If there was ever a week that the Buckeyes needed an opponent like Maryland, it's this one. A series of ugly performances against mediocre competition has left Ohio State with a tenuous hold on the country's No. 1 ranking, with a stumble perhaps looking more and more imminent with each passing week.
The good news is that Maryland, the team coming to Columbus on Saturday, is perhaps less fearsome than some of the other opponents Ohio State has faced, counting even the hobbled Indiana squad that almost shocked the world in Bloomington last week. They can't really pass the football, their defense is suspect, and there's no clear star ready to take the reins and turn the team around.
But the one thing the Terrapins can sort of do is run the football. They boast a sturdy offensive line -- Maryland has the fourth-best adjusted sack rate in the country, per SB Nation's Bill C. -- and have done an okay job of opening up holes for their three running backs in several games, as shown by their No. 21 rushing S&P+ rank. Enter Raekwon McMillan.
Weight: 240 lbs
Current Stat Line: 39.5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup
McMillan leads the Buckeyes in tackles through five games, averaging almost eight per contest. He hasn't been a game breaker (unlike several of his teammates), but he's been consistently solid at middle linebacker. Sometimes, that's all the situation calls for. He even managed to lead the team in tackles against Indiana despite suffering from a migraine headache before and during the game (and leaving it early).
The game situation
TV money be damned, the Terps are struggling mightily in 2015. A shellacking of Richmond and an easily in-hand victory against USF have done little to inspire confidence in Randy Edsall's squad in the face of last week's shutout loss to Michigan, a 45-6 drubbing by West Virginia, and a three-touchdown collapse against mighty Bowling Green. (Not that Ohio State can begrudge anyone a little trouble at the hands of a MAC school, but the point stands.)
Maryland is coming off a game in which they rushed for a total of 29 yards... on 26 carries. Those numbers would have looked a little less atrocious without the combined efforts of QBs Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman, who tallied negative-23 yards on seven carries. Even so, it hardly makes for a banner day when you're a team who has, according to the advanced metrics, needed to live and die by the quality of the run game.
That's where Raekwon McMillan comes in. If McMillan can do his part to hold Brandon Ross to the pedestrian numbers he had against Michigan, rather than the 100-plus yards he's notched in a pair of other games this year, there will be very little the Terps can do to move the ball against the Buckeyes. Per Testudo Times, it's not even clear who will actually start for Maryland under center, but none of the three available options have had much success in their chances thus far.
What to watch for
McMillan is flanked by two of the best in the business in fellow LBs Joshua Perry and Darron Lee. The three of them make up one of the stoutest linebacking corps in college football, and the outside guys' ability to close on the edges will be huge on Saturday, given that Maryland doesn't really make hay with the power run game, but rather outside the tackles.
With the linebackers clicking and an impressive front four making life difficult for whoever is taking the handoffs -- be it Ross, Wes Brown, or Ty Johnson -- the impetus will be on one of the beleaguered Maryland QBs to make plays downfield. Caleb Rowe is ostensibly the best downfield passing threat the Terps have, but his willingness to go deep has come with consequences in 2015: he leads college football in interceptions, having thrown 12 already in a season not yet half-gone.
We already know what it looks like when teams try to throw on this edition of Ohio State's defense. Be it Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Vonn Bell, or Tyvis Powell, someone is going to make an opposing quarterback regret a pass (or two or three) in every game this team plays.
A team with this many weapons is bound to hit its stride at some point. 50 points for the Buckeyes would not be an unreasonable ballpark; the Terrapins might sniff 21. The generous Maryland defense could prove to be the tonic for what ails Cardale Jones, and perhaps the coaching staff will employ a little more up-tempo and a lot more Braxton Miller along the way. It really feels like Ohio State needs to make a statement this week to shake off the cobwebs of a season that's looking downright 2014 FSU-esque. Besides, with McMillan and co. holding down the middle of the defense, we're sure to see fireworks on at least one side of the ball.