No. 10 Ohio State imposed its will against Maryland, defeating the Terrapins 62-14 Saturday night at Ohio Stadium. Here are five takeaways from the Buckeyes’ victory.
How Ohio State slowed down Ty Johnson
With third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager taking the snaps due to Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill suffering torn ACLs, the Buckeyes entered the game understanding they must stop the run to beat the Terrapins. They did just that.
Though he broke a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter, Maryland junior running back Ty Johnson was held to just 57 rushing yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, his second-lowest average of the season. Johnson entered the game averaging 8.9 yards per carry this season after averaging 9.1 yards last year. Sophomore running back Lorenzo Harrison III had even less success as he took 11 carries just eight yards.
“That’s just a tribute to our preparation,” redshirt junior linebacker Dante Booker said. “Like I said, we’re just preparing our butts off. We had some tells sometimes and that’s what we kept instilling in practice.”
Junior linebacker Jerome Baker said the defense is taking a game-by-game approach, but Ohio State will have to repeat its performance in three weeks against Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Defense is “night and day” from Oklahoma loss
Just a little under a month ago, Ohio State gave up 490 yards and 31 points to Oklahoma en route to its first and, so far, only loss of the season. Since then, the Buckeyes have not given up more than 278 yards in a game. Maryland only managed 66 total yards on offense.
After the loss to the Sooners, Baker met with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Schiano asked Baker what to improve, and Baker told Schiano he thinks the defense simply had to settle down. Baker said the defense looks “night and day” since then.
“We were disappointed, but when you have leaders like [linebacker Chris] Worley, [defensive tackle] Tracy [Sprinkle], it was more of a humbling experience,” Baker said. “I just remember that Sunday, it was the most nastiest taste in your mouth and we just decided either we were going to crumble under this or we were going to improve from it. As you can see, we’re definitely getting better every week.”
Baker attributed the improvement to young players like linebackers Tuf Borland and Baron Browning stepping up and learning the intricacies of the defense. Those two, along with freshmen cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, defensive end Chase Young and safety Isaiah Pryor, have been able to play much more due to blowouts of Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland.
Redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis believes the main change between the loss to Oklahoma and Saturday’s win is how challenging the practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays have become.
“We’ve just been competing more in practice,” Lewis said. “Practice has definitely picked up in the intensity, the effort. People don’t accept losing a lot in practice any more. Everything’s just picked up even more.”
Maryland returned five starting offensive linemen, but Ohio State’s defensive line sliced through them, pressuring Bortenschlager, who completed just three passes on 12 attempts and was sacked four times. Meyer credited the defensive line for forcing the Terrapins to run more often than they would have liked.
J.T. Barrett’s continual improvement
After quarterback J.T. Barrett’s 19-for-35, 183-yard and one interception performance against Oklahoma, calls to replace him with redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins began. They persisted when Haskins shredded Army’s defense the next week.
But Barrett has begun to silence his critics. Against Maryland, he completed 20-of-31 passes for 261 yards including three touchdowns. He also ran the ball eight times for 59 yards and scored a 1-yard touchdown.
“I feel like he used to play with a way that he felt like he had to improve a lot of things,” redshirt sophomore Mike Weber said. “And he was getting away from his play, in my opinion. But I feel like he did a good job of regrouping and just going out there and have fun.”
One word — confidence — kept coming up in Barrett’s postgame press conference. With Barrett’s top targets from last year either graduating or leaving early for the NFL, Barrett had to develop a rapport with a multitude of wideouts who were not involved in the offense last season.
“The main thing just being confident, like I said, but it’s all been a process like getting game confidence with receivers with them being in the right spot, me believing in them,” Barrett said. “I think that’s something that takes time and something that we need games to enhance that. I think that’s something going well for us right now.”
Meyer said the offense has been on a “steady incline” since Week 1. Barrett’s improving on-field relationship with his receivers, such as sophomore Binjimen Victor, who caught his second touchdown in as many games, has boosted the Buckeyes’ passing offense and will be the key to success against more talented teams.
At the offense’s peak, Barrett has spread the ball around to multiple receivers. Victor, Austin Mack and Parris Campbell each had at least four receptions Saturday.
“It’s great seeing him have that confidence especially in us to be able to make those catches, those contested catches and whatnot,” Mack said. “Shoot, keep it coming.”
Damon Arnette and Denzel Ward: Ejected for targeting
Midway through the first quarter, cornerback Denzel Ward delivered a blow to Maryland senior wideout Taivon Jacobs, knocking the ball loose to force the incompletion as Jacobs turned upfield. To the dismay of the 107,000-plus fans in Ohio Stadium, Ward was flagged for targeting and ejected after the penalty was confirmed with a video review.
“I’m always cautious on the targeting. It’s part of football, but I don’t think that was targeting,” Baker said. “It’s football, go out there and do what you do. It’s unfortunate it happened.”
Lewis also said he disagreed with the call.
Just two quarters later Ohio State lost its second cornerback of the game when Damon Arnette was flagged for targeting after drilling Bortenschlager, knocking the quarterback out of the game. Since the penalty occurred in the second half, Arnette will be suspended for the first half of the Buckeyes’ game against Nebraska Saturday.
“[The score was] 55 to whatever it was, and I’m so angry about that,” Meyer said. “And he’ll probably have to sit for the first half. Not very bright.”
In Ward and Arnette’s place, freshman cornerback and former five-star prospect Jeffrey Okudah, who normally serves as Ohio State’s fourth cornerback, played more snaps than usual. He will likely match up with the slot receiver against the Cornhuskers Saturday night.
“He’s on a steady incline.” Meyer said. “And I think everybody is excited — I know everybody is very excited about his future, and it’s time for him to go. And we’re obviously playing him. He’s part of the rotation now.”
Special teams blunders
A missed field goal, a blocked field goal, a bobbled snap on a PAT, a 22-yard punt, a mid-game kickoff specialist change and a Johnson 100-yard kickoff return. Anything else? To say nothing went right for the special teams unit would be a massive understatement. Nearly everything that could have possibly gone wrong did.
“So that’s something to work on and get fixed,” Meyer said. “And there’s a lot of people upset about that and I’m one of them. We’ll find out.”
Some of the issues that cropped up were completely new. Long snapper Liam McCullough and holder/punter Drue Chrisman have not had any issues with long-snapping. Kicker Sean Nuernberger had neither missed nor had a single field goal blocked this season. Chrisman had no prior issues before his 22-yard flub.
But since the season opener, Ohio State’s kickoff unit has struggled.
Kicker Blake Haubeil began the season as kickoff specialist before Nuernberger replaced him last week. Then, after the Johnson kickoff return for touchdown, Meyer once again sent Haubeil out to kick off.
“I’m still befuddled with [it],” Meyer said. “We’re the only team in the country that can’t kick the ball down the field. It’s something I have to strongly evaluate and find out why.”
Given the many blunders, practice and film session likely will not be enjoyable for the special team unit.
“It’s going to be very intense,” Baker said. “Coach Meyer, he prides himself on special teams.”