While the narrative of how much of a difference a week can make has been run dry, the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes will be looking for back-to-back strong performances after last Saturday’s complete domination of Nebraska. This week, OSU travels to College Park to face the Terrapins in Maryland.
Maryland started the year on a hot streak, earning four straight victories. Since then, however, D.J. Durkin’s team has picked up just one win in five weeks, and are coming off an embarrassing 59-3 loss to Michigan. And with OSU up next, it seems safe to say Maryland’s in for another rough week.
All-time, the Buckeyes are 2-0 against Maryland. After being introduced into the Big Ten prior to the 2014 season, the Terrapins have given up a combined 101 points to OSU, and this year should be no different. Although senior quarterback Perry Hills has had success against the Scarlet and Gray in the past, a defense that has been gashed by the run all season could spell trouble for Maryland at home.
OSU coach Urban Meyer has been repeating the same phrase all week.
“Beat Maryland,” he said multiple times.
So just how will the Buckeyes beat Maryland?
Hills is the man under center for Maryland, and has earned the moniker of one of the most accurate passers in the Big Ten. He leads the conference in pass completions, and has made good use of his legs to keep plays alive. Last time the two teams met, the Pittsburgh native moved with ease through OSU’s defense, compiling 170 yards on the ground.
Another big day for Hills on the ground might be in store, but with his status in the air after reinjuring his shoulder, Maryland could instead lean on the ability of freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison III. The quick feet of Harrison have helped him on his way to 633 yards, just 57 shy of a freshman record set in 1997. The way OSU’s secondary has been playing, expect to see the Terrapins looking his way often on Saturday.
The offensive line for Maryland has been disappointing at best so far. Allowing the quarterback to be hit is never a good sign for an offense, and that’s become the norm for Durkin’s unit. Giving up more than three sacks a game, Maryland ranks near the bottom of all Division I teams in terms of sacks allowed. The defensive front for OSU should be in for a field day.
Staying true to never underestimating your opponent, redshirt junior defensive tackle Michael Hill doesn’t want to take anything for granted.
“They seem pretty good at what they do,” he said. “They like to do (guard and center) pulls a lot, and they can move well and run well in open space.”
OSU redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber has enjoyed a solid season of production against some stout defenses, but Saturday will present a new challenge; playing injured. A sprained AC joint could be a problem for Weber, but against a defense like Maryland, he could still be in for a great day. The Terrapins allow 245.6 yards per game, and have a defensive line that represents a sieve more than it does a run-stopping unit.
Numbers are sometimes deceiving, according to redshirt junior guard Billy Price. He said Maryland’s defense still promotes a dynamic challenge to the Buckeyes and the offensive line.
“Team has had some bumps and bruises, no doubt,” Price said. “But you know what? They’re going to come back this week, they’re going to come at us. They’re very athletic. Their defense … they got a backup quarterback playing linebacker, which is always cool. You never really see that that often. Their defensive front, they’re big guys; athletic.”
That “backup quarterback playing linebacker” happens to Shane Cockerille, a redshirt junior who played as a quarterback against Indiana last season to fill in for now-senior Caleb Rowe. Now, however, Cockerille is the man in the middle of Maryland’s defense, and currently leads the team with 79 tackles. Look for his name to be called more than once on Saturday for making a play.
After dominating a quality opponent in Nebraska last week, OSU is itching to see what it can do against some less-than-stellar teams, like Maryland. While the Terrapins deserve praise for improving from last season, there is no indication of a close game this Saturday.
OSU’s defense should dominate a Maryland offense that averages less than 200 yards passing per game, and relies on the legs of a freshman running back for most of its rushing yards. Expect a few more forced turnovers this week, along with another big-time blowout by the Buckeyes.
OSU redshirt junior J.T. Barrett had one of his best overall performances last week, and could be in for another huge day. The Terrapins are allowing just 204.5 yards passing to opponents this season, but were torched by Michigan junior quarterback Wilton Speight last week for 362 yards and two touchdowns. If Barrett were to ever rack 300-plus passing yards for the first time since Week 1, this would be the time.