After an easy win last week in New Jersey against Rutgers, Ohio State returns to Columbus for homecoming, where they will host the Maryland Terrapins. The Buckeyes look to be rounding into form after stumbling a bit out of the gates to start the season. Head coach Ryan Day will be looking for a sharp performance from his team before Ohio State’s bye week.
Early dagger last week
The Buckeyes left little doubt in last week’s contest against Rutgers, jumping on the Scarlet Knights early. TreVeyon Henderson scored on a 44-yard touchdown run on Ohio State’s second play from scrimmage. Henderson’s touchdown was the first of many in the first half for the Buckeyes, who took a 45-6 lead into the halftime break.
A brief history against Maryland
After keeping their all-time record against Rutgers perfect, Ohio State will be looking to do the same this week against Maryland. The Buckeyes are 6-0 all-time against the Terrapins. The last time these two schools met came back in 2019 when Ohio State rolled up 705 total yards on their way to a 73-14 win. The Buckeyes and Terrapins were supposed to meet in last year’s shortened season but the contest was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The offense is rolling
When the Ohio State offense is clicking, there is nobody in the country that can stop it. Ohio State has 22 games with at least 500 yards of offense in Ryan Day’s 30 games as head coach in Columbus. This year the Buckeyes are averaging 555.6 yards per game and 8.57 yards per play, with both leading the country. The only other team averaging at least eight yards per play is Coastal Carolina.
A triumphant return
Following sitting out the Akron game to give a shoulder injury time to heal, C.J. Stroud threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns, propelling him to Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the third time this season. Ohio State has now earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week accolades five times this season, with Henderson and Kyle McCord also being recognized for their performances in the Tulsa and Akron games, respectively.
TreVeyon Henderson has seen some light work over the last two games following his 277-yard performance against Tulsa, carrying the football 16 times for 164 yards and scoring three touchdowns against the Zips and Scarlet Knights. Frankly, Ohio State hasn’t needed much from Henderson in those two blowout victories. The freshman was a little dinged up against Rutgers, and while Henderson was ready to go back in, Ryan Day played things safe with the game well in hand, keeping Henderson on the sidelines.
Henderson is averaging 9.5 yards per carry, which is fourth in the country, and third amongst players with at least 40 carries. Big plays have been a constant of the first few games of Henderson’s Ohio State career. Through the first five games of his college career, Henderson has four 40-yard touchdowns, which is tied for most in the country with East Carolina’s Keaton Mitchell.
After a two-game stretch that saw him get shutout against Tulsa, and record just 12 receiving yards against Akron, Chris Olave rebounded with five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns last week against Rutgers. Now Olave has 134 career catches, which leaves him just two receptions shy of passing Ted Ginn Jr. Currently Olave leads Ohio State receivers with five touchdown receptions this season.
Leading the Buckeyes in catches this year is Garrett Wilson, who has 26 receptions for 462 yards and four touchdowns through five games. Not only does Wilson have at least one catch in 26 straight games, he is one catch away from hauling in his 100th career reception.
Causing a Ruckert
Somebody who took a big leap last week was tight end Jeremy Ruckert. The senior caught a season-high four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown against the Scarlet Knights. The touchdown last week by Ruckert was the 10th of his career, which ties him with John Lumpkin for second-most by a tight end in school history. Jake Stoneburner currently holds the mark for most career receiving touchdowns by a Buckeye, finding the end zone 13 times.
Rounding into shape
After a subpar start to the season, the Ohio State defense has gained some confidence after Matt Barnes started calling the shots. Barnes is a former Maryland assistant, who was in College Park from 2016 to 2018 as a special teams coordinator and linebackers coach.
Over the last three games the Ohio State defense is allowing just 13.6 points per game. The last rushing touchdown the Buckeyes allowed came against Oregon, and Ohio State has three straight games with a pick-6, which matches the 2016 team that also returned an interception for a score in three consecutive contests.
The Buckeyes are starting to get some production from their talented defensive line. The pressure isn’t coming from predicted sources though. Leading Ohio State in sacks is freshman Tyleik Williams, who has four sacks, with all of them coming in the last three games. Haskell Garrett is right behind Williams with three sacks, while Antwaun Jackson has added two sacks.
A couple of the breakout stars this year for the Ohio State defense have come in the secondary. Ronnie Hickman returned to his home state of New Jersey last week and put on a show, leading Ohio State with 11 tackles. Not only has Hickman now recorded at least 10 tackles in three of five games this year, the sophomore leads the Buckeyes with 44 tackles this season. The safety is one of three in the country with at least 44 tackles and multiple interceptions.
An even younger star for Ohio State is cornerback Denzel Burke. The true freshman not only grabbed his first interception in the scarlet and gray last week, he returned the pick 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 14-0 lead. Burke now has seven passes defensed this season, which is tied for seventh-most in the country. Even though he only five games in college under his belt, Burke is certainly looking like he could be the next great Ohio State cornerback.
A game to forget
Maryland enters Saturday’s game looking to regroup after being on the receiving end of a beatdown from Iowa. The Terrapins had to be feeling good after the first quarter when they held a 7-3 lead over the Hawkeyes. Everything was downhill from there, as Iowa put up 31 points in the second quarter. Maryland turned the football over seven times in the game, with five of those turnovers being interceptions by Taulia Tagovailoa.
Turning things around
Even with the loss, Maryland is still 4-1 on the season, which is already their highest win total in a season since 2018. The Terrapins haven’t recorded a winning season since 2014 when they posted a 7-6 record. If Maryland can find a couple more wins during the regular season they’ll become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016 when they went to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. The last bowl win for the Terrapins was in 2010 when they topped East Carolina 51-20 in the Military Bowl.
Leading Maryland is head coach Mike Locksley, who is in his third season in College Park. This is already Locksley’s most successful season as head coach, as his highest win total came back in 2019 when he won three games. Locksley is 10-18 at Maryland, with his record also including a 1-5 stint as interim head coach of the Terrapins in 2015. Overall as a head coach, Locksley is 12-44, with a lot of his career record marred by his 2-26 record at New Mexico from 2009-11.
Prior to last week’s game against Iowa, there was talk of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa rising as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Tagovailoa already has three 300-yard passing games this season, and four in his Maryland career, which already has tied him for third in program history. Tua’s brother has also tossed three touchdowns in three games this season. Tagovailoa’s 72.5 completion percentage leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth in the country.
Fleet of foot
Ohio State’s defense can’t focus all their attention on Tagovailoa, since running back Tayon Fleet-Davis can bust some big plays. The senior running back has rushed for 331 yards this year and added 114 receiving yards. Fleet-Davis’ 7.0 yards per carry ranks 13th amongst Power 5 running backs. With one more rushing touchdown, Fleet-Davis will match his career-high of five touchdowns, which he recorded as a freshman in 2018.
A huge loss
Maryland’s offense took a big hit when it was announced earlier this week that senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. would miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury. Demus was in the midst of a strong season that saw him catch 28 passes for 507 yards and three touchdowns. Had Demus stayed healthy he undoubtedly would have eclipsed his career highs of 41 catches, 625 yards, and six touchdowns, all of which he reached in 2019.
Next man up
With the loss of Demus, Rakim Jarrett will have to take on an even bigger role in the passing game. Jarrett is only a sophomore, but he has shown that he can produce at a high-level. Last year Jarrett appeared in four games and caught 17 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, which earned him honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Jarrett already has 21 catches for 276 yards and four touchdowns this year. The early production from Jarrett shouldn’t be a surprise since he was an Under Armour All-American in high school.
Keeping Taulia clean
Ohio State’s defensive line might be gaining some momentum of late, but they could have a tough time against a stout Maryland offensive line. The Terrapins have done a great job at keep Tagovailoa clean so far this year, only allowed six sacks through five games this year. Even though they were dominated on the scoreboard last week against Iowa, surprisingly Maryland didn’t allow a sack against the Hawkeyes.
When you think of best defensive lines in the country, Maryland might not immediately come to mind. The Terrapins are making people pay for overlooking them, as they currently sit eight in the country with 18 sacks through five games. Maryland is just one of two Big Ten teams to record at least two sacks in each of the first five games this year, with Michigan State being the other team.
The cornerstone of the Maryland pass rush is Sam Okuayinonu, who has five sacks this season. Okuayinonu ranks second in the Big Ten in sacks, with only Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson sitting ahead of Okuayinonu. All of Okuayinonu’s sacks have been solo sacks, which ties him with seven others for most solo sacks amongst Power Five players.
Teaming with Okuayinonu to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks is Durrell Nchami, who has three sacks this season. While Okuayinonu and Nchami are terrors on the outside, the inside of the Maryland defensive line is dominated by Mosiah Nasili-Kite and Greg Rose, with each of the interior defensive lineman notching two sacks this year. SAM linebacker Deshawn Holt has also matched the sack total put up be Nasili-Kite and Rose.
Green in the middle
One area of Maryland’s defense that Ohio State could possibly exploit is the linebackers. While the Terrapins have experience on the front and back lines of the defense, they are a little green in the middle. Three sophomores will see most of the playing time at linebacker, with Ruben Hyppolite II seeing the most time of the field, starting five games so far in his Maryland career.
Experience at the back
Even though C.J. Stroud looked a lot more comfortable last week, the Ohio State quarterback has to be aware of the talent in the Maryland secondary. The biggest threat for the Terrapins is Jakorian Bennett. The senior is currently second amongst Power Five defenders this year with eight pass breakups. Bennett already has intercepted two passes this year, with the pick in the season-opener against West Virginia changing the game to help Maryland secure the win.
Another senior in the Maryland secondary is safety Jordan Mosley, who is Maryland’s leading tackler. Mosley is sort of like a Jordan Fuller-type, in the sense that he might not create a lot of turnovers but he always finds himself around the football making tackles. Mosley’s partner at safety makes more of those impact plays. Nick Cross not only is second on the team with 22 tackles, the junior has two interceptions and a forced fumble so far this season.
This will be a good test to see where the Ohio State defense stands. While it was nice to see some positive things happens against Akron and Rutgers, this will certainly be a tougher test. A lot of the issues for Ohio State earlier in the year came against the pass, so trying to slow down Taulia Tagovailoa will certainly be interesting. The Buckeyes will have things a little easier since Dontay Demus Jr. won’t be able to play in this game because of injury.
It will also be interesting to see if C.J. Stroud can build on his performance against Rutgers. While Stroud put up big numbers against Minnesota and Oregon, last week’s game was his most complete performance as a starting quarterback. There’s no doubt that sitting out against Akron not only allowed Stroud’s shoulder to heal, it also allowed him to see the game a little better and figure out the throws that needed to be hurt.
Even though this game against Maryland isn’t a total layup, the Buckeyes should be able to win this game rather handily. With a bye week next week before games against Indiana and Penn State, this is where you want to see Ohio State build on the things they did last week and continue to put together dominating performances. Ryan Day doesn’t want to see his team have a lazy performance where the result is still in question going into the fourth quarter, like the Tulsa game. The last thing a young team like Ohio State needs is to have a poor performance hanging over their heads for a couple weeks.
A big win against Maryland isn’t going to vault Ohio State back into the top-4, but it will at least continue moving things in the right direction. While the early loss against Oregon was tough to swallow, it didn’t totally tank the season for the Buckeyes. If this team can keep putting together easy victories you could see things mirror the 2014 season. The key is to just keep building and getting better. Do that and everything else around Ohio State will fall into place.