How do you welcome someone new to the neighborhood? Certainly an introduction is in order — or perhaps a housewarming present? But entering year four of Maryland’s Big 10 football journey, the Buckeyes have yet to deliver a very pleasant gift. Ohio State is 3-0 against the Terps, winning by an average of 36 points per contest. Favored by 30 points entering Saturday, Ohio State is poised to celebrate Homecoming with their first Big Ten home win of the season. But this isn’t the same OSU team that rolled the Terps 62-3 last season. The identity of this Buckeye team remains a real question. The early part of Ohio State’s season has been a tale of two teams: one with unsteady offensive performance and a porous defensive secondary; the other, a lights-out defense complemented by an offense that can turn a slight crease into a 70-yard score.
The borderline Buckeyes showed up to start the season. They are the team that trailed Indiana at the half and a week later were overmatched by Oklahoma. Those Buckeyes allowed 278 yards passing and two scores by Hoosier quarterback Richard Lagow (before limiting a nearly all air-based Indiana attack to 136 yards in the second half). They also allowed Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to pass for 386 yards and three touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, during those six quarters Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett completed only 51% of his passes — going 29 of 56 for 278 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Barrett ran 23 times for 79 yards, just 3.4 yards per carry.
But that borderline Buckeye team has not been seen in weeks. Ohio State's passing defense held a run-heavy Army, a bad UNLV squad, and an improving Rutgers to less than 100 yards passing each. Meanwhile, the offense sprung to life. The Buckeyes enter Saturday with their first back-to-back 600-yard offensive performances since 2013. Maryland is a team that knows who they are — resilient as all hell. They take that from coach D.J. Durkin. Durkin got his start in 2001 serving as a graduate assistant for then first-time head coach Urban Meyer, and rejoined Meyer at Florida in 2010. After coaching Michigan’s hard-nosed defense under Jim Harbaugh in 2015, Durkin was offered the Maryland job (Durkin’s 2015 Michigan defense held Maryland to 105 total yards in a 28-0 victory, a dominant win that raised some eyebrows in College Park).
In 2016, Durkin took the reigns of a Maryland program unmoored from winning. The Terps had gone 12 seasons without double digit wins. They had racked up a record of 23 wins and 39 losses over the previous five seasons. And they stood at a 5-11 mark in conference since joining the Big 10 from the ACC in 2014.
The Terps notched three more victories then in 2015, to end with a 6-7 record in Durkin's first season as coach. They also brought in one of the best recruiting classes in Maryland history ranking No. 18 nationally, ahead of Texas, Nebraska, UCLA, Oregon, and Virginia Tech, among others.
After an upset win at Texas to open the 2017 campaign, injuries have not been kind to Maryland. They enter Saturday’s game using their third string quarterback, sophomore Max Bortenschlager. Starter Tyrrell Pigrome and backup Kasim Hill were both lost to season-ending ACL injuries in a span of only six quarters. The Terps only loss on the season came two weeks ago after Hill fell injured against UCF. Maryland went down with him, 38-10. They enter Saturday after pulling off an upset against undefeated Minnesota 31-24 on the road in the first game started by Bortenschlager.
Ohio State’s biggest advantages
Barrett’s leadership. Already up 28-0 in the second quarter last week, J.T. Barrett completed a workman-like 13-yard pass to Terry McLaurin. With it he became the all-time leader in Ohio State passing yards, surpassing the 7,457 yard mark set by Art Schlichter in 1981.
With the victory against the Scarlet Knights, Barrett improved to 30-5 as a starter — the fourth 30-game winner in OSU history, joining Schlichter, Cornelius Green, and Bobby Hoying.
Barrett has accounted for 13 passing touchdowns against only a single interception through five games this season. Singled out for criticism with an inability to connect on deep balls, Barrett’s downfield production has improved in recent weeks against lesser competition. The OSU receiving corps has showed depth and flashes of excellence, with seven Buckeyes having hauled in touchdowns and broken 100 yards receiving on the year. Two scores last week were hauled in by wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, who notched his first game with 100 yards receiving as a Buckeye.
Barrett was sharp against Rutgers, finishing 15 of 23 for 286 yards and three touchdowns. He is the engine behind the Buckeyes’ offense. If Barrett can continue his recent form throwing the ball down the field, with receivers like Dixon continuing to develop into playmakers, Ohio State will be a handful for any defensive coordinator to slow down. Expect a big day for Barrett Saturday as he lines up against a Maryland passing defense ranked No. 93 in the country.
Weber, Dobbins duo. Ohio State is tinkering with offensive packages to get running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins on the field at the same time. Eleven Warriors reported Weber was excited about the possibilities of him and Dobbins on the field together, "I feel like it’ll be something scary…We both are pretty similar but different at the same time, and I feel like defenses are not going to be able to handle that if we do it the right way."
After five games, Ohio State has the top ranked rushing offense in the Big Ten and No. 20 ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 238.8 yards per game. Saturday’s victory against Rutgers provided a roadmap of Ohio State's future rushing attack with Weber, Dobbins, and Barrett each having at least 6 carries. Urban Meyer-coached teams have had only seven players rush for 1000 yards. All of those players breaking a grand on the ground have been Buckeyes. Dobbins is currently on pace to rush for 1000 yards — and don’t sleep on a healthy Weber making a charge for the mark too.
With Weber back healthy from a severe hamstring injury that almost kept him out the entire season, a 'smash and dash' Buckeye ground attack will give headaches to Maryland's front seven.
Another Bosa-led fearsome front. After a road-win against Minnesota, third-string Maryland quarterback Max Bortenschlager will make his second consecutive road start. He does so against an Ohio State defensive front that has been dominant. Excluding the triple option offense of Army, Ohio State has limited every opponent this year to less than 180 yards rushing. That includes holding Indiana to 17 yards on the ground, and Oklahoma to 104 yards, as each turned to the pass to attack the Buckeye defense.
Nick Bosa leads the way as the disrupter-in-chief for the defensive front. Bosa has a team-leading three sacks on the season, and eight tackles for loss. Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Dre’Mont Jones, and even true freshman Chase Young have made a habit of making plays in the offensive backfield. This may be the least experienced quarterback the Buckeyes face all season, with Bortenschlager really having only two weeks of practice under his belt with the first team. Nick Bosa and the rest of the badgering Buckeye line may make his first visit to the Shoe an unwelcome one.
Maryland’s biggest advantages
Fearless road warriors. The Terps were a 19-point underdog at No. 23 Texas to open the season — they won by 10 points. The Terps were a 13-point underdog at undefeated Minnesota last week — they won by 7 points. As the saying goes, one should fear the turtle. But it’s more accurate this year to say that the turtle is fearless.
Despite unlucky injury breaks, Maryland has found a way to win as big underdogs on the road. They have been defined by their resilience. When starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome went down with an injury against Texas, backup freshman quarterback Kasim Hill stepped in to lead two fourth quarter scoring drives and secure a Maryland victory.
After Hill went down in a 38-10 loss to UCF, third-string Max Bortenschlager went 18-28 for two touchdowns and zero interceptions to upset Minnesota. Don’t expect the Terps to be intimidated when they take the field Saturday — they are getting used to being big road underdogs and walking away as winners.
Ground Attack. The Terps’ rushing offense ranks No. 24 in the nation, averaging 233 yards per game. They are led by Ty Johnson, who has established himself as one of the better running backs in the Big Ten. After rushing for more than 1000 yards last year in his sophomore campaign, Johnson has been a force in 2017. Johnson is ranked No. 8 nationally in all-purpose yards averaging 160 per game, second in the Big Ten, trailing only Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. In his past six games dating back to last season, he’s averaged 10.3 yards per carry. Johnson has had some of his best performances this year away from College Park. Against Texas, he rolled for 132 yards and a touchdown. Against Minnesota, he rumbled for 130 yards and a score. Maryland is 3-0 this season when Johnson rushes for 100 yards. Expect Johnson to test Ohio State’s front-seven Saturday.
Moore than good. While Ty Johnson powers the Terps on the ground, wide receiver DJ Moore is Maryland’s playmaker through the air. Moore leads the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns (5), yards (403), yards per game (100.8) and receptions per game (7.5). Moore has been remarkably consistent through four games, notching a touchdown, seven receptions, and more than 80 yards in every contest. Against Minnesota he hauled in 8 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. That including three critical receptions on Maryland’s game winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
Moore is having an elite season and will pose a significant challenge for Ohio State’s secondary.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 42, Maryland 16; Win Probability: Ohio State 93%
Down to their third string quarterback, Maryland has shown a kind of grit that few expected in D.J. Durkin’s second year at the helm rebuilding the program. But even if the Terps were at full strength, Ohio State has too many weapons offensively for Maryland to hang around long. The game will be a good test of Ohio State’s run defense against a top-25 ranked unit. And how the Buckeyes handle dynamic Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore will shed light on how far Ohio State has come from early season pass coverage woes. But, at the end of the day, the Buckeyes will roll.
How to watch, stream, listen to Maryland v. Ohio State:
Game Time: Saturday, October 7, 4:00 PM on FOX
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM