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Football: Ohio State looks to keep rolling vs. Maryland

The Buckeyes celebrate redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber (25) after running in a touchdown in the first quarter against Rutgers on Sep. 30. Ohio State won 56-0. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

The No. 10 Ohio State football team (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) returns home to host Maryland (3-1, 1-0) Saturday at 4 p.m. with some newfound momentum, having throttled Rutgers 56-0 last week. The Buckeyes have averaged 49.3 points per game in three wins since its 31-16 loss to Oklahoma in Week 2. Here is what to expect in the matchup between the Buckeyes and Terrapins.

Ohio State offense vs. Maryland defense

The Terrapins have had a successful start to their season, but it has not been because of their defense. The unit, tied for 91st in fewest points allowed, has surrendered an average of 30 points per game, and has only allowed fewer than 24 points once this season, in a 63-17 beatdown of Towson in its home opener.

Maryland has been especially porous when it comes to its pass defense. The Terrapins have been picked apart through the air, having allowed an average of 248 passing yards per game, 37th-most among FBS teams. Though its defense has intercepted five passes, this still could be a mismatch for Maryland because Ohio State appears to have found its stride in the passing game.

Maryland’s lone defensive bright spot has been its ability to slow the run. The team’s defense ranks 48th with only 131.8 rushing yards allowed per game and opponents average just 3.85 yards per carry against the Terrapins. Only six of the 16 offensive touchdowns opponents have scored against Maryland have come on the ground.

The key to Maryland’s ability to limit the run has been linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. The senior was named to both the preseason Bednarik and Butkus award watch lists after finishing seventh in the Big Ten with 8.5 tackles per game in 2016. Carter is leading his team in total tackles (29), tackles for loss (4.0) and sacks (2.5). Though his numbers don’t jump off the page when compared to others in college football, Carter has been a steady presence for the Terrapin defense.

An issue Maryland might run into Saturday is that after a 56-0 trouncing of Rutgers, Ohio State’s offense appears to be clicking. The Buckeyes’ offense now ranks as the 11th-best scoring offense in the country (42.6 points per game), receiving boosts from both its 241 rush yards per game (20th-best in the FBS) and its 323.8 passing yards per game (13th-best in the FBS).

The offense appears to have found its groove of late, leaning more on short passes and blocks downfield to create big plays rather than trying to force deep shots. It also is getting healthier as now running back Mike Weber is fully cleared and wide receiver Johnnie Dixon has played in back-to-back games after missing the Buckeyes’ matchup against Army. With all of the team’s key offensive weapons back and facing a suspect Maryland defense, Ohio State’s offense could continue to build on its recent momentum and improve the rapport between quarterback J.T. Barrett and his receivers.

Ohio State defense vs. Maryland offense

Maryland’s offense comes limping into this game having already lost its top two quarterbacks — Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill — for the year with torn ACLs.

Now turning to sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager, the Maryland offense has taken a drastic new look. Having Pigrome to enter the year, the Terrapins relied on a dual-threat quarterback system, as they have in years past. But Bortenschlager doesn’t have the running ability of Pigrome or Hill.

Bortenschlager has filled in admirably, but he entered the year as the third-string quarterback for a reason. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes (34-for-56) and has three touchdowns and two interceptions. Though he has looked passable in his two games, including a 31-24 win on the road against Minnesota, Bortenschlager will not be counted on as the catalyst for Maryland’s offense.

Instead, the Terrapins will lean on running back Ty Johnson. The junior is tied for 35th in the nation with 411 rushing yards, and his 8.93 rushing yards per carry represent the fourth-highest average among FBS players with at least 30 carries.

The biggest concern for Maryland — as is often the biggest concern for any team facing the Buckeyes — will be how to counter the Ohio State defensive line. Though the Buckeyes rank only 56th in the nation in rushing yards allowed, the numbers are somewhat skewed as Ohio State has faced two opponents (Army and UNLV) that almost exclusively run the football, leading the Buckeyes to have faced the 25th-most rushing attempts.

Ohio State has been more than efficient at breaking through the opposition’s offensive line as the team averages the second-most tackles for loss per game and rank 43rd with 2.4 sacks per game. On the flip side, Maryland’s offensive line has allowed 5.75 tackles for loss per game, 61st in the nation, and has allowed an average of two sacks per game, 66th in the nation.

Ohio State will miss both starting defensive tackles Dre’Mont Jones (leg injury) and Michael Hill (indefinite suspension) for this game, but the Buckeyes benefit from their depth at defensive line and feel confident in running out defensive end Jalyn Holmes and defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle as starters on the interior of their line. With question marks still surrounding Maryland’s passing game and an offensive line that could be overmatched by Ohio State’s defensive line, the Terrapins might have a tough time producing enough offense to win the game.

Predictions:

Edward Sutelan: Ohio State wins 49-14

Colin Hass-Hill: Ohio State wins 51-0

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