After a week off to recharge their batteries following a thrilling last-second victory at Notre Dame, Ohio State returns to action on Saturday to host the Maryland Terrapins. This year’s contest marks the first time the teams have met when both are undefeated. The Buckeyes hope to improve on their 10-0 record during the regular season when they have more than a week to prepare for their opponent.
Last time out
Last time Ohio State took the field, they defeated Notre Dame 17-14 in South Bend. The Buckeyes trailed 14-10 late in the game before quarterback Kyle McCord led the offense on a 15-play drive, covering 65 yards in 1:25 before Chip Trayanum muscled into the end zone from a yard out with just a second remaining on the clock. Even though it was the first time Ohio State failed to score at least 20 points in the game since a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma in 2017, all that matters is the Buckeyes left South Bend with one of the signature wins so far in the 2023 season.
Even though McCord’s stats in the Notre Dame game won’t blow anyone away, the quarterback showed incredible poise under pressure late in the game against the Fighting Irish, completing 21-of-37 passes for 240 yards. More importantly, McCord didn’t throw any interceptions against a tough Notre Dame, and so far this season the only time McCord has had a pass picked off came in the opener against Indiana. With a strong performance in a clutch situation, expect to see McCord’s confidence continue to grow as the season moves along.
While Marvin Harrison Jr. has deservedly received most of the attention when it comes to Ohio State receivers, a number of other Buckeyes had solid outputs against Notre Dame. Emeka Egbuka led Ohio State with seven catches for 96 yards in the victory. On the final drive, Egbuka caught two passes for at least 20 yards to keep the drive going, including a critical 21-yard catch on 3rd-and-19 to put the Buckeyes at the 1-yard line. Egbuka currently leads the team with 21 catches, and his three touchdown receptions are tied with Harrison for most on the team.
Tight end Cade Stover also has been a big part of the passing attack so far this year, with his 17 catches tying Harrison for second-most on the team. Stover also had seven catches against the Fighting Irish. There are times when Stover’s play is criticized for some shortfalls when it comes to his blocking, but there’s no question that he is one of the more dynamic tight ends in the country, and gives Ohio State a threat at the position that they haven’t had in quite a long time.
Going back to Harrison, it looked like Ohio State was going to lose their top receiving threat for the second year in a row against Notre Dame when he was rolled up on while blocking during TreVeyon Henderson’s touchdown scamper in the third quarter. After receiving some medical attention, Harrison was back out on the field for the next drive and was able to finish the game. It was obvious Harrison wasn’t at 100 percent, but the week off following the game has allowed the star receiver more time to recover ahead of Saturday’s tilt with Maryland.
Ohio State wouldn’t have won against the Fighting Irish had it not been for what TreVeyon Henderson gave them in the running game. After a tough 2022 season, Henderson recaptured some of the magic from 2021 when he broke free in the third quarter for a 61-yard touchdown run to extend Ohio State’s lead at the time to 10-0. Henderson hit triple digits on the ground for the first time in 2023, and is now just 26 rushing yards away from entering the school’s career top-10 rushing yardage rankings. With his touchdown run against Notre Dame, Henderson now has five rushing touchdowns this season.
Tough nuts to crack
There were times against Notre Dame when the Ohio State defensive bent. What was encouraging from the unit was they didn’t break in some of the crucial points of the game. Heading into this week’s game against the Terrapins, the Buckeye defense ranks sixth in the country, only allowing 255.5 yards per game. The 34 points Ohio State has allowed so far this season is their fewest through four games since 2006, when they gave up 32 points during that span, and 2007 when opponents scored 29 points in the first four contests.
The defensive star of the win over the Fighting Irish was safety Lathan Ransom, who earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors with his career-high 13-tackle performance. One of the biggest plays for Ransom in the game came early in the third quarter when he teamed with Sonny Styles to stuff quarterback Sam Hartman on 4th-and-1. Ransom has 20 tackles so far this year, tying Davison Igbinosun for most on the team by a defensive back.
The stars of the defense so far this year have undoubtedly been the Buckeye linebackers. Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are tied for the team lead with 25 tackles through the first four games. Along with stopping their opponents, Eichenberg has been able to put some heat on quarterback so far this season. At the other linebacker spot, Chambers is a threat to create turnovers, as he has an interception this year, and five picks in his career. Along with the duo, Cody Simon has stepped up at times throughout the season, giving the Buckeyes another solid option at the position.
Even though the defensive line still isn’t playing up to their expectations, there has been some improvement recently. Tyleik Williams continues to demand attention, with the defensive tackle ranking third on the team with 21 tackles. Fellow interior lineman Michael Hall Jr. has one of the few sacks the defensive line has been able to secure this year. More will be needed from J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer as the season moves along.
History with Ohio State
Coming to Columbus on Saturday will be the Maryland Terrapins, who are winless against the Buckeyes in eight meetings. Maryland has had little success slowing down Ohio State since joining the Big Ten, giving up 57.3 points per game to the Buckeyes. Last year was actually Maryland’s best defensive performance against Ohio State, giving up 43 points in the loss, but those numbers are skewed a little, with a touchdown coming on a Steele Chambers fumble recovery on the final play of the game.
A team on the rise
Since the loss to Ohio State, Maryland has been on fire, winning their seven games since then. Entering Saturday’s game, the Terrapins are 5-0 on the season, marking the first time since 2001 that they have opened a season with five straight wins. All five of Maryland’s wins this season have been by at least 18 points. The only other team to win their first five games this year by that margin is Michigan.
Last week the Terrapins easily handled Indiana, beating the Hoosiers 44-17. Maryland sprinted out of the gates in the blowout, building a 21-3 lead on Indiana by the end of the first quarter. Taulia Tagovailoa was excellent in the victory, completing 24-of-34 passes for 352 yards. Tagovailoa threw five touchdown passes in the win, and now has 13 touchdown tosses this season to along with three rushing touchdowns.
Taulia and the Terps
With his strong start to the season, Tagovailoa continues to rewrite Maryland’s passing records. Currently Tua’s younger brother has set the school’s marks in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, completion percentage, total offense, and 300-yard passing games. The 67.1 completion percentage Tagovailoa currently has for his career is the fourth-best in Big Ten history.
Tagovailoa’s preferred target in the win over Indiana was Tai Felton, who caught seven passes for 134 yards, with three of his receptions resulting in touchdowns. Felton’s 299 yards receiving this year currently sits 20 yards behind Jeshaun Jones for the team lead. Jones has 19 receptions this year, which is also a team-high, one ahead of Felton, West Virginia transfer Kaden Prather, and tight end Corey Dyches. Maryland is one of two teams this year with four receivers with at least 200 yards and two running backs with at least 200 yards. Georgia Southern is the only other team to have players hit those marks.
The two Maryland running backs to rush for at least 200 yards this year are Roman Hemby and Colby McDonald. Coming off a season where he was 11 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, Hemby has carried the football 64 times, racking up 309 yards and four rushing scores this year. McDonald is just over 100 yards shy of Hemby’s total, but has done more with less, toting the rock just 26 times. Antwain Littleton II is also a threat out of the backfield, rushing for 164 yards on 37 carries.
Maryland on defense
Even though nobody is going to confuse Maryland’s opponents so far this season as offensive juggernauts, the defense of the Terrapins hasn’t given up much to those that they have lined up across from. Dating back to last season, the last opponent to score at least 20 points against Maryland was Ohio State. The seven-game streak in which the Terrapins haven’t allowed an opponent to score at least 20 points is the longest active streak in the country.
A lot of Maryland’s defensive success so far this year can attributed to their ability to create turnovers. Heading into Saturday’s contest, Maryland has a +9 turnover margin, and has forced opponents into turning the football over 13 times. Leading the turnover brigade is defensive back Tarheeb Still, who has three interceptions this season. As a team, Maryland has eight interceptions, with defensive lineman Donnell Brown sitting just behind Still with two picks.
Along with Still, the Terrapins have a number of other defensive backs that are capable of making life tough for McCord and the Ohio State offensive. Beau Brade currently leads the team with 26 tackles, and has an interception and three passes defensed through the first five games of the year. Dante Trader Jr. also has three passes defensed, while recording 17 tackles this year.
Outside of the defensive backs, Maryland is led in tackling by linebackers Caleb Wheatland and Ruben Hyppolite II, with each notching 20 stops. Wheatland is also the team’s leader in sacks, as he has been created with 2.5 sacks this season. Hyppolite is already nearing last year’s 24 tackles total, and if he continues on this pace he’ll best his career-high of 62 tackles from 2021. Sophomore linebacker Jaishawn Barham has two sacks this year, and is halfway to his output from last season.
The area where Maryland’s defensive could have the most issues on Saturday is with their defensive line. Starters Quashon Fuller, Jordan Phillips, and Tommy Akingbesote all have started less than 10 games in their career, combining for just five total sacks. The Buckeye offensive line has been improving after a slow start to the year, and could see their confidence improve even more if they are able to hold the Maryland trio in check and keep McCord clean.
The danger after a big win like Ohio State earned against Notre Dame is there can be a flat performance in the next game. The Buckeyes are less prone to that issue because of the bye week prior to this game, allowing them extra time to prepare for Maryland. There are signs this team is moving in the direction of being a serious national title contender. That’s not to say there aren’t still issues that need to be addressed, though.
The biggest positive from the win over the Fighting Irish is the Buckeyes have a lot more confidence with Kyle McCord at quarterback after the first-year starter engineered a memorable game-winning drive. The offensive playbook has opened up with each start by McCord, and we’ll see that trend continue this week, especially with a week off to work on even more wrinkles.
Head coach Mike Locksley has done a great job at turning a floundering Maryland program around. While the Terrapins aren’t quite yet at the level of Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan, Maryland isn’t the pushover that they were earlier in their time in the Big Ten. Taulia Tagovailoa gives them a bona fide quarterback, and there are talented players on both sides of the football.
While Maryland enters the game at 5-0, Ohio State is going to be the toughest opponent for the Terrapins this year by a wide margin. It’s hard to see Maryland’s streak of not allowing 20 points in a game continue, especially since the Buckeyes will be looking to start a new streak where they score at least 20 points in a game. The defense of the Terrapins could be in for a rude awakening on Saturday since they haven’t even come close to seeing talent like what will be lining up in the scarlet and gray.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ohio State come out a bit sluggish after the week off, but the home crowd should help them snap out of it rather quickly. The Buckeyes have never scored less than 40 points against Maryland, and that streak should continue for at least another year. The depth of the Buckeyes wears on Maryland as Ohio State pulls away and stays undefeated.