COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Early in the season, it looked like a typical year for the modern Ohio State-Michigan saga.
The Wolverines opened their season with a loss to Notre Dame, and the Buckeyes opened their season with five straight victories, two against then-ranked opponents.
But as the season progressed, one team proved to be the superior coming into the matchup.
Ohio State started its decline to the underdog position with closer-than-expected wins against Indiana and Minnesota, showing flaws both offensively and defensively, capitalized with a 49-20 loss to Purdue.
Many expected the Buckeyes to come out the following game and take out their frustration on an underperforming Nebraska team. They didn’t, squeaking out a 36-31 win. Ohio State looked slightly more impressive in a 26-6 victory against Michigan State, but that was more a result of the Spartans handing the Buckeyes opportunities than Ohio State proving itself fixed.
Ohio State was not fixed. And that showed in a big way, in Saturday’s 52-51 overtime win against Maryland.
The Buckeyes came into College Park with No. 4 Michigan on the horizon, and appeared underprepared for a Terrapins team with five losses, allowing 535 yards to the 31st-worst offense in the nation.
The Ohio State offense tallied 688 yards and kept the team in it while trailing for the majority of the matchup, something it won’t be able to do next Saturday.
Ohio State leaves with a win it didn’t deserve.
On Maryland’s only overtime possession, in which Maryland redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland ran the ball 24 yards, setting up a 1-yard score by sophomore running back Tayon Fleet-Davis, the Terrapins went for two.
“I was already stressed out that the fact that they scored in the first place, and then, when they went for it, I’m like, ‘alright well we gotta find a way to stop them,’” Ohio State redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “I tried to just get penetration, shoot the gap, and, luckily it was a bad pass because he seemed open in my point of view.”
Jones was right.
On the conversion attempt, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome had an open receiver in the endzone to win the game. He missed him, and Ohio State squeaked away with a win, holding on to the fading hopes that this team could make the Big Ten Championship and, if things go in favor of the Buckeyes, the College Football Playoff.
“I mean, if we would have lost that game, then pretty much everything is over,” Jones said. “That’s what I feel like.”
The Buckeyes are expected to be a team that competes for the playoff every season, and anything less than a Top-4 finish is considered a failure in the eyes of many, including Jones.
But Ohio State proved once again on Saturday that finishing outside the Top 4 is increasingly likely.
After failing to take a lead for the entirety of regulation, forcing redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins to carry the team on his back with 464 total yards and six total touchdowns, the defense needed a missed throw to give him a victory in his home state.
After sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins broke his career-high with 203 rushing yards, Ohio State needed to be lucky.
They won’t get that luck against the Wolverines.
“It’s up and down,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “Is it where we need to be? It’s not, but we are 10-1 and we will try and find a way to be 11-1.”
To be 11-1, the Buckeyes need to be a team they haven’t been the entire season. They need to be a team capable of defeating an opponent with a scoring offense and defense in the top 25 in the NCAA, a team with the nation’s fewest yards allowed per game, a team that defeated this same Maryland team by three touchdowns.
Ohio State is the inferior team coming into the matchup, and lacks the consistency on either side of the ball to prove itself as anything other than the underdog come next Saturday.
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano knows his defense has had this inconsistency.
“We’ve had some really good defensive play at times, but not consistently, and I’ve said that after the first quarter of the season, I said that at the midway, it’s frustrating that we’re not a consistent defense right now,” Schiano said. “Rest assured, I mean every waking minute we have, we’re gonna try to get that fixed.”
The defense looked “fixed” against Michigan State. The Terrapins proved it wasn’t.
With the Buckeyes likely coming in as underdogs against the Wolverines, they will need to prove themselves as a new team following a 1-point victory to Maryland.
Because the team that held on for dear life against Maryland does not stand a chance against Michigan this season.