Ohio State is eager to get back on the field after its second bye in four weeks.
The No. 13 Buckeyes go for an 18th consecutive Big Ten regular-season victory as they host Rutgers on Saturday in the first-ever meeting between these teams.
“I’m glad it’s here,” Buckeyes receiver Evan Spencer said. “Going through the bye week and having bye-week practices, it’s always good to refine some skills. But game weeks are always different. Everybody’s excited to kind of get going and get back in the groove.”
Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) is looking to pick up where it left off after winning 52-24 at Maryland in its conference opener Oct. 4. J.T. Barrett completed 18 of 23 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns, adding another 71 yards and a score on the ground.
The Buckeyes have averaged 56.0 points during a three-game winning streak, outgaining opponents 1,871-858 in total yardage.
“Once again, I like our team,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re certainly nowhere near where we’ll end up, in my opinion. We’re still growing and getting better. We’re a much better team than we were two weeks ago and that’s because you get in the game and gain experience.”
Barrett appears to be getting more and more comfortable. The emerging freshman, who took over under center when Braxton Miller was lost for the year with a shoulder injury, is third in the country with a passer rating of 186.3.
Barrett has completed 75.3 percent during the win streak while throwing 14 touchdown passes and one interception. He leads the conference with 17 TDs passing and ranks second with 270.8 yards per game.
“As far as myself, I’m just trying to get better during the week and not wait until game day to just react to everything,” he said after beating Maryland. “I learn the defense on Tuesday and Wednesday so come Saturday I can have that confidence and go out and play.”
Ohio State hasn’t lost a Big Ten matchup under Meyer during the regular season, going 17-0 since the start of 2012 while outscoring opponents by an average of 17.9 points. That is three wins shy of the league-record streak and doesn’t bode well for a Rutgers team visiting Columbus for its first Big Ten road game.
“We are looking forward to that challenge. I know the players are excited about it,” said coach Kyle Flood, whose team was also off last week. “We expect it to be a hostile environment.”
The Scarlet Knights (5-1, 1-1) fell 13-10 to Penn State on Sept. 13 in their first taste of Big Ten action before holding on to beat Michigan 26-24 on Oct. 4.
“I think every Big Ten game we play now, no matter who it is, is a statement game because we came into this league (with) people seeing us as a team that just showed up, that really didn’t belong,” linebacker Kevin Snyder told the school’s official website.
“Winning – especially against a team like Ohio State – would go a long way to changing the perception, because right now I don’t think they have much respect for us. I don’t think their fan base does, either.”
Slowing down Barrett could prove crucial for Rutgers, which is surrendering a conference-worst 7.8 yards per passing attempt. However, the Scarlet Knights have only allowed one passing TD since giving up five in a season-opening 41-38 win at Washington State.
Rutgers is tied for fifth in the FBS with 23 sacks.
“(Their) front four are very active. They don’t blitz a ton on first and second down. I think somewhere in the range of 15 and 20 percent,” Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “On third down they try to really create confusion and havoc.”
After Scarlet Knights senior Gary Nova was picked off five times against the Nittany Lions, he didn’t have one INT against the Wolverines while throwing for a career-high 404 yards and three scores. His passer rating of 170.9 is second in the Big Ten.
With three consecutive victories, Rutgers is on the verge of matching its longest winning streak from all of last year. However, the Scarlet Knights have dropped their last six against Top 25 foes.