Ohio State uses Rutgers as a physical, mental refresher heading into October

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The Ohio State offense is getting healthier seemingly every week.

The same isn’t exactly true for the Buckeyes on defense, but it appears to hardly make any difference.

Just about the only intrigue for Urban Meyer’s program on Saturday night at Rutgers revolved around who was cleared to play, who made the travel roster to High Point Solutions Stadium and who was showing signs of getting back to full speed. As far as conference games go, obviously, all that focus on injuries made for a relatively painless evening for Meyer once the game actually started.

For the record books, Ohio State won 56-0 and J.T. Barrett became the school’s all-time leader in passing yardage. Beyond that, the undeniable, decisive edge in talent meant there wasn’t going to be a whole lot else for the Buckeyes to prove against the Scarlet Knights.

There were plenty of positives on display and more signs that Meyer has the offense back on track. Barrett delivered a couple encouraging deep balls, a loaded backfield kept churning up yardage on the ground and the starters were once again productive enough to let the backups gain some valuable experience in a road game against a division opponent.

The same applies to the other side of the ball, too. The secondary is starting to capitalize on all the physical tools it has to work with, the pass rush is absolutely terrifying for opposing quarterbacks and trying to run the football seems like a foolish errand.

But the real key is who exactly was contributing to all of those efforts for the Buckeyes.

Dre’mont Jones was unexpectedly unavailable after scraping his leg and needing stitches after a practice earlier in the week. He might not be available again next week against Maryland, but all Ohio State did was plug defensive end Jalyn Holmes in to replace Jones at tackle and then rotated fresh bodies in all sorts of different combinations to ensure the unit didn’t miss a beat.

Running back Antonio Williams and safety Erick Smith also didn’t make the trip for undisclosed reasons. But with Mike Weber fully cleared at tailback and dragging defenders to the end zone for 3 touchdowns, Ohio State certainly didn’t miss Williams. And all Jordan Fuller did with his opportunity to handle a role in the secondary without splitting time was lead the Buckeyes in tackles in the first half.

Even Johnnie Dixon had a chance to silence any doubts about his health after sitting out with a hamstring issue two weeks ago. The veteran wide receiver looks as fast as ever and flashed some impressive cutting ability with the football in his hands, positive developments for the Buckeyes moving forward, regardless of the competition. Linebacker Dante Booker borrowed from that playbook, as well, nabbing an interception in one of the finest outings of a career that has been hampered by injuries.

No offense to former Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash, but this was always going to be a game where the scoreboard wasn’t really going to be the best way to evaluate the Buckeyes. It was a chance for a bunch of young players to get on the field, another matchup that allowed for experimentation by the coaching staff and another week to add momentum with a feel-good victory.

That growing confidence is more of a mental thing, of course. And by and large, Ohio State was at least able to leave Rutgers as physically healthy as it was when the game started.

When all the intrigue was out of the way by kickoff at the end of September, that’s about all Meyer could have asked for heading into an October that will be a lot more informative by the time it’s over.

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