Ohio State is heading on the road this weekend to take on a familiar Big Ten East divisional foe in the Maryland Terrapins. Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland is 0-7 against Ohio State, with the average score being 59.4 to 21.6. Similarly to last week, Ohio State should be able to try to dominate this matchup from the jump.
This game does not seem to have the early season makings of a potential trap game. Maryland’s offense had been solid up until the last couple of weeks. A lot of this has fallen on quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa not playing up to the same level prior to his injury. With a letdown year from their star receivers, these struggles are coming at a bad time. Defensively, the Terps are more athletic and statistically better, limiting opposing offenses to 5.0 yards per play. This has been led by the linebacking unit and their safety play, which again, was impressive until their last two games.
Ohio State will have the ability to once again attack Maryland in a multitude of ways. It was just last season they torched the Maryland defense for over 500 yards and 62 points. Looking back at last year’s matchup can show how the Buckeyes were able to be so efficient offensively, and how they can take advantage of the same weaknesses Maryland has shown in recent weeks.
Maryland’s Recent Struggles
Before Maryland’s bye week two weeks ago, they were 6-2 with a seven point loss to Michigan and a two point loss at home against Purdue. For a team that was nine points away from being 8-0 entering their bye week, the last two weeks have been surprising results.
Losing on the road in Camp Randall against Wisconsin is not necessarily a surprising outcome, but the lack of heart shown in the 30-0 defeat against Penn State was eye opening. The Terrapins struggled in getting off the field on third downs, winning at the line of scrimmage, and tackling in space. These issues have shown on occasion throughout their schedule to this point, but over the last two weeks little has gone right on either side of the ball.
The leading contributor to the struggles on offense has been the protection of the quarterback. Maryland’s offensive line has given up 12 combined sacks in their last two matchups. As a team, the Terrapins have given 29 sacks in 10 games, which is good for 103rd in the country. Against Penn State, the tone was set early.
On the first series of the game, Maryland ends up in a 3rd-and-long situation after two unsuccessful plays. Penn State lines up showing pressure, and they end up bringing all five rushers with nothing exotic. The linebacker for Penn State (No. 11) does a late loop outside the tackle, and the coverage downfield is man-to-man which takes away any windows to throw the ball into. With no receivers open up initially, Tagovailoa is forced to step up into the pressure, resulting in a sack.
On the next series, Maryland has another unsuccessful start to their drive ending up in a 3rd-and-17, meaning another obvious passing situation. Penn State shows pressure again, this time only bringing four rushers. Penn State drops into zone, and this is where the lack of confidence Tagovailoa has right now shows. On the pressure Penn State crosses multiple rushers, creating confusion for the offensive line. Earlier in the year, Tagovailoa would be able to run away from this, now he’s shell shocked to the point of throwing the ball to his offensive linemen.
The issues on the line of scrimmage were apparent on the defensive side of the ball last week, and Penn State took advantage of the thin numbers in the box. Maryland’s 3-3-5 base look is a big cause for its problems against more talented offensive lines. Penn State was able to gain leverage against the odd-front and reach the linebackers at the second level.
This allowed both Penn State running backs to get a chunk of their yards before contact. Against Maryland, the Nittany Lions utilized a similar pin-and-pull concept that Ohio State runs frequently against odd fronts. The pullers do not really do much, but they get their blocks. The remaining offensive linemen create a running lane, which leads to a nice gain.
Ohio State has the ability to establish their run game regardless of who their running back is on Saturday. Where the Buckeyes will really have success is in yards after the catch. Maryland has been bad in space all year. Another example of this occurred against Penn State.
Penn State does not do anything complicated here, and the tight end does not make an overly athletic move. After catching the long out route, Maryland’s defender overcommits up field, and this allows the tight end to turn back into the field for a big play. If Maryland doesn’t stay disciplined, Ohio State’s receivers will be gone before they can slip and fall.
Last year’s matchup
Ohio State beat Maryland 66-17 in a game where C.J. Stroud threw for five touchdowns, over 400 yards, and no interceptions. This was only Stroud’s second start after his missed game to injury, and the Buckeyes really got going against Maryland last year. Now the Buckeyes are in a look-ahead spot, but they should be able to look back to last year for plenty of concepts that work.
Early in the matchup last year, the Buckeyes used all the weapons at their disposal in one play. Ohio State motions Garrett Wilson across on jet-sweep motion. They fake the hand off, then fake the outside zone look into a play-action pass. This is only a two route concept down field, with Jeremy Ruckert running a curl and Chris Olave on the backs side running a post. This play combats Maryland’s aggressiveness, creating hesitation for the safeties who come forward. This allows Olave to get behind the defense for an easy touchdown.
The play-action pass is a dangerous tool against Maryland. They are not disciplined in reading their keys, leading to big holes in coverage. What makes the play-action pass more successful is establishing a strong run game like we saw last week – and last year. What makes the play-action pass even more dangerous is running a route off of the play-action.
This was a topic in the weekend’s film review. There doesn’t necessarily need to be an established run game to be successful. Ohio State did not run for many yards last season, but the run-action kept Maryland from being able to stay comfortable dropping into coverage. Ohio State fakes their outside zone, Henderson waits in the hole until the coverage clears out opening up a ton of space. The Buckeyes scored easy here and out-schemed Maryland for six.
In the last play from last season, Ohio State lines up in a “bunch” look with just over a minute to go in the first half. This is an obvious passing situation, and Maryland runs their quarter coverage. The Buckeyes run a four verticals look with the receivers criss-crossing into the routes. This got Jaxon Smith-Njigba matched up with a linebacker. Maryland’s two safeties widen out to take the other vertical routes, and this gives Smith-Njigba plenty of space to work with in the middle of the field. Stroud delivers for a big gain.
Ohio State has been dominant over Maryland with seven wins in seven matchups. The Terrapins have gotten within one score one time, and that was 2018 in Maryland when Ohio State’s defense at the time was a far cry from even 2021’s underwhelming group. For what feels like the third week in a row, the only thing that will make this game interesting is some unforeseen insane weather front coming into play.
The Buckeyes have the mental edge, and Maryland is trending in the wrong direction. Coming off two straight heartless losses, the offensive line woes have finally caught up to the offense. Defensively, through much of the season they were playing at a much higher level. Over the last few weeks, that has changed. They’ve lacked fundamentals, and since the early part of the season they have given up a lot of points.
Ohio State needs a clean performance, and doing that on the road would be a major stamp of confidence on the way into rivalry week. Stroud had a big performance last year, and Ohio State’s much improved defense should keep Maryland’s offense in check. The Buckeyes will have their final test, but the reality is, all they have to do is get out of Maryland with a win.