Today marks the second game in an interesting and important set of back-to-back contests for the Ohio State football team; not the toughest of opponents, but ones who do enough things well, that they will give the Buckeyes some tests and things to work on.
In today’s Homecoming matchup, OSU faces the Maryland Terrapins who will be looking for a rebound after a disastrous first loss of the season to the Iowa Hawkeyes eight days ago. But, while the Terps have their own set of goals for today’s game in The Horseshoe, I have a list of things that the Buckeyes need to work on for today’s game.
1) Cause Chaos
Last week against Iowa, Taulia Tagovailoa and the Maryland Terrapins had — checks notes — 174 turnovers leading to a 51-14 butt-kicking. On the OSU side of things, the Buckeyes have returned an interception for a touchdown in three straight games. A little bit more of each of those things would go a long way to send Ohio State into their off-week on a high note.
While there have certainly been strides made on the defensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes, they have primarily come against overmatched and anemic offenses. While the Terps are by no means an elite unit, they are far more competent than Akron and Rutgers. So, if OSU is going to continue the trend of weekly improvements on defense, it will be important for them to put pressure on Tagovailoa, both in terms of actual physical pressure in the form of a pass rush, but also with mental pressure of disguising coverages, forcing the mistake-prone QB into bad situations.
The OSU defense — as is currently constructed — is young and talented, but they are still inexperienced and at times can struggle with more exotic offensive looks. Mixing up coverages and changing looks pre-snap can go a long way to tilting the scale in the defense’s favor in this matchup.
2) 20+ for Trey
Last week against Rutgers, TreVeyon Henderson was on pace for another monster day when his outing was cut short due to an awkward hit in the second quarter. The true freshman had eight carries for 71 yards and a touchdown when he lowered his shoulder to hit an approaching defender and came out seemingly a little worse for wear.
While nothing was ever confirmed by the team — nothing is ever confirmed by the team — reports were that Henderson went into the medical tent and was evaluated, before essentially having his helmet taken away. Fortunately, he looked engaged and excited on the sideline the rest of the day, so his absence for most of the game felt precautionary.
Now that the Maryland availability report is out and he’s not on it, we can assume that he is good to go. So, barring another potential injury, it would be nice to see
the team’s the Big Ten’s the country’s (yeah, I said it, you got a problem with that?) best back be the focal point of the offense for a week, especially when you are heading into an open date next week in which he can rest and heal up for the stretch run.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this turns into an old-school J.T. Barrett game and C.J. Stroud only throws the ball like 12 times, but getting Henderson a healthy dose of 20-25 carries would be helpful in increasing his workload to a starter’s level. As the Buckeyes enter the second half of their season, and get neck deep in facing off against opponents from the toughest division in college football, there will be times when opposing defenses will be able to take away certain aspects of the OSU offense, and I’m guessing most of that will come in confusing the freshman quarterback.
So, it would behoove the Buckeyes to have a running back who can carry the load when offensive times are tough; and Henderson is certainly that guy. So, get him a game where he can wrack up some carries, yards, scores, and maybe even some records, so he will be prepared when called upon to do it against a Penn State, Iowa, or another formidable defensive foe.
3) Keep Stroud in Rhythm
I admit, before the season started, we might have had a little too high of expectations for Stroud to just come in and be perfect and Heisman-worthy from the jump. But, in his defense, in my opinion, Ryan Day didn’t exactly give him the best opportunity to succeed early in the season.
Sore/injured shoulder aside, it felt like Day was trying to fit the square peg that was Stroud into the round hole that was the offense tailored around Justin Fields’ freakish skillset; lots of deep balls and throws to the hashes. While Stroud had moments where he showed that he could make those throws, but not yet with the consistency required to run that style of offense.
But after returning from a week off, Day seemed to dig a little deeper into his bag of tricks, all the way back to 2018 and the Dwayne Haskins offense replete with mesh routes, slants, crossing passes, and timing throws; and as we saw against Rutgers, this seemed to be much more to Stroud’s liking.
Whether that was do to a now healthy shoulder, renewed confidence, or just a better game plan, who knows, but today against Maryland, Day needs to keep building trust and consistency in his quarterback. While Henderson is likely capable of putting the offense on his back and winning a game on his own, if Ohio State is going to be able to get back into the thick of the playoff race, they will need all facets of their offense to be clicking.
4) Get Out in One Piece
In the Ryan Day Era, the Buckeyes are incredibly tight-lipped when it comes to injuries. However, there have been a steady flow of players on and off the unavailable report throughout the season.
However, with next week off before facing Indiana and Penn State to round out the month, it would be nice if OSU could use this week to get guys experience and keep them healthy. The bye week comes directly in the middle of the Buckeyes’ season, so it can serve as an opportunity to get healthy and to continue to refine what you are doing on both sides of the ball.
So, while I always like seeing the starters wrack up impressive numbers, today, I will be ok if they are out early in the second half in an effort to keep them healthy for the back half of the season.