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Ohio State should roll over Maryland, but here's where some problem areas might be

The Buckeyes should be able to run the ball with ease, but Maryland might get a few big runs of their own

Ohio State severed its underperforming streak last week with a demolition of Nebraska. Now is the chance to begin a new streak with another game against an equally-volatile Maryland team. Maryland isn't great, but their explosive run game and pass rush could make things closer.

Avg team talent Turnover margin Net explosiveness (10+) Net explosiveness (20+) IsoPPP
Ohio State 91.43 +11 +54 +15 96th
Maryland 84.15 -4 +4 +8 51st

Going by the volatility numbers and if Maryland plays at their average performance, the Buckeyes would likely win even if the Buckeyes play at their theoretical floor. On the other hand, if Ohio State plays at their average performance, then Maryland still isn't likely to win playing at their ceiling. But Maryland is actually one of the few teams that is more volatile than Ohio State, so an upset isn't out of the realm of possibility by any means. In short, there's an extremely wide range of possible outcomes here, though the vast majority have Ohio State winning by a significant margin.

S&P+ margin Volatility Floor Ceiling
Ohio State 26.6 (4th) 27.1 -.5 53.7
Maryland -2.7 (74th) 28.1 -30.8 25.4

When Ohio State has the ball

S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 13 3 55%(2) 81 45 40.3%(74) 65 32.1(23) 5.39(7)
Maryland 86 127 49.7%(117) 76 46 41.8%(70) 22 29.8(88) 4.4(64)

  • Well, for starters, this game features the third-ranked rushing attack against the second-worst rushing defense in the country. That's not great for Maryland. Maryland's defense is the worst in the country in adjusted line yards, 11th-worst in rushing success rate, rarely gets in the backfield (17.4% of the time, 92nd), and allows five-yard carries on 41.6% of opponent runs (97th). Ohio State's run game is between 1st and 3rd in the country in all of these categories.
  • Mike Weber is apparently dealing with a sore shoulder and even if he is limited, you can still expect an efficient rushing performance from Demario McCall and Curtis Samuel. McCall has about a quarter as many carries as Weber this season, but has been similarly effective despite different running styles -- he averages the same six yards per carry, gains five yards on a little under 42% of his runs (1% fewer than Weber), and is slightly less explosive going by highlight yards per carry (though I'd chalk that part up to many of his carries going in garbage time with the second-string offense, as McCall has significant explosive potential). I think you have a good sense for Curtis Samuel's effectiveness: he has the highest yards/carry and opportunity rate averages of running backs (7.9 and 63%), and is the most explosive (6 highlight yards per opportunity). So the run game will be fine regardless of who lines up with J.T. in the backfield.
  • Maryland is far from a world-beater in terms of pass defense, but they're competent. Ranking 46th in passing S&P+ overall, most of that is due to preventing explosive passing plays (22nd in IsoPPP) rather than being effective overall against the pass (70th in passing success rate). That suggests a passing gameplan similar to last week against Nebraska: passes in the 5-10 yard range with the occasional downfield shot for a fairly high-percentage passing day overall. That, combined with the likely extremely effective run game should lead to an efficient overall offense performance for the Buckeyes.
  • One potential point of conflict might be the Maryland pass rush. The Terps are actually 29th in adjusted sack rate and do most of their damage on passing downs (3.2% on standard downs, 11.4% on passing downs sack rate). Everyone along the line pitches in, but the main pass rusher is Jessie Aniebonam, who has 5.5 sacks on the season. The worst-case scenario for the Ohio State offense is the Buckeyes getting in to repeated third-and-long situations and then getting beaten repeatedly by the Terps exploiting a weak link or two along the Buckeye offensive line (i.e., the Penn State game). Third-and-long situations might be tough to come by given the Buckeyes' rushing efficiency and the Terps' inability to stop the run, however.

When Maryland has the ball

S&P+ Rush S&P+ Rush SR Rush IsoPPP Pass S&P+ Pass SR Pass IsoPPP Avg FP Drives
Ohio State 7 18 34.4%(13) 77 5 34.1%(13) 79 25.1(5) 2.94(2)
Maryland 58 9 46.5%(39) 14 52 41.1%(64) 110 28.4(86) 4.75(44)

  • Just like Ohio State is likely to have an effective ground attack against the Terrapin defense, Maryland's path to the upset is likely through an explosive ground game. Maryland has two extremely effective running backs: freshman Lorenzo Harrison and sophomore Ty Johnson. These two are efficient -- averaging roughly a 45% opportunity rate, which is higher than Mike Weber's -- and even more explosive. Harrison averages 8.2 highlight yards per opportunity while Johnson averages 12.6. That could make for a frustrating day for the Ohio State defense. While the defense typically doesn't allow many efficient runs, the ones they do can be for decent gains, which is why they rank 77th in rushing IsoPPP. A few breakaway runs could keep this game much closer than expected.
  • The caveat to that is that the Terps are much less successful with scoring opportunities and Ohio State's defense is one of the best in the country at both making opponents drive the full length of the field (5th in average field position) and preventing touchdowns from scoring opportunities (averaging just 2.94 points per trip inside the 40, 2nd overall). Maryland is not great with offensive field position (86th) and less effective with scoring opportunities (averaging 4.75 points, 44th). Funny enough for Maryland, the problem doesn't seem to be the red zone itself as much as the 40-25 yard area: they average touchdowns on 69% of red zone trips (31st), but still rank 44th in finishing drives overall.
  • We haven't talked much about the Maryland passing game, and that's not necessarily because Maryland is bad or anything -- they rank 52nd in passing S&P+, which is not much worse than Ohio State -- but more because the Buckeye pass defense is just much better. Even the secondary's relative weakness -- allowing explosive plays (79th) -- isn't something that the Terps can likely exploit, since they rank 110th in passing IsoPPP themselves.
  • But much like last week, for as explosive as the Terps are, they also allow a ton of negative plays: they rank 89th in rushing stuff rate (20.4% of runs are stopped at or behind the line!) and 118th in adjusted sack rate! The Ohio State defense ranks 2nd overall in rushing stuff rate, so explosive runs may have to compensate for a high number of negative plays.

The 4 most important stats

  • Offensive rushing success rate: The Buckeyes should have a lot of success on the ground since Maryland fields one of the worst run defenses in the country.
  • Offensive adjusted sack rate: The one area that Maryland might be able to find some success on defense is by creating negative plays in obvious passing situations. The limitation is that the Buckeyes may not be put in too many obvious passing situations.
  • Defense rushing IsoPPP: Maryland's path to the upset is by creating explosive runs with two stellar running backs. The Buckeye defense will likely work on containing Harrison and Johnson and creating negative plays.
  • Defensive finishing drives: The Buckeyes should have advantages creating negative plays, making the Terps drive the full length of the field, and preventing scoring opportunities from becoming touchdowns.


S&P+: Ohio State 42, Maryland 15, 93.9% win probability

F/+: Ohio State by 26.7

My Pick: Ohio State 45, Maryland 14