COLUMBUS, Ohio — Big Ten play is finally here for Ohio State.
There will be plenty of familiarity to go around when the Buckeyes host Rutgers at noon ET on Saturday, as the Scarlet Knights are led by former OSU assistant Chris Ash and the Buckeyes now employ former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano as an assistant.
Q: What led to the decision to go with Chris Laviano in the quarterback battle? Has he been a good fit?
Dunleavy: Laviano won the battle because he has the best combination of experience, command of the playbook (audibles, formations, reads) and skill. It’s not a great fit because Laviano is not the dual-threat quarterback that the power spread offense relies on, but there was no great fit on the roster. Tylin Oden can run, but he’s a true freshman in need of a major weight gain and he hasn’t thrown a collegiate pass yet. TCU transfer Zach Allen and Giovanni Rescigno also need to improve their passing skill even more than does Laviano, who still misses too many open receivers.
Q: What was Chris Ash’s biggest challenge when he took over the team, and how has he fared in addressing it?
Dunleavy: Ash had a long list of challenges. In the short-term, it was to clean up the discipline issues that undid the team when seven players were arrested last season and get the team to be more competitive against Big Ten competition on Saturdays. So far, so good. In the long-term, it’s to win back New Jersey recruits, who started leaving the state in droves under former coach Kyle Flood. Big Ten schools always will win some battles in New Jersey – the roots are too deep – but Greg Schiano more than held his own when he was in charge and Ash needs to at least return to that point. Again, so far, so good. St. John Vianney 4-star offensive lineman Micah Clarke is the top recruiting prize so far.
Q: In what ways are Ash and the rest of his staff different from their predecessors?
Dunleavy: Ash appears to be very similar to a young Schiano in terms of he is a defensive-minded disciplinarian who came from a national power and has his hands in a lot of different pies from game-planning to fundraising for facilities to marketing. (Schiano was an assistant with Penn State, the Chicago Bears and the University of Miami before taking over at Rutgers.) Flood, who worked for Schiano as Rutgers offensive line coach from 2005-11, left many parts of Schiano’s program in place – be it slogans or the look of certain areas inside the football facility – and Ash has redone almost all of it in under a year. The Ohio State blueprint is all over most of Ash’s moves.
Q: Does the loss of Janarion Grant hurt Rutgers as much as it might seem to outside observers?
Dunleavy: It might hurt more. Grant is one of the best all-around players in the Big Ten – he should’ve been the First-Team All-Big Ten selection as a returner last season, in my opinion. He was on pace to set Rutgers’ career record for all-purpose yardage and had accounted for 6 touchdowns (3 rushing, 2 returns and 1 passing) this season without actually catching one like a receiver is supposed to do. Jawuan Harris, who led the Big Ten in stolen bases during baseball season, is like a Grant Light, but he doesn’t have the football resume. Keep an eye on true freshman Dacoven Bailey in that slot role as the season progresses.
Q: In what areas or at what positions does Rutgers have a chance to have success and cause problems for Ohio State?
Dunleavy: The strength of Rutgers on both sides of the ball is along the line of scrimmage. It’s how Ash wants to build his team – and, in a stroke of luck, he inherited redshirt seniors in both position groups. Defensively, Darius Hamilton is a former 5-star recruit who has been slowed by injuries but can be a game-changer, and Julian Pinnix-Odrick is blossoming into a star with 4 sacks in the last 3 games. The season-ending injury suffered by end Quanzell Lambert is big. Offensively, the center-guard combination of co-captains Derrick Nelson and Chris Muller is a strength when running the ball with the Big Ten’s leading rusher Robert Martin.
Q: What are the expectations around the program both for this game and the season as a whole?
Dunleavy: Inside the program, Rutgers expects to shock the world with the upset. Ash wouldn’t tolerate any less. Around the program, there isn’t much expectation for this game. Rutgers been outscored by Ohio State, 105-24, in two meetings thus far. There is an element of intrigue as to whether the insider knowledge of Ash and his assistants who were at Ohio State in the past – Drew Mehringer, Vince Okruch, Bill Busch and Zak Kuhr – can throw a couple curveballs and make it closer than the spread indicates. As for the season, Rutgers fans said they would be patient with Ash, but patience turns to impatience quickly as seen on Twitter. After all, Rutgers was 8-5 and went to a bowl in 2014. A bowl berth would be a home run in Ash’s first year. Just competing with the Big Ten’s best – Rutgers pushed defending Big Ten West Division champion Iowa to the brink last season – is an upgrade over last season.
Q: What’s your prediction?
Dunleavy: Urban Meyer is known for being kind to his former assistants when they want head coach jobs, but he hasn’t been too kind to them on game days. Look no further than the 59-0 waxing of Gary Andersen’s Wisconsin team in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game. I think Rutgers will be able to use some of its familiarity to its advantage early, but will be overwhelmed by sheer talent as the game progresses. Ohio State 49, Rutgers 14.