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Linebacker Tre Watson could be Maryland’s defensive X-factor against Ohio State?

Watson has the second most interceptions in the Big Ten this season.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season, it’s no longer a surprise that the Ohio State Buckeyes have become pass-happy on offense. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins is 51 yards away from breaking Joe Germaine’s single-season passing mark of 3,330 yards, which has stood since 1998. Haskins has been efficient, too. En route to the team’s 9-1 mark, he’s completed 266-of-386 passes for 33 touchdowns, all while throwing just six interceptions.

This week, the Maryland Terrapins look to do what they can to stop the Buckeye train from rolling out of College Park, Md., with a win. If the figurative train were to be stopped, a big reason would be because of UMD linebacker Tre Watson. The Illinois graduate transfer is the leading tackler for the Terps with 98. He also leads the Big Ten with five interceptions—and that number of picks is second-best in the country, too. Watson is the definite playmaker on the Maryland defense, and could play spoiler for Haskins’ return to the Old Line State.

When they aren’t going for the deep ball, the Haskins/Buckeye passing attack go underneath with passes over the middle. And if they feel like using speed to beat you, a bubble screen or jet sweep to Parris Campbell seems to do the trick. For UMD to even have a chance against Ohio State, Watson will have to lead the tackling brigade. If Haskins finds KJ Hill over the middle, Watson has to be in the area code to bring him down. The YAC (yards after catch) is a big reason for why games go from being close to blowouts. If Haskins finds Campbell, Hill or Binjimen Victor on the field, and nobody is there to wrap them up, you’re gonna have a bad time. Fortunately for Maryland, Watson is the Big Ten’s leader in solo tackles per game, averaging 6.0. That, I think, is a huge advantage, as Watson is able to bring guys down on his own accord. Against Penn State, a Victor-Haskins screen led to a momentum shifting TD, thanks to Victor slipping his initial tackler. Don’t expect the same with Watson.

Briefly, I mentioned Watson has an impressive five interceptions on the season. For a linebacker at UMD, that’s tied for the most in school history. Just last week, he recorded an INT against Indiana. He’s also housed an interceptions, too. Take a look at the pick-6 he had against Minnesota back on Sept. 22.

He just has a knack for finding the football. If it’s not tackles, it’s interceptions; and when he doesn’t get the pick, he can still disrupt opposing offenses. Watson has also tallied two pass breakups and a forced fumble this season. Those are pretty good stats for an LB. In comparison, safety Darnell Savage has the second-most interceptions at four, and of the eight Terps who have recorded pass breakups, Watson is tied for third.

Dealing with this renaissance man, who’s marked as the weak-side linebacker, has the makings of being a matchup problem for Ohio State. Stellar defense last week contained Air Haskins, even though he still eclipsed 200 yards passing. The UMD defense has recorded 16 sacks on the season, and when you combine that with an OSU offensive line that hasn’t played the greatest football, sacks can be brewed. Against Nebraska, Haskins was sacked once—leading to a fumble—and then was sacked twice at Michigan State. The Terps could blitz Haskins, while having Watson watch out for the bubble screen. Since Watson is the definitive tackler on this UMD squad, there is some reassurance that a gamble on a blitz won’t lead to it completely backfiring for a huge gain. If Maryland wants to beat Ohio State, they’ll need to rush Haskins on his deliveries. In that scenario, Watson has to be there to stop the pass, or intercept it. On the flipside, if Haskins can get a rhythm together, the only hope for a defense is that the receivers drop the ball. Otherwise, that’s how a 300- or 400-yard effort gets create for the Buckeye QB.

Even though he’s only recently been in College Park, Watson has made an immediate impact for the Terrapins and has been a bright spot for a program that has gone through a lot since May. He’s been named captain twice this season, and when you hear him talk about the game, you can understand why.

Watson is pretty good at this game called football. He has the leadership and playmaking ability that you’d want in a linebacker. This Saturday, the Terps will need all of it (and then some) if they want to pull off the colossal upset against Ohio State.

I think in the end, though, the Buckeye offense will do what’s needed to win. Balance has been the name of the game over the past couple weeks, so a good flurry of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber rushes will complement the arm of Haskins. While I think Watson will secure a 10-plus tackle effort against OSU, it’s the rest of the defense that could be the letdown. If there were 11 Watsons on the field, I’d be worried. However, there aren’t. This season, UMD lost to Michigan and Michigan State by 21 points, and I feel this upcoming game will also be of the three TD loss variety.