The Rutgers football team opened its season in Seattle, home of the 12th man, the loudest fans in the National Football League known to have caused seismic waves with the noise they make cheering on their beloved Seahawks.
The Scarlet Knights didn’t face the Seahawks nor did they play at CenturyLink Stadium as they did in 2014 when they opened their season with a 41-38 win over Washington State, but they did play in another venue known for its size and volume.
Husky Stadium may not have been filled to its newly expanded capacity of 70,083 when then-No. 14 Washington trounced the Knights 48-13 on September 3, but the 58,640 who made the trip were loud enough to disrupt the visitors’ offense at times as they wouldn’t enter the endzone until the final moments of the game.
Now imagine how much influence double that many people can have.
Rutgers’ (2-2, 0-1) next stop is in Columbus to take on No. 2 Ohio State at historic Ohio Stadium. Affectionately known as the Horseshoe for the shape of the structure, the iconic stadium houses a max capacity of 104,944, making it the third largest football stadium in the United States and fourth largest non-racing stadium in the world.
The co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0) under Urban Meyer in each of the last two seasons, Knights’ head coach Chris Ash has first hand experience in the kind of advantage the fans could play for the home team.
“The Horseshoe is an impressive venue and when it's filled to capacity, which it is every Saturday, regardless of the opponent, it can be an intimidating venue for opponents to walk into,” Ash said. “You're talking about 18- to 22-year-old kids that they have never been in that environment before. A lot of times that venue can beat you regardless of what the home team does. ... they get intimidated by just the size of the stadium and the history and the tradition and all the things that Ohio State has, and a lot of times teams are beat before the foot even hits the ball.”
Just as it isn’t Ash’s first trip to the Shoe, it won’t be the first time around for a number of Knights’ who participated in the 56-17 shellacking Rutgers suffered in their first appearance at the stadium in its first season in the Big Ten in 2014.
Intimidating as the crowd may be, the opportunity to play in a place chockful of tradition can be an exciting prospect as well.
“I’m always a fan at heart,” said junior offensive lineman Dorian Miller. “I was a kid growing up playing video games with my friends, like ‘it’d be crazy to play there,’ and then you get a chance to go and play there so it’s always cool, great experience to go out there … but obviously, with that being said … it’s not our first time around at these places. So I think now that the touristy part is over, we’re going in to win a game.”
The atmosphere created by the fans in attendance on Homecoming is the least of Ash’s worries.
The Buckeyes host the Knights on the heels of an emphatic 45-24 win over Oklahoma, practically ending the preseason title candidate Sooners’ College Football Playoff aspirations while boosting their own.
Returning just six starters across the board after seeing 12 players get drafted in the first four rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, the most inexperienced team in college football this season, according to Phil Steele, is exceeding the early expectations placed on it due to its youth.
Ohio State ranks third in the nation in scoring offense with an average 56.7 points per game, 10th in the country in total offense with 545.3 yards per game and first in the nation in turnover margin with plus-9, among other stats that go to show how impressive the Buckeyes have been.
The Knights, on the other hand, have shown signs of improvement throughout the season on defense — holding Iowa to 14 points in their latest contest — but have struggled to produce on offense with the exception of their second half performances against Howard and New Mexico.
Compile that with the loss of senior playmaker Janarion Grant for the season and add the raucous atmosphere expected and all signs point to another disastrous performance against the Buckeyes, who have outscored Rutgers 105-24 in their past two meetings combined.
But the third time ends up not being the charm for the Knights against Ohio State, it won’t be because of the venue in which they’re playing, at least according to special teams coordinator Vince Okruch.
“The field’s the same size there,” Okruch, who spent the same two years Ash did at Ohio State as a quality control coach for the Buckeyes, said. “It’s a crazy thing — you go there and the field’s 100 yards long, the endzone’s are 10 yards wide and (the field) is 53 yards wide. That’s what I’m telling them. If you can’t block all that stuff out, you can’t play major college football.”