The Maryland Terrapins have never won a Big Ten football game at home — but then again, they’ve never played one.
Ohio State, ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press top 25, is set to be the first Big Ten team to take a shot at Maryland on the Terrapins’ home turf since the team joined the conference this season.
“We’re going to go there and welcome them to the Big Ten,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a big game. We’re going to show them what Big Ten football is, and hopefully it’ll work out in our favor.”
The Buckeyes (3-1, 0-0) are set to face-off with the Terrapins (4-1, 1-0) on Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md.
The matchup pits the Buckeyes — members of the Big Ten for more than 100 years — against the Terrapins, who are set to play just their second game in the conference to date. It is set to be the first-ever football game between the two schools.
Despite Maryland’s inexperience in the conference, Heuerman said playing a Big Ten game is always important, regardless of the opponent.
“Obviously it’s going to be a little bit bigger than what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “So we need to go in there with the right mindset.”
Both teams have suffered one loss this season, with Maryland’s coming by just three points against West Virginia on Sept. 13. The Buckeyes’ loss came a week earlier when they fell to Virginia Tech, 35-21, in their home opener.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said beginning conference play won’t make his team work any harder, but he acknowledged games in the Big Ten are different for one main reason.
“Our goal is to compete for a championship in November, and this is it,” Meyer said Wednesday.
As OSU hopes to take its first step toward winning a Big Ten championship this season, there will be no guarantees as the Buckeyes’ defense is pitted against a Maryland offense that features multiple dimensions.
Through five games, Maryland is averaging 36.8 points per game, largely because of the success of a dual-quarterback system and the talent of junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The two quarterbacks — junior Caleb Rowe and redshirt-senior C.J. Brown — each bring a different skillset to the table. Diggs is a player Meyer targeted coming out of high school, and the OSU coach praised him heading into Saturday.
“I knew when watching him play (in high school) that he was special,” Meyer said Monday. “Now that I see him, he’s as good as there is in America.”
Diggs has totaled 29 receptions for 398 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season.
Brown is the runner of the quarterback duo and leads the Terrapins with 266 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He’s also thrown 128 pass attempts, compared to just 32 from Rowe, for 996 yards, seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. Rowe has thrown four touchdowns in three games with only one pick.
Meyer said he doesn’t expect to know which quarterback will start until the day of the game because Brown missed the end of Maryland’s most recent game with a wrist injury, but said he’s aware of the quarterback’s athleticism.
“Obviously when (Brown) is in there it is changed, it’s a much different offense than when the other guy (Rowe) is in there so the quarterback run is a big part of it,” he said Wednesday.
While the defense will have to look for that added dimension when Brown is on the field, the threat of Diggs making a big play could be ever-present with each snap of the ball.
Sophomore safety Vonn Bell, who was one of a few OSU defensive backs to give up a long touchdown against Cincinnati last Saturday, said he and his teammates have seen what Diggs can do. He said the plan to stop Maryland’s top target will be simple.
“He’s a player, he’s a very special guy,” Bell said Wednesday. “He likes to get his plays, make plays, so we gotta tackle him.”
Bell went on to say Diggs has an idea of his own ability, and isn’t afraid to tell opposing players about it.
“He’s got swagger, he’s very confident,” he said. “If he makes a catch, I think he’s gonna try and talk back to me, but I’m gonna tell him to come and make a play.”
While Bell has no plans to back down from Diggs, he and his fellow defensive backs might not be the only position group keying on Gaithersburg, Md., product.
Meyer singled out Diggs and sophomore defensive back William Likely as two of the top return threats in the conference.
“(The) best punt returner is No. 4 (Likely), best in the Big Ten, and then Diggs is the best kickoff returner, very talented group,” Meyer said Monday. “Already spent an inordinate amount of time Sunday and Monday on our coverage units this week because that will be a big difference in this game.”
Heuerman echoed his coach and addressed the stress put toward “attention to detail” on special teams during practice heading into the game.
“We’re doing some things differently,” Heuerman said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been a dramatic amount, we know it’s going to be a big part to this week. Going into their house and playing on the road, special teams is always important.”
Regardless of which particular units have brought the success, both teams head into the game on two-game winning streaks. The Buckeyes are coming off a matchup with Cincinnati in which they posted 710 yards of total offense while the Terrapins scored a combined 71 points in their two most recent wins — against Syracuse on Sept. 20 and Indiana on Sept. 27.
Maryland received five points in the most recent AP poll, and could move into the top 25 with a win against the Buckeyes.
The game is set to kick off at noon Saturday before the Buckeyes head into a bye week.
After that week off, OSU is scheduled to play Rutgers on Oct. 18 for homecoming. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.