This week, Ohio State takes on the Maryland Terrapins, a team that seemed to be trending in the right direction until they ran into the buzzsaw that is the Iowa defense.
The Terps are in year three under head coach Mike Locksley, who came to the program by way of Alabama. Locksley has brought an immediate culture shift in a time where the University of Maryland needed strong leadership in the football program. Locksley brings a spread offense acumen and understands how to put his quarterbacks in good positions (except last week). Defensively, Maryland has yet to figure out that side of the ball over the last 10 years, and will continue to try to work that out.
For the Terps, their goal offensively is to get the ball out quick to their talented skill players, utilizing quick passes and RPOs. With Ohio State’s new defensive look, they should be able to manage these challenges, as the offense is very similar to the one they played last week against Rutgers. Locksley and OC Dan Enos will bring Maryland to Columbus with a little more firepower than Rutgers, starting with Taulia Tagovailoa and star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett. Their offense relies on quick tempo and getting their skill players in one-on-one matchups like most modern spread offenses, but with Dontay Demus Jr. out, that will take away a huge chunk of their game plan.
Defensively, they are led by defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who coached with Locksley in their first stint with Maryland. The defense for Maryland is a base 4-2-5, and they like to play their linebackers close to the line. They like to mix pressure from all angles and run a lot of man coverage. They are prone to giving up big plays, but they play hard and they do their best to create confusion for quarterbacks pre-snap. For Ohio State to be successful, the plan is simple for the Buckeyes: establish the run, make Maryland play behind the sticks, and don’t let them get you into obvious passing downs.
In the first play we are going to look at, we are seeing what Maryland does to attack two-high safeties — which is not something I thought I’d be writing at this point with Ohio State. Iowa has been a Cover-2/Quarters look team for over a decade, which gives the Buckeyes a great blueprint for the new scheme. Tagovailoa struggled against Iowa, so Ohio State will be looking to force a similar outcome.
To the play itself, Maryland lines up in 11-personnel and uses motion to see what coverage the Hawkeyes are in. When a team plays the same two coverages against every look, the pre-snap motion does absolutely nothing besides changing where the players on defense’s eyes go. Maryland runs a vertical switch concept, which puts the Iowa defender (No. 4) in conflict. This creates a window downfield and the Terps are able to take advantage of it with a nice completion. Locksley and Enos will be looking to find these areas to attack in Ohio State’s new-look defense, and utilizing these types of concepts is how Maryland likes to attack opposing defenses through the air.
Maryland did not have much success in the passing game against Iowa, so I wanted to take a look at another play before we took a look at the run game to show the creativity they have in the air attack. The Terps had much more success passing the ball against Kent State, and they utilized a lot more complex passing schemes. In the red zone, Maryland is pretty pass-happy, but they like to get creative with how they get Tagovailoa some easy throws.
In the play below, they condense the formation with short motion. This allows the players to create confusion. The two receivers are at the same level and this creates conflict in the zone. For Maryland, they like to use Tagovailoa’s athleticism to get him out of the pocket, and this is a great example of their red zone offense. This should have been a touchdown, but the receiver drops an easy one.
In the run game, they utilize some zone running schemes and RPOs, but this offense is truly a pass-first offense, with Tagovailoa averaging 35.6 passes per game. They have failed to set up the run consistently, which means the Buckeyes will be able to focus on the passing game. Maryland gave up on running the football against Iowa, which partly came from chasing the lead, but it really is detrimental for the passing game.
The main use of the running back is as a pass catcher and situational runner. In the play below, we get a good look at what Maryland wants most of its run plays to look like. In the play below it is a true triple option RPO. Iowa stacks the box, so they do not have numbers inside. This means pre-snap Tagovailoa is not handing the ball off. This takes the read outside to the edge defender if he crashes the play, then turns to the receiver who runs a line route.
This play is exactly the conflict Maryland’s offense wants to create when using the run game. They create match ups and if they have numbers they hand off. If they dont, they find other ways to win the down.
Defensively Maryland does not do anything out of the ordinary. They run a 4-2-5, which is something most of the country is turning to for match up reasons. They prefer to have athletic linebackers who are able to do a lot of different things, whether that be blitzing, playing the run, or being utilized multiple ways in coverage. In the defensive backfield they run a lot of man coverage due to the percentage of plays they blitz.
Maryland’s defense has never been good statistically, but they are an opportunistic group that relies on a bend-not-break style of play. The defensive unit depends on forcing timely turnovers and setting up third-and-long scenarios for opposing offenses. We’re going to look at a clip of their coverage, the run game, and a clip of a blitz.
In pass coverage, Maryland relies on a lot of man coverage, and if we look back to most of Ohio State’s performances against Maryland with Ryan Day calling the plays, they use a lot of switch, crossing, and mesh concepts to attack Maryland’s blitz-heavy man-to-man defense. We’re using Kent State film because they run more of the same offensive concepts as the Buckeyes compared to Iowa.
The play below shows a mesh concept. Kent State uses the motion to see the match ups in coverage. The linebacker to the short side is responsible for the running back and is not hurt here, but look for this to be something for Day to take advantage of. If Day is able to get Henderson outside in space with a LB running all the way across the field, that is a win for Ohio State. Looking at the rest of the coverage, the Terps do a good job of not getting mixed up assignment wise. Kent State gets a short completion, but the play was well covered overall.
Maryland did not blitz much against Kent State, but against Iowa they brought one of their two linebackers in pressure a lot. With Ohio State, it’ll be interesting to see their plan of attack. Do they want to try to get additional pressure or do they want to try to sit back and make Stroud have to be patient enough to beat them?
My impression is they will stay true to trying to get additional pressure. They will always try to have five players in their rush, and they will do their best to try to create conflict in gaps. In the play below, Maryland brings their Will linebacker on a blitz. The pressure does not get home, and the coverage behind gives up a big play. Not to knock Iowa, but they don’t have Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave. If Maryland chooses to bring pressure, it will need to be well timed and well executed, which it was not below.
Maryland has not been challenged by a run threat the level of Treyveon Henderson, but they also have not been burned by the run much this year. In the play below, Iowa runs a midline zone from under center, which is blocked similarly to Ohio State’s split-zone without the kick out block. Iowa lines up in 11 personnel, so this gives us a close enough look to see how they might align to Ohio State in this formation.
Maryland keeps six defenders in the box, but they have two contain players creeping in to play any outside run. This does not change the blocking numbers for the play, and Iowa is able to get all the Maryland players in the box accounted for in the run-blocking scheme. Iowa rips a nice gain and sets up another easy score on the possession.
For the Buckeyes to be successful against Maryland, they just have to keep building on the last couple of weeks. Maryland is a pass-heavy offense, so this will be a real pressure test for the new look defense and coach Matt Barnes as a play-caller. The game plan in place will need to account for Tagovailoa’s legs and an aggressive vertical passing attack. Maryland likes to move the pocket, and Ohio State’s rush will need to be aware of this. If Ohio State can force Maryland to be one-dimensional like Iowa did, it should be an easy day for the defense.
Ryan Day and co. will not be challenged all that much, but this is a game where Ohio State should be able to attack in a lot of ways. Maryland has struggled to stop the run, and with their coverage schemes Ohio State will be able to attack them similarly to Rutgers. The use of play-action and shallow crossers should be in order, but the key will be in establishing the run game early.
This matchup will test the defense, as this is without a doubt the best passing offense the defense has faced up this point. If Ohio State’s defense can create turnovers, this game will be a great success for the Buckeyes and can keep the momentum moving forward going into the bye week.