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5 things we learned from Ohio State’s overtime escape against Maryland

There’s a lot to unpack from the Buckeyes’ survival against a Terrapin team on the fringe of a bowl appearance.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The good news: Ohio State defeated Maryland. The bad news: It was probably the ugliest win we’ve seen in the Urban Meyer era. Granted a win is a win, but when the occasional scare turns into a week-in-week-out game of survival there comes a point when enough is enough.

Now at 10-1, 7-1, the No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes have reached a 10-win plateau 14 times since the year 2000. And once again, the Scarlet and Gray have reached the final week of the season in primo position for a Big Ten Championship appearance. Win next week against Michigan, and the Buckeyes claim the Big Ten East crown for the second-straight season. Also, the win at Maryland keeps OSU in pursuit of a playoff spot. While they probably didn’t help their case too much, and will likely need help, they at least didn’t get eliminated from consideration.

So, back to the original topic of discussion: Ohio State’s performance at Maryland. You probably felt a full Thanksgiving feast of emotions on Saturday afternoon. The main feast being Dwayne Haskins and J.K. Dobbins carrying the offense; the mashed potatoes being the receiving corps showing up big, and the accompanying graving being spectacular grabs in crunch-time; the stuffing was, well, the defense’s ability to force the Terps out of range for a game-winning score at the end of regulation. However, this game brought out some negatives — just like at every Thanksgiving dinner.

Let’s take a look at five of the most important things we learned from the Buckeyes’ latest victory.

I’m a good pretender

Last week, the Buckeye defense appeared to be making improvements. They shut down a Michigan State offense, holding them to just six points. In a way, I felt that punter Drue Chrisman carried the brunt of the defensive responsibilities in that game; he had six punts downed within the MSU 20-yard line, and five punts within the six-yard line. But, the Buckeye defense was able to make stops and force turnovers.

On Saturday, this wasn’t a regression back to the mean. This was a full-fledged fall of last week’s facade. Ohio State couldn’t stop the UMD rush, which was spearheaded by running back Anthony McFarland. I thought McFarland was a flash in the pan character — his 220 yards against Indiana seemed like a one-off performance last week. With main rusher Ty Johnson out with an injury, the Terps had no business putting together that type of rushing attack.

Yet, there we were at halftime, with McFarland having 231 yards on the ground. It was as if he thought Halloween was two weeks later than usual, and he decided to slip on his Tim Biakabutuka mask. McFarland ended the game with 298 yards, 15 shy of the Michigan back’s total (313 yards) in 1995, which was the most yards ever against OSU.

McFarland had back-to-back carries that went for scores, and they were doozies. His first score was 81 yards; his second score went slightly less at just 75 yards. Those 298 yards came on just 21 carries. So, if you punched that into a calculator, you’ll get an average of 14.2 yards per carry.

That’s not good.

Things also weren’t good against the pass. Tyrone Pigrome, who is filling in for injured QBs Kasim Hill and Max Bortenschlager, went 6-of-13 for 181 yards and a TD. He didn’t have the sharpest game as signal-caller (more on that in a bit) and still managed to keep UMD in the game.

We are now 11 games into the season, and problems with giving up big plays are still here. Maryland had a total of 14 (!) chunk plays on Saturday, and nine of them came on the ground. At this point, it’s safe to assume that the problems won’t be solved for the Nov. 24 meeting with Michigan. The Wolverines will be the toughest — and most complete — opponent Ohio State faces this season. With Shea Patterson at QB and Karan Higdon at RB, that’s the most functional duo the Bucks will face, too. It’s not a matter of containing them; it’s a matter of holding the damage to a minimum.

UM will get their big plays. The question is this: how many will they get?

J.K. was fed, but at what cost?

One of the bright spots in the game for the Buckeyes was J.K. Dobbins. The Texas native carried the team on the ground. He picked up a career-high 203 yards and a TD, however, it came at a cost.

Dobbins was handed the rock 37 times, due to Mike Weber being out of the game with a thigh bruise. With only one main running back in the fold, there was a huge emphasis on Dobbins. That’s great that he could be the workhorse, but with a game against Michigan on the horizon, I wouldn’t want the No. 1 RB to be worn down that much leading into the regular season finale.

Brian Snead and Master Teague were penciled in on the depth chart, but didn’t see action and Demario McCall had a pair of carries against UMD, but nothing to lessen the impact of Dobbins’ workload.

Additionally, this was the most run-centric game in the short starting career of Dwayne Haskins. On top of his 405 yards in the air, he had 59 yards on 15 carries — culminating in three scores via his feet. This was the perfect curveball for Meyer and the short game issues, as Haskins has shown the ability to take off, if needed. While Martell is an option, this now forces Michigan to prep for two different QBs, who have two very different strengths. Martell is a more Barrett-esque player, while Haskins is looking down field for the big pass.

But, for a true rusher, utilizing Dobbins this much against Maryland poses some questions. If Weber comes back healthy this week, I’d be inclined to believe that he’ll be the main rusher heading into next Saturday. What you don’t want to have happen is the rushing attack being non-existent against TTUN. No rush makes life tougher for the pass; that’s how you get Purdue 2.0 to happen.

Keep an eye out on the health of Weber this week. That’ll be a main storyline leading up to The Game. If Weber isn’t cleared to go next week, I’ll be concerned about how efficient the rush will be. If he does play against the Wolverines, I’ll be intrigued by how important his role will be. Weber is the bruising back who can secure those tough yards, but since he missed Maryland, and Dobbins took on an increased workload, those roles could be flipped.

Hero ball (and inexperience) saves Ohio State again

Time and time again this season, the football gods have bailed the Buckeyes out. Against Penn State, a Chernobyl-level meltdown in James Franklin’s head led to Ohio State escaping the White Out with a win. Against TCU, key Horned Frog Ross Blacklock was out with an injury. Against Minnesota and Nebraska, freshman quarterbacks (and their inexperience) led offenses that fell apart in crunch time. Michigan State was more of the same, as inexperience and injuries met at a crossroads — and, unsurprisingly, didn’t do them any favors.

Maryland had the same problems. Two QBs out with injury, in addition to their go-to rusher. When your key skill players are out, I’m not sure what you can do. Anyway, Pigrome did enough to keep them in the game, however, you don’t get bowl eligible by almost winning games.

In the fourth quarter, Pigrome’s inexperience showed. He went out of bounds when he should’ve stayed in to keep the clock running, and held onto the ball and took a sack when he should’ve thrown it away. Pigrome needed to be a bit more like David Blough to seal this one. He didn’t need a superstar performance, he didn’t need to have a legendary fourth quarter. In fact, he just needed to make the right call on, literally, four plays: the second-and-goal attempt with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter, the final two plays in regulation, and the two-point conversion attempt in overtime.

To very little surprise, he made the wrong choice on three of those plays, with the jury still deliberating the overtime two-point conversion throw. Ohio State has been in these back-to-the-wall scenarios before, and when it’s mattered most, they’ve generally made the plays.

This is why winners win and losers, well, find ways to lose. The same thing hits a team when they are in pursuit of their first championship, or regular everyday people when they are in pursuit of an individual accolade: inexperience not only derails you, but can break you.

This I think will break UMD. They have Penn State next week, and this loss against Ohio State has the same mentally coercive feel that PSU’s meltdown against the Buckeyes had.

At the same time, the Terps only have themselves to blame, just like Nebraska. Inexperience alone wouldn’t have cost Maryland the game. The hero ball in the first quarter, as well as in Pigrome’s sack on the penultimate play of regulation is what did them in. And not coincidentally, both occurrences resulted in the ball hitting the tuf.

In the first quarter, freshman Jeshaun Jones was handed the ball on a trick play, and tried to force the play to work. The end result was him losing eight yards, and fumbling the ball away. Remember, the Terps got this ball on a bizarre kickoff that they recovered after the OSU receiving corps thought the ball was going to bounce out of bounds — and didn’t attempt to recover it.

It was a gift squandered.

At the end of regulation, the Terrapins needed just 10 yards to secure themselves good field goal range. With a timeout left and time to run a couple of plays, Pigrome stepped back to pass, but the pocket collapsed. Instead of throwing the ball away and living to fight another play, the redshirt sophomore tried to shuffle and make something out of nothing. What resulted was a sack and a fumble. He recovered, but ended up being nowhere close to FG range. Additionally, the final timeout had to be burned.

I call those instances a bad case of the BMOC syndrome. Dick Vitale, a legendary coach and sports broadcaster, had the Vitaleism “Big Man On Campus.” Everyone wants to be the BMOC. And the way to get there is to not only win the big game, but to be the reason why the big game was won. Hit that trick play and turn that sack into a big gain, and you have two BMOCs in the making. They’d have been the talk of College Park tonight, tomorrow, and into bowl season. And in 25 years, when the UMD team of 2018 gets together at the local breakfast diner, they would have been heralded as the shining spots that lifted the Terps to a bowl game, and slayed the big bad Buckeyes.

However, it’s all a game of inverses. The harder you try to be a BMOC, the easier it is to ruin your chances of being a BMOC. This was just the latest time that it’s happened; and it will undoubtedly happen again tomorrow, next week, next year to any person/team chasing a dream of winning while being “the one” to make it happen.

Even though Matt Canada will be assigned the blame on the trick play, it wasn’t his fault that it failed. You have to run trick plays against OSU, not because you need to, but because they work to scary efficiency. Like the fake punt in the fourth quarter that worked, that changed the game and gave UMD momentum.

Mr. Brightside

If we are looking for a silver lining for OSU in this victory, it’s that this is what happens when everything goes wrong for the Buckeyes. Fumbles bounced the wrong way; kickoffs bounced, literally, the wrong way; passes were tipped and returned for touchdowns; and backbreaking penalties happened on both sides of the ball against you. Yet, somehow, Ohio State found a way to win.

This Buckeye squad knows how to hang in games, and hold on for dear life. Haskins, more or less, has been able to make the plays that have kept OSU within striking distance. So far, he hasn’t been the reason why the Buckeyes have lost a game, or even came close to losing a game.

Haskins is a better version of Craig Krenzel. Craig lost some games, but he never blew the game for you. Same with Haskins, except a bad day from him is like 250 yards and a couple of scores in the air. Most QBs would trade souls for those kinds of performances.

A Stop at Willoughby Columbus

For another week, I’m teaching y’all about some classic Twilight Zone episodes. In Season One of the Rod Serling classic, there was this episode called “A Stop At Willoughby.”

The episode tells the story of an ad executive, Gart Williams, who has become exasperated with is job and wants to enjoy life. When he takes the train to and from work, he sleeps. But in his sleep, he thinks the train has been transported back in time to a place called Willoughby.

Before he can get off of the train and walk around Willoughby, a place that looks and feels happy, he wakes up — and is back to trudging throughout his stressful life.

After watching Urban Meyer, and seeing him leaning over on the sideline multiple times against UMD, I feel bad for him. The man cares so much about coaching (and succeeding), that it has taken a visible toll.

At some point, something has to give. Even though this team is one of the most frustrating OSU teams in recent memory, Meyer is still one of the best coaches in college football. With or without his staff, he still is one of the best.

This has been a constant theme for the past couple of months. Hopefully in the offseason, he can recharge and prepare for 2019-20. If he doesn’t, then I hope he makes the best call for his health — whatever that may be.