Just a week after tying an NCAA record with 45 first downs and racking up over 700 yards of offense against Cincinnati, Ohio State will be hoping to have similar success this week when they hit the road to take on Maryland. After losing in their second game of the season to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have rectified some of their offensive issues by scoring 116 points in their last two games. Ohio State is starting to click on offense at the right time, as they'll be opening up their Big Ten schedule against the Terrapins in College Park.
A major catalyst of the recent offensive explosion for the Buckeyes has been redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. The Wichita Falls, TX native became the first Buckeye quarterback since Troy Smith in 2005 to throw for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games. Along with the passing yardage that Barrett has accumulated in the past two games, he has also accounted for 10 passing touchdowns while throwing only one interception.
When the teams meet on Saturday it will be the first-ever meeting between the Buckeyes and Terrapins. After playing in their first Big Ten game in school history, and beating Indiana 37-15 last week in Bloomington, Maryland (4-1) will be hosting their first Big Ten game. The Terrapins have undoubtedly had this game circled on their calendar for a while, and will be looking to make some waves against one of the conference's heavy hitters.
Maryland has the offensive firepower to be able to keep pace with the Buckeyes, behind dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, who can hurt defenses not only through the air, but also on the ground. The favorite target of Brown through the air is junior Stefon Diggs, a wide receiver that the Buckeyes were in the running to gain the commitment of out of high school. With the recent struggles that Buckeye secondary has had to deal with, they'll need to keep close tabs on the speedy receiver.
|2014 Ohio State Schedule|
|30-Aug||vs. Navy (W, 34-17)||65|
|6-Sep||Virginia Tech (L, 21-35)||19|
|13-Sep||Kent State (W, 66-0)||107|
|27-Sep||Cincinnati (W, 50-28)||54|
|25-Oct||at Penn State||37|
|8-Nov||at Michigan State||13|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||24.8% (9)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||2|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||5 / 8.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (3, 7)|
|2014 Maryland Schedule|
|30-Aug||James Madison (W, 52-7)||NR|
|6-Sep||at South Florida (W, 24-17)||86|
|13-Sep||West Virginia (L, 40-37)||71|
|20-Sep||at Syracuse (W, 34-20)||67|
|27-Sep||at Indiana (W, 37-15)||47|
|1-Nov||at Penn State||37|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-5.0% (72)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||43|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-7 / -9.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||18 (9, 9)|
Ohio State's biggest advantages
Firepower. What more can you say about the Buckeye offense after what they have done the last two games? After struggling against Virginia Tech, J.T. Barrett looks to have found his rhythm and is making all the right decisions right now, despite only having made four starts so far in his career. Currently Barrett is leading the Big Ten with 323 yards per game of total offense. While he won't be mistaken for Braxton Miller, Barrett has also shown that he is capable of chewing up some yardage on the ground when necessary.
OSU-UMD Advanced Stats Preview
If you would have told me that Ohio State was 15th in Passing S&P going in to the Maryland game, I would've thought that the Buckeyes were undefeated and ranked in the top four. Much like we thought at the beginning of the season, the offense has been fine even after losing both Braxton and Hyde ... it just looks a little bit different than it used to. The Rushing and Passing S&P rankings have essentially flipped from last year.
As Barrett gains more confidence passing the ball, that really opened up things for Ezekiel Elliott on the ground on Saturday night against Cincinnati. The sophomore from Missouri was able to rush for a career-high 182 yards against the Bearcats. The bye week before the Cincinnati game looked to be very beneficial to Elliott in terms of recovering from a wrist injury that hampered Elliott during preseason camp and the first few games. The extra rest made Elliott look like a completely different player, with the running back welcoming contact and breaking tackles. Elliott should be able to find holes against a Maryland defense that while they held Indiana to over 100 rushing yards less than their season average, still gave up over 200 yards on the ground to the Hoosiers.
The evolution of the offense has also allowed for some new wrinkles to be added. Last week Buckeye fans saw Jalin Marshall used in a couple "wildcat" snaps, and more could be in store down the line. In high school Marshall was a highly-rated quarterback from Middletown, OH, which expands the playbook even more for the Buckeyes. Teams can't just assume that when they see Marshall taking snaps that he is in there to run, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him hit a big pass soon enough to keep opposing defenses on their heels.
There's nothing new under the sun. Saturday's game for Maryland is a huge game for the school, as they'll be playing a Big Ten game at home for the first time in school history. But could Maryland be a little too emotional when taking the field against the Buckeyes? Teams always look to give Ohio State their best shot when they play the Buckeyes, but overenthusiasm could backfire for the home team. The Terrapins could be pressing a little too much to try and show one of the best teams in the Big Ten that they belong.
Even with this contest being at home, the pressure is all on Maryland in this one. They know against a Buckeye team that can really move the ball that they'll have to be at their best on offense and defense to be able to keep pace. How do the Terrapins react if they get down a couple scores early in one of their marquee games of the year? The Buckeyes have already hit the road this season and faced some adversity when they took on Navy in Baltimore to start the season. If the Buckeyes do fall behind early, they might not be in quite such a dire situation, as they know they have the tools to be able to make up the deficit.
Saturday's game in College Park will be the first Maryland home game since 2008 that has been a sellout. While there is sure to be a solid contingent of Buckeye fans amongst the crowd given the alumni in the area, the atmosphere could work both ways if the Maryland backers get too up too quickly. The highs and lows of the atmospheres in these kind of games is nothing new to the Buckeyes, but could work both ways for the Terps if their start doesn't match their expectations.
Speed kills. In the win over Cincinnati on Saturday night, the Buckeyes ran 101 plays against the Bearcats, and held the football for over 40 minutes. If the Buckeyes were smart, they'd try to run 200 plays against the Terrapins, especially after Edsall made it well known earlier in the season that he doesn't care for the high number of plays in college football.
In the 40-37 loss to West Virginia in College Park in September, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers ran 108 plays. After the game, Edsall said that running that many plays in a college football game was bad for the game. If you're Urban Meyer, why not turn up the tempo even more?
With the way the Ohio State offense has been working lately, cranking the tempo to full blast greatly improves the odds for the Buckeyes. The West Virginia game showed cracks in the Maryland defense, and if the Mountaineers could do that against the Terrapin defense, imagine what a more talented Ohio State offense is capable of. West Virginia did most of their damage through the air, while Ohio State can get it done both through the air as well on the ground. If the Buckeyes get the Terrapins out of their comfort zone (and early), they should be just fine in this one.
Maryland's biggest advantages
History repeats itself. After seeing the damage that Gunner Kiel and Chris Moore did to the Buckeye secondary on just three passes last week, it is scary to think of what Stefon Diggs might be able to do on Saturday. Kiel and Moore connected three times for 221 yards and three touchdowns. If the Buckeyes lose track of Diggs like they did Moore on Saturday, they might be in some trouble against the Terrapins.
Diggs currently sits second among active FBS players in all-purpose yards per game, averaging 149 yards per contest, only trailing Miami's Duke Johnson. The junior has caught a pass in 23 consecutive games, and has seven games with 100 yards receiving or more. Of his 11 total touchdown catches, five of those have gone for 40 yards or more. The Buckeyes have to keep serious tabs on Diggs, but they can't afford to commit all their resources to stopping Diggs since Deon Long had a career game last week against Indiana with 10 catches and 108 yards.
Maryland knows that if they have designs on an upset, they have to attack the secondary. By now Ohio State should know that teams look to beat them through the air, but even with that they just can't seem to be able to put the clamps on their opposition. Ohio State has the talent in the secondary to be able to contain teams, but it isn't adding up just yet, and with the breakdowns that have happened to this point, it's hard to think those problems will be fixed in a week.
Special forces. Special teams is an area where Maryland has excelled, mostly on the leg of kicker Brad Craddock. Currently Craddock is tied for the longest active streak in FBS, making 16 consecutive field goals, which is tied with reigning Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo from Florida State. The range that Craddock has shown this season has been impressive, hitting on all six field goals that he has attempted from 40+ yards. While field goals instead of touchdowns aren't ideal against the Buckeyes, they do have the ability to put at least some points on the board if their drives do end up stalling.
Another area where the Buckeyes can't afford to get complacent against the Terrapins is in the return game that Maryland possesses. While Stefon Diggs is a major threat at wide receiver, he can also hurt teams on kick returns. So far this season, Diggs has returned seven kicks for 206 yards, with a long of 59 yards. During his freshman season in College Park, he did return two kickoffs for touchdowns.
While Diggs will garner most of the attention on kick returns, the Buckeyes can't sleep on cornerback William Likely when he returns punts. In each of the first three games of the season Likely had at least one punt return that went for 35 yards or more, with the capper being a 69-yard punt return against West Virginia. In a game that will probably be high scoring, the Terrapins will be looking to score in every facet of a game where they'll try and match the high-powered Buckeye offense.
What can Brown do for you? One of the most overlooked quarterbacks in FBS might just be Maryland's C.J. Brown. The senior from Pennsylvania was banged up against Indiana, but he was listed as the starter when Maryland released their depth chart this week. Had Brown not been able to go for the Terrapins, it could've made things a lot easier for the Buckeyes, as Brown can hurt teams with both his arm and his feet.
Brown is one of nine active FBS quarterbacks that has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in their career. During his time at Maryland, Brown has thrown for 27 touchdowns and run for another 22 touchdowns, including five so far this year. Against West Virginia, Brown ran for 161 yards in what would turn out to be a loss.
Ohio State's defensive line has been the strong point of the defense this year, but they didn't have to worry about Gunner Kiel moving too much to get away from pressure last week. Brown gives Maryland that added dimension to escape the pressure of Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and others to give Diggs and Long some extra time to try and get open and exploit the secondary. The Buckeye defense will have to play smart against Brown and stay true to their assignments to try and keep Brown from creating big plays.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 42, Maryland 40
Win Probability: Ohio State 59%
Saturday's game represents the lowest win probability for the Buckeyes so far this season by the numbers. While it is hard to go on the road and win, especially when playing such an emotionally charged team, the numbers might be being a little kind to Maryland.
There is always the possibility that the Terrapins are able to pick up where Cincinnati left off in terms of hitting the big play, but the Buckeyes have to know that is what Maryland will be targeting. The secondary issues are enough to keep Buckeye fans awake at night, but the talent that the secondary has is too good to play this bad for this long. The front seven has been carrying the weight for the Buckeye defense so far this year, and eventually the defensive backfield is going to pick up the slack.
The improved offensive line play, which has helped the rest of the offense to start hitting on all cylinders, is another reason to think that the score might not be quite as close as the numbers indicate. Maryland's defense was strong last week against Indiana, but they'll be facing a whole different animal this week. Last week Maryland could key on stopping one aspect of the game, where as this week they'll have to guard equally against the run and the pass. With a bye week to follow this game for the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer will certainly be looking for a complete performance out of his squad heading into that time off.