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Can Ohio State get out of their offensive funk against Maryland?

Ohio State looks to finally get the passing game turned around. Is Maryland finally the team who they put it all together against?

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Terrapins are not good this year. According to F/+ win projections, Maryland has only one more expected win on the schedule, and that's against 110th-ranked F/+ Rutgers. At 83rd overall in the S&P+ and 104th and 60th in opponent-adjusted offensive and defensive S&P+, Maryland's better win was a 35-17 victory over South Florida (the other win being Richmond).

Whereas Indiana's offense was efficient and there defense was just asking for explosive passing plays, Maryland is decent defensively and atrocious on offense:

Team Offense Rk Defense Rk
Maryland S&P+ 22.2 104 26.3 60
Ohio State S&P+ 31.1 52 18.6

Getting it out of the way, the Buckeyes' advanced stats are no longer among the elite teams after five games. One touchdown wins over Indiana and Northern Illinois will do that to you. S&P+ dropped Ohio State to 25th overall, and, no kidding, now projects Illinois to beat the Buckeyes in addition to Michigan. To be clear, there's a) a small sample size going in to these opponent adjustments and b) plenty of time for the Buckeyes to rise in the advanced stats rankings, but that does illustrate just how mediocre the Buckeyes have been playing as of late.

But every so often you see the team that beat Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon in consecutive games. For every underthrow, Cardale throws a strike to Michael Thomas. For every few missed blocks and one-yard gains on first down is a 50+ yard burst from Elliott. The efficient, explosive offense from last year is there talent-wise. It's just a matter of putting it together -- especially in the red zone, and even more so by not turning the ball over.

Ohio State on offense

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.42 17 1.30 85 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 42.9% 57 42.8% 85 40.1%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 33.9 15 32.3 108 29.7
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.78 67 4.18 51 4.60

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 119.2 28 103.4 62 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 44.1% 56 46.4% 98 41.8%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.35 8 1.03 54 1.07

Passing S&P+ 96.4 90 96.7 75 100.0
Passing Success Rate 41.5% 55 39.5% 69 40.1%
Passing IsoPPP 1.51 55 1.59 96 1.48

If Ohio State wanted, I think they could simply hand the ball off to Zeke 35 times and call it a day against the Terrapins. It's not as if Maryland is all that terrible against the run, but there is a large disparity in both efficient and explosive rushing ability between the Ohio State offense and the Maryland defense. The offensive line, as noted repeatedly, has struggled with odd fronts and it wasn't until a second-half move to a gap scheme that Elliott broke his big runs last week. I expect efficiency scores to increase dramatically against the Terps with a few long breakaway runs mixed in.

The passing game is where I'm most focused. Ohio State is a miserable 90th in opponent-adjusted passing S&P+ despite starting the season with the most envied collection of quarterbacks in the country. But here we are. Big plays should be there in the passing game against Maryland's 90th-ranked secondary. But it'll be the standard downs passes -- the supposedly high percentage ones -- that I want to see Cardale complete as well. The receiving corps is dinged, sure, but it still has Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Braxton, and Paris Campbell.

Finally, the second big question will be whether Ohio State can be more efficient with their scoring opportunities. Generating scoring opportunities -- getting the ball inside an opponents' 40 yard line -- has been easy enough for Ohio State. The hard part is not turning the ball over once they get there, as well as simple per-play red zone efficiency. Does Ohio State bring out J.T. Barrett for the red zone? Do they double down on Ezekiel Elliott? Maryland has been decent, but better than Ohio State at preventing opponents from finishing drives.

Ohio State on defense

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.39 27 1.26 76 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 34.7% 121 28.5% 4 40.1%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 33.9 14 27 32 29.7
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.21 98 4 36 4.60
Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 125.4 21 122.2 28 100.0
Rushing Success Rate 39.7% 91 31.6% 13 41.8%
Rushing IsoPPP 1.19 23 1.04 59 1.07
Passing S&P+ 90.9 104 156.5 3 100.0
Passing Success Rate 30.0% 120 24.8% 2 40.1%
Passing IsoPPP 1.63 35 1.59 97 1.48

As concerning as wide receiver injuries have been, depth in the secondary is just as big of a concern. With Cam Burrows now sidelined for the season and Dame Webb indefinitely suspended, it's getting a little thin behind the starting four in the secondary. Can Maryland exploit that? Well, no. Or at least, it would be highly improbable for the Terps' quarterback -- whether Caleb Rowe, Daxx Garman, or Perry Hills plays more -- to be effective considering their numbers thus far. Caleb Rowe has twelve interceptions through five games. Garman has only completed a third of his 18 pass attempts for 3.6 yards per attempt. Hills, the original starter, seems to be the best of the bunch statistically, but has completed just 53% of his passes and struggled against Richmond. Richmond.

That said, Maryland has found some big play success with freshman D.J. Moore, who averages 16.1 yards per catch, an former Ohio State signee Taivon Jacobs, who averages 19 yards per catch. Maryland is extremely inefficient throwing the ball -- the quarterbacks' interceptions and completion percentages are telling there -- but they can be decently explosive when they do connect with their receivers. Just watching the games I wouldn't have expected Ohio State to rank 97th in allowing explosive pass plays. But it's something to watch out for, particularly with the depth issues in the secondary. Will Buckeye corners get tired and suddenly get beat by a Maryland wide receiver? Stranger things have happened.

Similarly, Ohio State has been very effective in shutting down efficient rushes, but less so preventing explosive runs. The Terps run game, led by senior Brandon Ross, isn't going to win the game for the Terps. Ross hits five yards a carry on slightly less than a third of his runs overall. I expect plenty of short yardage stops by the superior Ohio State defensive line, but watch again for missed assignments or broken tackles for explosive runs. While Ross only if efficient on a third of his carries, he does average a solid 7.5 highlight yards per opportunity.

Watch for:

  • Does Ohio State allow explosive plays, especially as the game goes on?
  • Can the Buckeyes finish drives more efficiently and take advantage of red zone opportunities?
  • Will the Buckeyes start fast, which they haven't really done this season?
  • Can Ohio State run efficiently and connect on explosive pass plays that should be open?