Some games just naturally make me grumpier than others. Saturday’s 43-30 win over Maryland was one of those games because it was closer than it should have been for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons were self-inflicted, while others involved the opponents suddenly playing so far over their heads that their noses will bleed for a week to 10 days.
The ship eventually got righted, but not until we all experienced far more stress than was necessary. Here are the things that had me pulling out clumps of what is left of my hair on Saturday:
Stupid Clock Issues Continue to Be Stupid
Having watched Ohio State football since the 1970s, I’ve seen more games than I’d care to admit. But for reasons I cannot explain, the last couple of seasons have produced more issues getting plays off than perhaps all of the previous seasons I’ve experienced. This could be recency bias or just plain forgetfulness due to age on my part. Perhaps there were other seasons when this was an issue. However, I don’t think so.
It may have happened in a game or a short span, and then it got fixed. I have no idea why play clock issues continue to happen under Ryan Day’s watch but it’s reached absurd levels. Ohio State had no trouble on its first drive of the game, motoring right down the field and scoring a touchdown on a pass from C.J. Stroud to TreVeyon Henderson. Then it was time for the extra point and somehow, on a play the Buckeyes have faced dozens and dozens of times this season, the play clock ran out. Noah Ruggles made the conversion anyway, but that was just the first warning sign.
Allowing a Quick Response
While the Buckeyes had an easy first drive for a touchdown, the Terrapins had little trouble putting two quick field goal drives together to cut the lead to one. The Terps’ first drive went 61 yards in nine plays, and was aided by a needless facemask penalty on J.T. Tuimoloau that moved the ball into the red zone. Maryland’s offense had little trouble for much of the game, and that’s due in part to Ohio State providing Taulia Tagovailoa’s receivers with a generous cushion. Maryland was happy to take the free yards.
The second Maryland drive went 54 yards in eight plays before stalling inside the 5-yard line. Those drives helped the hosts build confidence, and with the exception of the third quarter, the Terps were able to make plays against a defense that had been pretty stout most of the season.
Self-Inflicted Offensive Wounds
If getting a delay of game on a PAT seems dumb, it seems even worse (to me, at least) to take a delay of game to start a drive. The offense is gathered on the sideline, the coaches have presumably had plenty of time to determine how they’ll open the next drive, depending on starting field position, before and during the kickoff, and then the offense should get right to it. But Ohio State’s second delay penalty came before the first snap of the second series. Then the Buckeyes compounded that with a false start and a 1-yard loss by Henderson, who looked a bit gimpy after the touchdown, so he may have aggravated his injury either on the play or in the celebration.
Ohio State went away from the successful downfield running it employed against Indiana and instead stuck to a largely ineffective outside zone game. Henderson didn’t help matters by trying to bounce plays that didn’t need to be bounced, but it’s understandable if he was doing it to protect himself. It took far too long for Dallan Hayden to get into the game.
The Buckeye receivers also had trouble getting separation. Part of this was the game officials “letting them play” (read: let the defensive backs hold receivers trying to come out of their breaks). A few of those got called late in the game, but it hampered Ohio State early and that, when combined with poor field position and some “meh” Jesse Mirco punts, gave Maryland excellent starting positions in the first quarter.
Making Things Easy on the Opponent
I don’t particularly care whether Ohio State runs or passes in most situations, even short yardage. However, that doesn’t mean I want the Buckeyes to telegraph what they’re doing to make it easier for the defense to stop. Ohio State’s final drive of the half was an important one because Maryland was going to get the ball to start the second half. The Buckeyes had a third-and-2 situation and spread the field with no back behind Stroud. This is a formation that — given the down and distance — drives me insane.
Maryland’s defense doesn’t have to worry about a running play from that formation because Stroud hasn’t been running quarterback draws all year and there’s no one else back there, so he’s not handing off. That allows the defense to play pass-only defense. Part of what makes an offense successful is the ability to make the defense have to think about many variables, so why take one away? You can do a straight drop-back pass, a play-action pass, or a couple of different runs out of a formation with a running back. Ohio State’s pass didn’t work in this situation, and the Buckeyes came up empty in their final drive of the first half.
Don’t Be Unsportsmanlike
This week’s culprit was Taron Vincent, delivering an unnecessary late shot on an offensive lineman. It’s going to get caught 100% of the time, so stop doing it. That was Ohio State’s seventh (!) penalty of the first half.
Really, What Even Is Clock Management?
Maryland’s last possession of the first half came deep in its own territory, and Tuimoloau sacked Tagovailoa for a loss of seven yards on second down. With multiple timeouts remaining and a good field goal kicker on his sideline, Day opted not to try to get the ball back. An incomplete pass or a stop on third down followed by another timeout, and Ohio State could have had decent field position with over half a minute to try to get into scoring position. Instead, Day was happy getting to the locker room with a three-point deficit, even though the Terps were going to receive the second-half kickoff.
I’ve already mentioned that the game officials were “letting them play” in regard to covering wide receivers. This was a much bigger boost to Maryland than Ohio State because the Buckeyes were mostly playing off of receivers while Maryland was happy to just grab and impede as long as the Terps could get away with it, so it was particularly frustrating when Lathan Ransom was called for pass interference on the kind of marginal play the referees were allowing throughout the first half. That helped Maryland’s first-half touchdown drive that gave the Terps a halftime lead.
Much like pass interference, it seemed only one team only was capable of intentional grounding. Tagavailoa had a throw-away deep behind the line of scrimmage when he didn’t get outside the tackle box and his pass went nowhere near a receiver. Ohio State got the ball back anyway, but later Stroud was called for grounding. On that play, Stroud did get outside the tackle box and while he was obviously throwing it away to avoid a sack, there was actually a receiver not too far away and therefore vaguely in the area — certainly closer than any Tagovailoa had on the earlier play. Stroud’s throw didn’t get back to the line of scrimmage, but with a receiver in the general area, that’s not the issue.
Ohio State was forced to settle for a field goal on that drive, and would have had to kick whether the penalty was called or not, but the extra yardage made it more difficult. It’s a good thing there ain’t no struggles with Noah Ruggles.
More Clock Follies (The Worst Yet!)
Ohio State led 27-13 and Maryland scored a touchdown on a Tagovailoa run to pull within 27-19 and decided to try for two for some reason. Possibly this was with a dream of holding Ohio State, scoring late, and only needing to kick the extra point to win. But the Buckeyes quickly added a 13-yard Hayden touchdown run and then lined up to go for two in order to offset that. Once again, the play clock expired. The officials re-spotted the ball on the left hash and the clock didn’t reset.
I don’t know if it was supposed to be reset, but I know the Buckeyes had all of their timeouts and could easily have used one to set up the play and avoid the penalty. Instead, the extra five yards changed Day’s mind and the Buckeyes kicked. While that should have been a matter of formality, it wasn’t. Maryland blocked the try and returned it 80 yards for two points to cut the deficit to 10 at 33-23 and made things unnecessarily tight later in the game after Maryland scored again.
Those were the primary things that scorched my hind end on Saturday. There were a lot more than that, but I figured I’d try to keep this under 2,000 words. Obviously, it’s always great to get a win on the road and things weren’t nearly as nervy for the Buckeyes as they were for Michigan or TCU on Saturday.
Next week, it’s The Game!