One of this college football season's biggest (and most cathartic, depending where your fanhood lies) early story lines was Maryland's then-upset of Texas in Week 1. D.J. Durkin's team hung 51 points on the Longhorns despite losing QB Tyrrell Pigrome to a torn ACL. It was an inauspicious start to Tom Herman's Texas career after his meteoric rise from architect of Ohio State's championship offense to Houston head man to holder of the most coveted job in the Lone Star State.
Durkin got his win against Urban Meyer's former student. But now he and his Maryland team have to go up against the master. Spoiler alert: things might not go very well for the Terrapins.
Name: Mike Weber
Height/Weight: 5'10, 214 lbs.
Line: 17 carries, 86 rush yards, 3 TDs
Weber carried the ball 10 times against Rutgers, recording 44 yards on the ground and three touchdowns as the Buckeyes shutout the Scarlet Knights, 56-0. Though his yards per carry line was hardly robust, Weber was absolutely tenacious near the end zone, picking up all three scores in short yardage by powering through defenders.
Still battling a nagging hamstring injury that almost caused him to have season-ending surgery, Weber hasn't been the version of himself we saw in 2016. But the emergence of speedster J.K. Dobbins means that he probably doesn't have to be. Will Maryland's defense be the one that allows the Buckeyes to establish a "thunder and lightning" style platoon?
Unlike Ohio State's last three opponents, Maryland is actually having a pretty good year! They're 3-1, including wins over decent Texas and Minnesota teams. One big problem for the Terps: their victories have been Pyrrhic in nature, with season-ending injuries to star players like Pigrome.
Defensively, Maryland is about as average as you can get. They're 58th in defensive S&P+, which is still worse than Rutgers, even with last week's drubbing accounted for. (That a 3-1 team with two quality wins statistically has a worse defense than a 1-4 team that just lost by more than 50 probably says more about Rutgers' historically inept offense than anything.) One place they really struggle? Containing explosive run plays. The Terps rank 73rd nationally in rushing defense IsoPPP+, the SB Nation metric that deals with explosive plays. More on that in a minute.
There are some solid contributors on the Maryland defense, even with senior linebacker Jesse Aniebonam out indefinitely with an ankle fracture. His fellow LB Jermaine Carter Jr. has been a stout contributor, recording eight total tackles last week against Minnesota and six more in the game against UCF. Cornerback Darnell Savage Jr. has lived up to his name, also finishing near the top of the team in tackles in each of Maryland's contests in 2017.
What to watch for
Okay, now that we've given praise to some admittedly excellent Terrapin defenders, we can get on to the good stuff without making #MarylandInternet mad. (Yeah, right.)
Remember that part above about explosive plays? That's the kind of stat that screams "155-yard night for J.K. Dobbins." Mike Weber is one week further along in his rehab, but even at 100 percent, he's a fundamentally different back than Dobbins: a punishing runner with great field vision and smart cuts, certainly, but not as much the kind of guy who hits the edge and is all of a sudden 50 yards downfield.
The Buckeyes will need both styles to be successful as the season wears on, legs get tired, and the defensive lines get beefier. How Weber and Dobbins—and hell, even Demario McCall, who shone in mop-up duty last weekend—are balanced by the coaching staff this week could be an indicator of what we'll see going forward.
However the split works out, the Buckeyes will need to put some points on the board, as Maryland presents the best offense Ohio State has faced since the Oklahoma game. Either way, it's great to see Weber getting back up to speed rather than getting Wally Pipp'd.