There was one goal on Ohio State’s road trip to Maryland, and that was to leave the game with a win. The Buckeyes accomplished that goal, winning 43-30 against the Terrapins in a game where Ohio State just never pulled away.
Maryland’s coach Mike Locksley talked about his four step plan with ESPN’s broadcasting team this week, talking about belief and just how dangerous a team with nothing to lose can be. Ohio State learned that second part immediately, and the obvious look-ahead spot turned into a matchup of survival in College Park.
The Buckeyes made some questionable personnel decisions on Saturday on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Ohio State started TreVeyon Henderson, and despite looking unhealthy forced the run game with the back early. On the other side, every time Ohio State was in a momentous spot, the substitutions in the secondary and on the defensive line led to Maryland success.
A quick and easy answer here is saying Ohio State got caught up in the moment. Looking ahead is human nature. That would be easy to say if these questionable decisions haven’t shown to be a theme throughout this season. But like they have all season, they found answers, which needs to be commended.
Offense finds run game, inconsistent passing
Ohio State struggled in the first half offensively. As a play-caller Ryan Day and the offensive staff could not help themselves, running the obviously injured Henderson 11 times in the first half for 1.7 yards per carry. After he scored a touchdown on the first drive, the dynamic back was noticeably limping and uncomfortable on the sideline. In came Dallan Hayden, who rejuvenated the offense and played to the scheme.
Looking at this game for what it was, the passing game struggled to find a rhythm against Maryland’s aggressive style of coverage. This led to needing to find consistency on the ground, because in the first half Ohio State found themselves struggling in obvious passing situations. Sitting behind the sticks, Maryland was able to play coming forward in the secondary and disrupt Ohio State’s windows as well as timing. Once the running game was found, the entire offense corrected course for a strong second half performance.
Run Game Struggles
This has been a season-long topic, and against Maryland there were some early struggles that kept the Buckeyes from staying on schedule. There has not been one singular issue that makes the Ohio State run game struggle; The combination of execution from the blockers and running backs in tandem with play-calling has led to the inconsistencies. On Saturday, these problems were amplified by playing a noticeably injured running back in Henderson.
The main issue on this first play falls on the offensive line, but the play design against the look Maryland was lined up in set the run up for failure. Maryland plays five players down on the line of scrimmage. Their middle linebacker is lined up directly over center with the other two backers walked down. The responsibilities dont change, and the back side guard is still responsible for cutting off the backer. Matt Jones is unable to reach the backer and Henderson is slow to the hole, leading to a TFL.
Later on in the first half, Henderson and the Buckeyes had been struggling to find consistency in the run game. The Buckeyes are running their wide zone run scheme. The offensive line has the numbers to block to the play side. On the back side, Matt Jones gets up to the second level and Donovan Jackson slides off the double team to take on the filling backer.
This play is well blocked, and then Henderson does what has plagued him and Miyan Williams at times this season. He tries to hit a home run when all he needed was a single to set up a more manageable third down. The cutback away from the blocking did not work out, and this would have been a poor choice even if Henderson was fully healthy.
Run Game Success
Outside of the last play, this was to no fault of the Ohio State back. Henderson struggled rushing the ball with a final stat line of 11 carries and 19 yards. After the first series, he was obviously playing hurt and should not have been in the game when there was a fully healthy back available. The lack of explosiveness and feel led to a botched hand off as well as quite a few tackles at the line of scrimmage that just aren’t common with Henderson.
This is where Dallan Hayden came into play. As a recruit the coaches loved his decisiveness and his feel to go along with a natural burst. In a zone run scheme, being decisive is a key for a back to be successful. There is not a defined point to run to, and the back needs to feel where the crease is going to be and hit the hole that’s there with no hesitation.
In the first play we’re going to look at with Hayden in the game, the Buckeyes run their inside split zone concept. The play is designed to follow the double team to the right side of the offensive line and kick out block from the tight end, hitting the lane between those two blocks. Initially, a hole to the backside opens up. Hayden understands that the right guard Jones would not be able to block the backer on the second level. He shows a look to the backside, getting the play side backer to commit. He stays play side and waits for the block at the second level. Hayden hits the hole and gets enough for the first on a “do your job” type of run.
The patience and maturity Hayden shows here to let the blocks get set up is exactly what the run game needs.
On the next play, the Buckeyes are in the vaunted 3rd-and-1 situation that has plagued them all year. They stick to the ground here, running an Inside Zone to pick up the yardage needed. Once again there is an option to take this ball to the left or up the middle of the line. Maryland’s linebacker assumes this play is going to be an outside or wide zone to the boundary, which allows Matt Jones to get up field and wash him away from the run-action. Hayden finds the seam and gets the first down, which is all that is needed here.
The decisiveness and blocking on this play almost springs a long touchdown run, but they got the job done picking up the first.
Ohio State loves their wide zone into the boundary. They have not always blocked this well on the year. They did on Saturday in the second half on Hayden’s touchdown to start the third quarter coming off of the blocked punt. The offensive line blocks at the line of scrimmage well. Luke Wypler and Paris Johnson Jr. get to the second level coming off their double teams. Maryland’s linebackers are late, and the adjustment here was also Wypler coming off the double team to get up to that level rather than the back side guard. This springs the touchdown and gets Ohio State the lead.
Defense did enough to get the job done
This is not a game that many of the defensive players or coaching staff will want to keep with them from a holistic standpoint. The part they will want to keep is in the ability the defense showed to adapt and fix mistakes from earlier in the game. The Buckeyes did not play perfectly, but when they needed to make a play, guys responded to the adjustments made, leading to some crucial stops.
Struggles throughout the game
Starting with the struggles of the game for the Buckeyes’ defense, Maryland came to play and Ohio State got beat straight up multiple times. In this first example, the Terrapin offense is in a 1st-and-10 scenario at midfield. Maryland has utilized the screen game well all season and the Buckeyes were prepared for it, but the Terps added a little bit of spice to the action here. They fake a screen to the field side to the receiver, which gets Ohio State’s defense going one way with the running back screen going the other.
This turns into a big play, and the design deserves credit attacking Ohio State’s tendencies.
In the next play, Ohio State has Maryland in a 2nd-and-11. Maryland ops to run a play-action pass. The Buckeyes bring six rushers including the two linebackers, and the pass rushers get too far upfield, taking them out of the play. This gives Maryland’s quarterback an opportunity to step up and take off. Tommy Eichenberg is the last line of defense, and he misses the tackle by a small margin, leading to a big gain for Maryland.
The last play is a reminder that other teams have players on scholarship for a reason as well. 4th-and-goal, the Buckeyes just went up two scores and Maryland needed a response. Ohio State gets pressure up field, cutting off the roll out, but Tagovailoa is able to get outside of Tuimoloau after giving a quick hesitation. With everyone in pursuit and running out of field, Tagovailoa rips a ball on the run down the sideline past four defenders for a pinpoint touchdown pass. This a play where, even in the moment, you just have to tip your cap.
Big plays and corrections when needed
Ohio State was able to correct the mistakes above, and this was the difference in the game. Jim Knowles knows his team did not play their best on the road and the expectations are raised this week. His main takeaway will be that his defense was able to overcome mistakes and finish when the game was still in hand.
This started in the third quarter. The Buckeyes were able to get Tagovailoa into some uncomfortable situations by using pressure. Ohio State brings the house playing Cover-0 behind the blitz. This is always a gamble. In this case the gamble paid off and forced Taulia to throw the ball away before any of his receivers were out of their breaks. This aggressiveness is a staple of Knowles, and the defensive intensity ramped up from this moment on.
When you make a big stop and need to get the momentum back, there is no better place to do that than on special teams. The Buckeyes were down three and coming out of the half, needing a stop to keep the Terps from going up two scores. They got the stop, and then went after the punt. Maryland brings in additional protection, but that does not cover up the rushers coming on the block side. Lathan Ransom is not accounted for here.
The middle pressure is the first priority for the up back. This gives Ransom the lane to block the punt and for the second week in a row he comes up huge, turning the tides of the entire game.
Later on in the game, Ohio State was just beaten by a scramble from Tagovailoa. A few plays later on the drive, the Maryland quarterback was looking to take advantage of the pass rush again. In this scenario, the design is a quarterback keeper. Tagovailoa fakes a drop back to throw the bubble screen to the motioning receiver, then he takes the ball up field to run. Ohio State’s linebackers stay disciplined and trust that everyone is playing their responsibility.
This time Tagovailoa meets Eichenberg in the hole, which does not work out for him, and he gets tackled in the backfield. The adjustment made here and the patience the backers showed is going to be needed this week in the big one, but the key here is that they actually adjusted and made a play.
The last play today we’re going to just enjoy an incredible individual effort from Zach Harrison. Ohio State just settled for a field goal, and after aggressive kick off coverage the Terps started the drive at the 15-yard line. Harrison gets a sack on the first play of the series, putting Maryland behind the sticks. After the snap, Harrison gets into a bull rush and then pulls the tackle down when he’s off balance. Then there was no chance Tagovailoa was getting out of his sight, leading to the strip sack that ends the game.
This game was a look-ahead spot, but there is no more looking ahead now. Ohio State survived on the road to set up the final battle that everyone has been waiting for all season. In that final test against Maryland, they learned something about themselves, and they found a reliable running game on the back of a talented freshman.
Maryland came out with nothing to lose, played with a lot of confidence, and had a game plan that was working effectively for the majority of the game on both sides of the ball. When it came down to it, Ohio State’s talent was too much and the Buckeyes once again found a way. This season hasn’t been perfect, but this team has always found a way to win. This has come much later than most fans have wanted in some games, but the level of explosiveness once again separated Ohio State in the second half.
The defense did the rest on Saturday, winning the game in the closing moments, and I won’t hold you here any longer. Ohio State is playing that Team Up North this week. There is nothing else to do for the Buckeyes except prepare for war.