The Ohio State Buckeyes are 3-1 heading into conference play as they are scheduled to take on the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday.
The Terrapins, who are playing their first Big Ten home game, boast a 4-1 record and sit atop the east division. OSU is one of three Big Ten teams that have yet to play a conference game this season.
As the Buckeyes prepare for their trip to College Park, Md., The Lantern sports editors have come up with a list of five things we think you should watch for when OSU squares off with Maryland.
1. What will the atmosphere be like at Byrd Stadium?
Saturday’s game at Byrd Stadium is arguably the biggest game in Maryland’s football history as the team plays its first home game as a member of the Big Ten.
Byrd Stadium holds 54,000, which is just less than half of Ohio Stadium’s record crowd from last week of 108,362. Despite the significantly smaller stadium, you can bet that the Maryland faithful will be loud and give the Buckeye offense some problems. Even playing at home, OSU was guilty of six false starts last week against Cincinnati.
The matchup with the Buckeyes is something that Maryland coach Randy Edsall said in July at Big Ten media days he believes will create an exciting atmosphere.
“Well, I think it will be electric. I think it will be a sold-out crowd. It will be something that I know our fans are looking forward to,” Edsall said. “And it will be something that I think everybody that’s in attendance and everybody that gets a chance to watch on TV wished that they were there, because I think it will be a ton of excitement.”
The game will mark the first meeting between the two schools and the first meeting between OSU coach Urban Meyer and Edsall.
2. Will the Buckeye secondary be able to slow down Stefon Diggs?
The junior wide receiver for the Terrapins earned all sorts of preseason honors, despite missing half of the 2013 season because of a broken leg suffered Oct. 19, and no doubt has the attention of the Buckeye secondary and coaching staff.
Even though Diggs missed six games last season, he still earned All-ACC honorable mention honors, in addition to being named to the preseason Biletnikoff award watch list, which lists the best receivers in the country.
The last time the Buckeyes went up against a high profile wide receiver, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins torched the OSU secondary as he caught 16 passes for 227 yards and two scores.
Even last week against Cincinnati, the Buckeyes allowed touchdowns of 60, 83 and 78 yards as the Bearcats threw for 352 yards through the air.
If the Buckeyes want to come out of College Park with a win, they will need to at least slow down Diggs, as there isn’t a good chance they will be able to shut him down altogether.
3. Was sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott a one-hit wonder?
Elliott — pegged as Carlos Hyde’s heir apparent before the season — has started off somewhat slowly in 2014.
Instead of taking over the starting job without a question, he was listed as a co-starter with redshirt-senior Rod Smith and freshman Curtis Samuel to start the year. Last Saturday at Ohio Stadium, it was clear that had changed.
Smith and Samuel both still played as the Buckeyes beat Cincinnati, 50-28, and Smith had his best game of the season, but Elliott stole the show. He totaled career highs with 28 carries for 182 yards and a touchdown and didn’t lose yardage on any carry. He also finished second on the team with five receptions and added 51 yards through the air.
If Elliott can keep up even anything close to that level of production, he might be able to make the coaching staff and fans forget the name Hyde — at least for the time being.
4. What’s the next trick up the distributor’s sleeve?
Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has filled in for injured senior Braxton Miller by loading his shelves with a total of four weekly Big Ten awards just four starts into his career.
One thing he’s done differently than Miller is spread the ball around to an even greater range of targets, earning him his “distributor” nickname. Against Cincinnati, Barrett completed passes to 10 different targets and found time to pick up 79 yards on the ground as well.
He’s certainly played at least as well as OSU fans could have hoped, but are there more tricks to come from the Wichita Falls, Texas, native?
5. Youth vs. experience
In the matchup with the Bearcats, freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan found himself thrust onto the field more often than expected from a player with little experience under his belt.
According to the coaching staff, McMillan saw the field more in place of senior Curtis Grant because of his ability in pass defense, which is something that might be important again against the Terrapins.
McMillan has shone bright in spot duty and had a decent game against the Bearcats, but every time he steps on the field, he adds a new dimension to the defense. That just means a matchup with the high-flying Maryland offense could be a coming out party for the freshman.