After squeaking out a 34-27 win last week in Bloomington, Ohio State returns to Columbus for homecoming, where they'll entertain Maryland at Ohio Stadium for the first time ever. Last year's 52-24 victory by Ohio State in College Park during Maryland's inaugural season in the Big Ten was the first-ever meeting between the schools, who will now play on a yearly basis since they are both members of the Big Ten's East Division. The noon kickoff against the Terrapins will mark the last time for at least a month that the Buckeyes will kickoff during the day, as their next three games will be played under the lights.
The Buckeyes' victory over Indiana extended Ohio State's winning streak to 18 games, which is currently the longest active streak in the country. Saturday's game against Indiana was Ohio State's Big Ten opener, and the win also marked the 25th straight regular season victory in conference play for the Buckeyes, which is a Big Ten record. The last time Ohio State lost a regular season conference game was back in the 2011 regular season finale against Michigan, where the Buckeyes fell 40-34 to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State will be hoping to break the habit of some of their recent turnover problems when they take the field against the Terrapins. Last week against Indiana, Ohio State turned the football over three times, and had it not been for the second half heroics of running back Ezekiel Elliott, those miscues very well could have resulted in Indiana snapping a 19-game losing streak against the Buckeyes. Luckily for Ohio State the 243 yards Elliott rushed for in the second half, which set a school record for most rushing yards in a half, were enough to allow Ohio State to secure their 20th straight win over Indiana.
The last two weeks for Maryland have been especially ugly, with the Terrapins losing the last two games by a combined score of 73-6. Against West Virginia two weeks ago in Morgantown, Maryland found themselves down 38-0 at halftime and ended up losing 45-6 to their rival. Last week in their Big Ten opener at home against Michigan, the Terrapins held tough for the first 30 minutes of the game, only trailing the Wolverines 6-0 at the break. The second half was a much different story though, as Michigan was able to score three touchdowns to shutout Maryland 28-0.
With their poor play to start the season, along with reports Maryland could fire head coach Randy Edsall during their bye week, the outlook for the rest of the season for the Terrapins is pretty cloudy. Maryland has went to bowl games the past two years, but they have a lot of work to do if they want to do so this year. Not only do the Terrapins have to travel to Columbus on Saturday, but they also still have games left against Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State on the schedule.
Maryland Five Factors
|FIELD POSITION||Avg. FP||33.9||14||32.8||108||29.7|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.21||98||4.18||51||4.60|
|TURNOVER MARGIN||EXPECTED||-0.09||68||Turnover Luck (PPG):
Ohio State Five Factors
|FIELD POSITION||Avg. FP||33.9||15||27.0||32||29.7|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.78||67||4.00||36||4.60|
|TURNOVER MARGIN||EXPECTED||-3.49||118||Turnover Luck (PPG):
Maryland's biggest advantages
Special teams live up to the billing. With Maryland's offense struggling to find traction this year, they've found other ways to put points up on the board. In the season opening 50-21 win over Richmond, cornerback Will Likely set a Big Ten single game record by rolling up 233 punt return yards to break the previous record of 210 punt return yards set back in 1939 by Iowa's Nile Kinnick. Likely's 360 punt return yards this season is currently leading the FBS and Big Ten, and he returned a punt for a touchdown against Richmond and Bowling Green.
Even though his numbers are down a little bit compared to his first two years with the Terrapins, Likely is also a threat to take it to the house when given the chance on kickoffs. Last year Likely averaged 31 yards per kickoff return and was able to return a kickoff for a touchdown in Maryland's bowl game against Stanford. Because of his ability to break big returns, a little more pressure could be put on Ohio State's directional kickoff strategy, which might lead to a couple more kickoffs finding their way out of bounds. Whether it be through penalties or via Likely, Maryland could find themselves with good field position to start drives, but the big question is if they can do anything with it.
The other part of Maryland's special teams unit that could help them put some points on the board is from the foot of kicker Brad Craddock. The senior from Australia has been one of the most consistent kickers in the country the last few seasons, making 44 of the 50 field goals he has attempted since the start of the 2013 season. What is even more impressive about Craddock is his consistency from long-range. Over the past three years, Craddock has made 17 of the 21 field goals he has taken from 40 yards or more, with three of those misses coming from over 50 yards. The longest field goal Craddock has hit in his career came last year against Ohio State, when he hit a 57-yarder against the Buckeyes.
Add to Ohio State's offensive problems. It is no secret the two biggest weaknesses when it comes to Ohio State's offense this year have been turnovers and the offensive line. Maryland may not have been able to do a lot right so far this season, but creating pressure and forcing turnovers have been what they have done best through five games. Cornerback Sean Davis has not only forced fumbles in four of the first five games this year, but he also intercepted two passes against South Florida.
Special teams isn't the only time Ohio State will have to be aware of where Will Likely is on the field. Last year Likely intercepted six passes, and while he hasn't been able to reel any in this year, he has been credited with breaking up seven passes. Last year the 170 yards Likely amassed off his six interceptions set a school record for interception return yards in a season, and the two career interception returns for touchdowns to his credit is currently tied for a Maryland record.
Maryland is hoping Ohio State hasn't completely fixed some of the troubles the offensive line has gone through earlier in the year, because the Terrapins have exhibited a strong pass rush through five games. The 3.8 sacks per game Maryland is averaging is fourth in the country, and sits behind Penn State in the Big Ten rankings. Junior defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has been making a name for himself so far this season, accounting for 6.5 sacks, including at least one sack in four straight games.
Nothing to lose. Thursday morning reports surfaced that Maryland is going to fire Randy Edsall during their bye week, which comes after they take on Ohio State on Saturday. Edsall left UConn following the 2010 season in which he led the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl. but he hasn't been able to replicate the success he enjoyed in Storrs. This year marks Edsall's fifth season as Maryland's head coach, and so far he has posted a 22-33 record during his time in College Park. Maryland has put together 7-6 seasons the last two years and earned bowl eligibility, but it is looking like the Terrapins have taken a step backwards this year, which could lead to Edsall being let go.
If this is in fact Edsall's last game as head coach of Maryland, you could see Terrapin players putting out a little extra effort to try and send their head coach out on a high note with a huge upset. Even though it came over 30 years ago, Maryland does have a win under their belt against a defending national champion. In November of 1984, Maryland fell behind 31-0 against defending national champion Miami, but were able to make a huge comeback on the arm of Frank Reich to stun the Hurricanes 42-40. Saturday's game will mark the sixth time in school history Maryland has taken on the top-ranked team in the country, posting a 2-3 record in those games.
Ohio State's biggest advantages
A time to get well. The Ohio State offense has faced a lot of criticism for their play early in the year, but a lot of the concerns could be erased with a big performance on Saturday. It might be hard to be upset with an offense that is averaging 452.2 yards per game, but after seeing how the Buckeyes were able to move the football last year, this year's offense has left a lot to be desired. The biggest issues for the Ohio State offense this year has been with mental mistakes, but there is still plenty of talent taking the field that has the capability of turning it on at any time for the Buckeyes.
Last week saw a couple breakout performances from offensive stars Ohio State needs to get going if they have designs on repeating as national champs. Running back Ezekiel Elliott put himself back into contention for this year's Heisman Trophy with his 274-yard rushing performance against Indiana last week, which ranks second in Ohio State single-game history behind Eddie George's 314 rushing yards against Illinois in 1995. Elliott has now rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 straight games, and last week's total marked the fourth time during that span he has rushed for 200 yards or more.
Even though fumbling issues still linger, Jalin Marshall had his best game as a receiver for the Buckeyes. The redshirt sophomore hauled in six catches for 110 yards, which gave him his game with 100 receiving yards or more during his time at Ohio State. The importance of Marshall going forward is magnified even more with last week's season-ending injury to wide receiver Corey Smith. Should Marshall improve on his ball security, he could give quarterback Cardale Jones a potent 1-2 combination at receiver.
Continue to take away the rushing game. Last week there was a concern of Indiana being able to keep the score close due to the damage UAB transfer running back Jordan Howard was capable of doing on the ground. The Buckeyes were stout against Howard, only allowing the nation's leading rusher coming into the game to put up 34 yards on 14 carries. This week Ohio State will look to tame Maryland running back Brandon Ross, who is just 13 yards away from becoming the 12th player in Maryland history to rush for at least 2,000 yards.
To have the similar success against the run this week, Ohio State will need another big effort from senior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, who registered a career-high 10 tackles last week against Indiana. If Washington is able to effectively able to clog the middle, it will allow for Ohio State's trio of stellar linebackers to clean up what is left for either a loss or minimal game.
The brightest of Ohio State's stars at linebacker is looking to be true sophomore Raekwon McMillan, who has registered double-digit tackles in each of the last two games. Two weeks ago McMillan was credited with a career-high 16 tackles against Western Michigan, and last week had 14 tackles against Indiana, which could've been more had McMillan not been hampered by a migraine. The 10.8 tackles per game McMillan is averaging so far this season is tied for the Big Ten lead.
Picking their spots. If Ohio State's defense is able to shut down Brandon Ross and the Maryland rushing attack, they'll force the Terrapins to rely on the arm of Caleb Rowe, who has had trouble completing passes to the right team this year. The junior quarterback has thrown 12 interceptions on the year, with 10 of those coming the last three games. The stat line for Rowe has been especially ugly the last two games, as he has only completed 18 of his 54 passes during that span.
Ohio State could add to the woes of Rowe this year, as six different Buckeyes have intercepted a pass this season. It hasn't been just the secondary who have grabbed the interceptions, either. Linebacker Darron Lee and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington have both returned an interception for a touchdown this year. Last week's win over Indiana marked the first game this season in which Ohio State wasn't able to record an interception, so the Buckeye defense will want to makeup for not being able to force any turnovers.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 35, Maryland 15
Win probability: Ohio State 88%
Much like the last four games, Ohio State is expected to cruise to a victory, but the Buckeye faithful have to be hoping they take down the Terrapins by more than 20 points. With the issues Maryland has on both sides of the football, if this game ends up being close something must have gone terribly wrong. Add in the uncertainty out there in terms of Randy Edsall's coaching future and this game has the recipe for a blowout by the Buckeyes.
But it felt like the last four weeks have had all signs pointing towards a big win by Ohio State, but they just can't put everything together to realize those predictions. Urban Meyer was not only preaching the importance of limiting turnovers to his team this week, but also wants better production when Ohio State enters the red zone. The Buckeyes have only six field goals and six touchdowns in 18 trips into the red zone this year, something they'll have to tidy up if Ohio State wants to repeat as national champions. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the most complete performance of the season by the Buckeyes on Saturday, giving them some momentum as they head into their stretch of night games.
Predict the score: