the road that derailed Ohio State seasons in the past. He referenced losses he experienced at Iowa in 2017 and Purdue in 2018.
Teammates have echoed those sentiments in the time since.
“We don’t want to be that team that slips up one week and that ends up costing us our whole season, everything we’ve worked for,” sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert said. “We really have that in the back of our minds every week that it only takes one game. It’s like March Madness.”
When Rutgers does find success on offense, it’s usually through sophomore running back Isaih Pacheco. The New Jersey native ranks No. 10 in the Big Ten for rushing yards with 547.
The Scarlet Knights lost two other premier offensive weapons earlier in the season.
Junior running back Raheem Blackshear, who gained 953 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns in 2018, and sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who was completing 65 percent of his passes three games in, elected to redshirt rather than play the Scarlet Knights’ remaining games.
Rutgers also fired head coach Chris Ash Sept. 29, with Nanzio Campanile taking over as program leader in the interim.
“I’ve known Nunzio a long time. He’s going to do a great job,” Day said. “Those guys are going to come out and play really, really hard.”
Junior defensive end Chase Young remains suspended for one more game, but Ohio State’s front seven piled up seven sacks in his absence against Maryland.
Should senior Jonathon Cooper also remain out, sophomore Tyreke Smith, redshirt freshmen Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste and freshman Zach Harrison will rotate at the position.
Rutgers and Ohio State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.