What on paper seemed to be a relatively unexciting Saturday of college football erupted into something much more volatile and interesting as the day wore on. The crown jewel of the unexpected spasms of excitement came early in the evening, as the Pitt Panthers sealed an upset win over the No. 2 Clemson Tigers. No. 4 Washington faced its toughest test of the season against the No. 20 USC Trojans, and followed the Tigers’ suit by coming up empty-handed. To cap off the evening, the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines lost on a last-second field goal to the Fightin’ Contract Extensions of Iowa. Power, the novelist David Mitchell once wrote, mocks all its illustrious favorites as they lay dying. So it is in bizarre British literature; so it is in college football.
The Ohio State Buckeyes—no one’s idea of a favored power for a good many weeks—had a slightly different day taking on the Maryland Terrapins. For the second consecutive game, Urban Meyer’s team walked off the field on the right side of a 62-3 boat race. There’s an awful lot of praise to be handed out here, with the Buckeyes once again looking like the team we all thought they might be after the Oklahoma game. Let’s dive in.
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Curtis Samuel, H-back: The most obvious fix for Ohio State’s midseason woes has finally been implemented. After unconscionably leaving the shifty playmaker out of the game plan for several ugly weeks, the Buckeyes have completely shifted their offensive focus to Samuel. It’s paying dividends. Samuel is the only player in college football with more than 500 rushing and 500 receiving yards this season; that his increase in touches has matched Ohio State’s return to form is no accident.
Against the Terrapins, Samuel rushed four times for 38 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Buckeyes in receiving, reeling in five catches for another 74 yards and a touchdown. If Ohio State wants to beat Michigan in two weeks, they’re going to need a huge day from Samuel (and a complete abandonment of the ultra-conservative offense that Urban Meyer tends to default to in tight games when the script isn’t working).
Raekwon McMillan, LB: McMillan, like Samuel, simultaneously makes this column an easy one to write (because he wrecks fools so consistently) and a difficult one to write (because one runs out of new adjectives to describe the same person’s excellence after 10 consecutive weeks). McMillan is a force on Ohio State’s defense, the kind of player who leads by example and seems to be involved in every single tackle.
Against a hopelessly outgunned Maryland offense, Raekwon cooked. He was in on 10 total tackles (recording six on his own), including a sack and two tackles for loss. He killed a Terrapin drive on his own by punching the ball out from Wes Brown’s hands. He is, was, and will continue to be a monster on defense. This is what Wilton Speight’s nightmares look like.
Jerome Baker, LB: Baker provides a lightning complement to the steady, thunderous rumble of McMillan. The speedy outside linebacker came to play on Saturday, getting in on seven tackles, including a sack. Singling out individual defensive excellence is tough when the entire 11-man squad is playing so lights-out that they’ve given up six total points across the last two weeks, but without Baker—who made things miserable for the rotating cast of QBs and backs that Maryland trotted out—that line might look a little different.
J.T. Barrett, QB: “J.T. Barrett, pocket passer” is a development that not many saw coming heading into this season, and one that would’ve been unthinkable just a few weeks ago. But that’s precisely who Barrett has been in the past two weeks. The coaches should be lauded for modifying the Buckeye game plan away from the vanilla read-option and instead trying to open things up downfield. Barrett, who’s had more time to throw in the last two weeks than he could’ve dreamed of against Penn State or Northwestern, has made the most of his chances. He’s not perfect, but it’s a reinvigorated offense with him going through his progressions and hitting guys beyond ten yards.
Against Maryland, Barrett was excellent through the air, going 18-of-27 for 253 yards and a brace of touchdowns. One of those scores was among the prettiest throws of Barrett’s career, as he put the ball where only Curtis Samuel could get it as No, 4 streaked into the end zone. He didn’t abandon the run entirely, either, adding another two TDs on 11 carries for 47 yards. At his best, Barrett seems to play the game at a different speed than everyone else. This felt like one of those times.
Demario McCall, RB: There’s an embarrassment of riches on Ohio State’s bench. More on the rest of them in a minute—let’s talk about No. 30, Demario McCall. McCall, who has mostly seen touches in garbage time this season, got involved earlier than usual in this game despite Mike Weber’s efficacy (12 carries, 93 yards) on the ground. McCall made the most of his looks, going for 53 yards and a score on 13 carries. He’s not as powerful as Weber, but dang, McCall can really run, and he showed that off against the Terrapins.
Missed opportunities: For the second consecutive week, the Buckeyes came up seven points short of setting the internet aflame with jokes. A shame.
BUY: Ohio State’s playoff chances. With Michigan’s loss, the Buckeyes now need Penn State to drop another game if they want to play in the Big Ten championship. The Nittany Lions
have to go on the road into the birthplace of college football probably won’t lose to Rutgers next week, which means Michigan State is the only real hope for this scenario to unfold. Still, if the Buckeyes beat Michigan, there’s a great chance they still go to the playoff even if they don’t play for the conference championship, given today’s shakeups. There’s no precedent for this yet in the playoff system, but this could be the year it finally happens.
SELL: D.J. Durkin’s Tom Thibodeau mask. For the fourth time this season, starting Maryland quarterback Perry Hills left a game with an injury. He’s been plagued by problems with his throwing shoulder all year, yet not only did he start for the Terrapins, he was also called on to execute a few designed runs. On one of those, he took the hit that sidelined him for the rest of the game. Maryland has a few of the more seasoned backup QBs in the Big Ten—why a) start a banged-up Hills and b) then call plays that increase his likelihood of aggravating an injury? Not the most sensible thing in the world.
BUY: Ohio State’s run defense. Look at these stupid numbers. (via ESPN.com)
BUY: Ohio State’s bench. Joe Burrow, Demario McCall, Binjimen Victor, K.J. Hill...the list of Buckeye backups who balled out on Saturday night is a long one. The future looks bright.