After dispatching Michigan State 26-6 in East Lansing, Mich. last Saturday, Ohio State’s game next week against Michigan is setting up to be a colossal showdown in Columbus. But, before the Buckeyes can turn their attention to the Wolverines, they’ll have to hit the road for the final time in the regular season to take on a Maryland team that is looking to become bowl eligible.
Ohio State used their best defensive performance of the year, along with some pinpoint accuracy from punter Drue Chrisman to avoid the upset attempt of Michigan State last week. The Buckeye defense forced three turnovers against the Spartans, which marked the first turnover Ohio State has forced since the fourth quarter of the Minnesota game. The Buckeyes made the most of their opportunities against the Spartans, turning those three turnovers into 17 points.
Saturday started off rough for Chrisman after the sophomore’s first punt only went four yards, but he more than made up for it in the second half, with all five of his punts being downed inside Michigan State’s six-yard line. For the game, Chrisman placed six of his nine punts inside the Michigan State 20-yard line. The accuracy from Chrisman’s punts put Michigan State in a deep hole that their struggling offense wasn’t able to dig out of without making mistakes, allowing the Buckeyes to pull away late in the game.
A gutty performance
The biggest surprise from Saturday’s game against Michigan State was Ohio State finding some success on the ground against the nation’s top rushing defense. Mike Weber continued his mastery of the Spartans, registering his third 100-yard rushing game against Michigan State. The Buckeyes are now 15-0 when either Weber or J.K. Dobbins rush for over 100 yards.
Close as can be
Despite Dobbins rushing for just 28 yards on 14 carries against Michigan State, the sophomore running back still leads Ohio State with 712 yards rushing this year. Weber is right on Dobbins’ heels for the team lead though, with the junior from Detroit sitting just one yard behind Dobbins at 711. While Weber is averaging nearly a yard per carry better than Dobbins, his four rushing touchdowns trail the seven ground scores Dobbins has this year.
A continued attack on the record books
If all goes according to plan, quarterback Dwayne Haskins should be able to set two more major single-season passing records on Saturday against Maryland. Haskins should have no problem getting the 51 passing yards he needs to move ahead of Joe Germaine’s school record of 3,330 passing yards which was set in 1998.
Haskins will need just a little more time to throw for the three touchdowns he needs to pass J.T. Barrett’s school record of 35 touchdown passes that was set last season. With at least two touchdown passes in all but one game this season, it’s hard to imagine Haskins heading into next Saturday’s game against Michigan without at least a share of the single-season touchdown passes record.
Thousand yard trio
It was hard for Ohio State’s passing game to find traction last week in less than ideal conditions in East Lansing, as Haskins threw for a season-low 227 yards. Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill led the Buckeyes with six catches each, but the big story was Terry McLaurin. The senior wide receiver gained 63 yards on his five receptions, with the yardage being enough to put him over the 1,000 yard mark on his career. Now for the first time in school history, Ohio State has three receivers on the same team with at least 1,000 career receiving yards.
Johnnie be good
The Buckeyes receiving corps could add another member to that group if Johnnie Dixon is able to put together a couple of solid performances before the end of the year. Dixon is currently 143 yards away from 1,000 for his career, but he’ll have to do better than he did against Michigan State, when he didn’t record any catches. The senior wideout had come into the game against the Spartans with 154 yards receiving against Purdue and Nebraska, and he’ll be looking to return to form against Maryland.
Ohio State continued to struggle with their pass rush against Michigan State, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t able to put some pressure on the Spartans on Saturday. The Buckeyes weren’t able to record a sack in a game for the first time this season, and now have just eight sacks over the past five games.
The Dre’Mont double
The one source of constant production on the defensive line for Ohio State has been Dre’Mont Jones. While Jones failed to extend his streak of seven straight games with a tackle for loss last week, the junior from Cleveland set a bit of history for the Buckeyes. With his fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter against the Spartans, Jones recorded his second defensive touchdown of the year. Dating back to 1968, Ohio State hadn’t had a defensive lineman score two touchdowns in a season before Jones accomplished the feat.
Unlikely to be tested
With Maryland’s difficulties passing the football this year, the defensive backs figure to get a little bit of a break this week. Instead, this should provide the linebackers a chance to make some plays in trying to slow down the Maryland rushing attack, and build off of last week’s performance in which they only allowed 54 yards rushing to Michigan State.
Signs of improvement
Malik Harrison is currently Ohio State’s leader in tackles with 52 so far this season. After recording at least 10 tackles against Purdue and Nebraska, Harrison had just four stops against Michigan State. The lack of tackles didn’t mean Harrison wasn’t active though, as he was credited with two passes defensed.
After missing most of the early part of the season as he recovered from an achilles injury, Tuf Borland is starting to find his groove, with at least six tackles in three of the last four games. Borland now has 40 on the year, which is just two behind Pete Werner’s 42 tackles for second-most by an Ohio State linebacker this year. All three of the starting linebackers should see even more time this weekend, as Ohio State will be without Baron Browning, who will miss his second game in a row due to injury.
History with Maryland
Ohio State will be looking to avoid their first-ever setback against Maryland, whom they have beaten in their four previous meetings since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes really haven’t been challenged by Maryland, winning each of the four meetings by at least 21 points.
The Buckeyes have been especially dominant over the past two years against Maryland, scoring 62 points in both of those games. The last trip to College Park saw Ohio State jump out to a 45-3 halftime lead in the 62-3 win over the Terrapins. Last year was much of the same in Columbus, as the Buckeyes were up 41-7 on Maryland at the break, before cruising to a 62-14 win.
Much like Ohio State, Maryland was embroiled in scandal heading into the season, but what the Terrapins were dealing with was even more serious than what we saw in Columbus. In late May, 19-year old offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed during workouts, and passed away two weeks later due to heatstroke.
Head coach D.J. Durkin was placed on leave prior to the season, but was reinstated for a day before eventually being fired. Durkin was found to be at the head of a physically and mentally abusive program, and in his place offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been named interim coach. A number of other key figures in Maryland’s athletic department have also either being fired or parted ways with the school.
With the focus during the season on issues that were taking place off of the field, it’s rather amazing the job that Canada has done in leading the Terrapins to five wins so far this season. Maryland started the year with a stunning win over Texas, and it only seems recently that the Terps have started to show the effects of a tough season off of the field, having lost three of their last four games.
As if Canada’s job wasn’t already tough enough, last week against Indiana, starting quarterback Kasim Hill suffered a torn ACL for the second straight season. Hill’s numbers weren’t flashy, but he provided a steadying influence behind center for the Terrapins, tossing nine touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Taking the snaps now for Maryland will be sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, who started last year’s season opener against Texas for Maryland before suffering a season-ending injury in the second half. Pigrome impressed in relief of Hill last week, completing 10 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in the 34-32 loss to the Hoosiers.
It’s not likely Maryland will put a lot on Pigrome’s plate though, as that isn’t really how their offense operates. The Terrapins want to run the football on their opponents, as evidenced by having 1,000 more rushing yards than passing yards this season. Including Pigrome, Maryland has six players with at least 150 yards rushing so far this year.
Youth and experience
The most pleasant surprise for Maryland this year has been the performance of freshman running back Anthony McFarland, who is leading the team with 724 yards rushing this season. The 210 yards McFarland rushed for last week against Indiana was the most in school history by a freshman. The performance by McFarland marked his third 100-yard rushing game of the season, making him the first-ever freshman in program history to hit that number.
It would greatly help Maryland in their upset bid if running back Ty Johnson is healthy enough to play in Saturday’s game. After rushing for 1,004 yards in 2016, and 875 yards in 2017, Johnson was looking to close out his Maryland career with another big season, but injuries have derailed those hopes. Earlier this week, Canada said that Johnson would be a game-time decision for Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes.
The majority of Johnson’s 506 rushing yards on the season have come against Bowling Green, Minnesota, and Rutgers, where he rushed for at least 120 yards in all three games. Johnson has rushed for just 126 yards in the other six games that he has been available for. The senior hasn’t had much success in his three previous contests against the Buckeyes, with his best rushing total coming last year, when he ran for 57 yards in the blowout loss.
It’s puzzling to see just how ineffective Maryland’s passing offense has been this year, especially when considering that they have a couple of talented wide receivers in Taivon Jacobs and Jeshaun Jones. While Jacobs might not be on the same level as former Maryland wide receivers Stefon Diggs or D.J. Moore, he did pull in 47 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns last year. This season though has seen a decrease in production, with Jacobs having just 21 catches for 253 yards, both of which lead Maryland.
Luckily for Maryland the future could be bright at wide receiver with Jones. The freshman leads the Terps with four TD receptions this year, and last week he hauled in a career-high six catches against Indiana. If Maryland decides to commit to throwing the football more over the next few years, Jones is a good building block to have at receiver.
Along with McFarland and Jones, another freshman making noise is kicker Joseph Petrino, who is the only kicker in the country to have not missed a kick so far this season. Last week against Indiana, Petrino converted all four of his field goal attempts, making him the first Maryland kicker to make four field goals in a game since 2011. Petrino is now 10 for 10 on field goal attempts and has made all 34 extra point attempts.
Maryland has been able to defy some of the odds this year because of their ballhawking defense. The Terrapins have picked off 17 passes so far, which is the most in the country, and is one of just three FBS teams to record at least one interception in every game this year. The pass defense of the Terrapins is second in the Big Ten with just 181.2 yards per game allowed, and five of their 10 opponents have failed to reach 200 yards passes.
The leader of Maryland’s defense is linebacker Tre Watson, who has five interceptions so far this season. Watson not only leads the Terrapins in interceptions, but is also nearing 100 tackles on the year. On three different occasions in 2018, Watson has recorded at least 13 tackles in a game, with his season-high of 15 coming against both Temple and Iowa.
Senior Savage Jr.
Just on Watson’s heels in terms of interceptions is senior defensive back Darnell Savage Jr., who has four interceptions this year. Savage’s best performance of the year came against Rutgers when he picked off two passes, and he was also able to return an interception 23 yards for a touchdown in the loss to Temple. If Savage is able to pick off a couple more passes this year, he’ll hit double digits before seeing his Maryland career come to a close.
Brooks was here
Savage has made plenty of plays in the secondary with his interceptions, but Antonie Brooks Jr. has been able to put some pressure in the backfield from that group. The junior defensive back has 9.5 tackles for loss this season, which has already matched his total for last year. Two and a half of those tackles behind the line of scrimmage were counted as sacks. Brooks can do some work in coverage as well, with three interceptions and six passes defensed over the past two years.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 34, Maryland 22
Win Probability: Ohio State 75.8%
Compared to results against the Buckeyes over the past four years, a 12-point loss to Ohio State would have to feel like a win for the Terrapins. Ohio State looks to have righted the ship a bit after the embarrassing loss to Purdue last month, and the Buckeyes will want to put a sharp performance together before returning home to take on Michigan next week to close out the regular season.
Ohio State’s problems on defense aren’t completely fixed, but they have done a better job over the past two games at slowing down opponents. The biggest difference has been the improvement of the Buckeye defense on third down. Over the last two games, opponents have converted just six of 30 third down attempts.
The Buckeyes should be able to create a little more confidence in their running game after the strides that they’ve made in the last two games. Maryland is allowing over 160 yards per game on the ground to opponents, so expect Ohio State to send a heavy dose of Dobbins and Weber at the Terrapins.
Ohio State’s talent and depth is just too much for Maryland to handle on Saturday afternoon in College Park. The Terrapins are beaten up physically and mentally, and while they will give a better effort than the last two years against the Buckeyes, this one might not be as close as the experts think as Ohio State looks to give Michigan something to think about heading into next week.