Stopping big plays has been something the Ohio State Buckeyes defense has been working on throughout the season. Oregon State, TCU, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota and even Nebraska found ways to pick up sizable amounts of yardage in one fell swoop. Whether that was through the air or on the ground, the Buckeye defense had a handful of plays each week that surrendered a fair chunk of yardage.
Last week against Michigan State, the Bucks stifled the opposing offense. Granted, the backup MSU quarterback made an appearance, and their running back, Connor Heyward, was barely utilized. In short: It was a good effort in East Lansing, Mich., for the Scarlet and Gray.
This week, they are back on the road; this time, it’s out East to College Park, Md., for a contest with the Maryland Terrapins, who need just one more win to get bowl eligible. This is the home finale for the Terps, as they’ll be on the road on Nov. 24 to face Penn State. After all the program has been through this season, this is a big home game for them. And with that being said, don’t be too surprised if running back Ty Johnson has a breakout performance inside Maryland Stadium.
That is, if Johnson does play. He’s had a lingering calf injury for the past couple games, and according to interim head coach Matt Canada, he’s a game-time decision for Saturday’s noontime kickoff.
Already this season, he’s proved that he can be a threat on the gridiron. Just take a look at some of his highlights from the first half of the 2018 campaign.
One of the most telling games in that highlight package was against Texas. I know, it was a Week 1 matchup with rain being a factor in the early going, but the fact that he was able to make those kinds of move against a full-loaded Longhorn squad shows that he can play football.
Of the things that Johnson does well, it’s his ability to go East-West. Ohio State’s defensive line is stout, and I’ve not subscribed to the theory that he’s going to run straight through Dre’Mont Jones and Chase Young if given the opportunity. If he’s able to bounce to the outside, he’ll have a good chance to find space—and open field to run. Purdue did that really well against OSU, especially when they were utilizing wide receiver Rondale Moore, and it paid off time and time again. The Buckeyes have improved, but after a gritty performance against Michigan State, who knows what’s going to happen this week against UMD.
Penn State laid down the blueprint for how one could go about beating the OSU defense: spreading the field of play. That enabled Trace McSorley to run (or pass) depending on what looked most viable. Maryland could be doing the same thing on Saturday. Quarterback Kasim Hill was injured last week in a tough loss to Indiana, but backup Tyrrell Pigrome was able to have a respectable afternoon (10-of-13 for 146 yards and a TD) against the Hoosiers. Anthony McFarland filled in for an injured Ty Johnson, and had a career-game; the redshirt freshman rushed for 210 yards on 29 carries. In an article by Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun, Johnson said he was a little bit angry after not being able to contribute to his team’s effort because of injury. He didn’t see the field against Michigan State, and only saw limited time against Indiana before being sidelined again. In his final home game, even if he isn’t 100 percent healthy, I expect him to give 100 percent effort. That enough could spark the UMD offense to make this game competitive—and not a complete breeze for the Buckeyes, as they are eyeing the Nov. 24 date with Michigan.
Kickoffs are another place Johnson could do some damage. He housed a return against Michigan thanks to quality blocking. Urban Meyer has taken great pride in making special teams one of the key facets of the game, as guys work their way onto the offense/defense after putting in their time on special teams. Getting around the blocks and containing anything that gets kicked near Johnson should be a top priority. Last season, he housed a kick against OSU inside The Horseshoe.
A big reason for the Buckeyes win against Michigan State was due in large part to pinning them down deep in their own territory. While Johnson doesn’t field punts (that’s the responsibility of Taivon Jacobs), having UMD start on their own 20 instead of their own 40 changes the complexity of the game.
Unfortunately for the Terps, the injury bug has reared its head again this season. Quarterback Kasim Hill is out for the remainder of the season after an ACL tear in his left leg. Last season, Hill tore the ACL in his right leg. Another QB, Matt Bortenschlager, is out for the season with an ankle injury. Now going deep into the bag for their third signal-caller, redshirt sophomore Tyrone Pigrome will be thrust into action. As mentioned earlier, Pigrome did well in relief work against the Hoosiers, but IU is nowhere close to being an OSU.
McFarland’s big weekend in Bloomington, Ind., may be met with a very average day at home against the Buckeyes. I say that because against Michigan State, he had eight carries for 17 yards.
It’ll be tough sledding for the Terrapins in their home season finale. While I expect Ohio State to win by a modest margin, things could get interesting if Johnson enters the game. If he doesn’t play, then, well, it might be best for the Terps to stay in their shell, because it could be a long November afternoon in College Park this Saturday.