This past week, Ohio State was focused on the No. 1 rush defense in the country in Michigan State.
In their 26-6 victory, the Buckeyes ran for 120 yards, 104 of which came from redshirt junior running back Mike Weber and with 116 coming in the second half.
This week, No. 10 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) turns its focus to the No. 18 pass defense in the country. Maryland has the best pass defense the Buckeyes has faced this season before coming home next week against the top-ranked Michigan pass defense.
“I see a defense. I think they’re a top-30 defense in America. They do a good job. They’ve got a really good front. They have a back end that they could play most places in the country,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said. “They’ve done a really good job there, very, very talented, one of the more talented defenses we’ve seen, to be honest with you. I really think that they’ve done a nice job this year.”
The Terrapins (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) are the No. 30 defense in the NCAA, allowing 343.2 yards per game. The No. 18 pass defense gives up 181.8 yards per game and has 17 interceptions on the season, the most of any team in the country.
Senior linebacker Tre Watson leads Maryland with 98 tackles and five interceptions. His 9.8 tackles per game is tied for No. 27 in the nation. Senior defensive back Darnell Savage Jr. has four interceptions, giving the Terrapins two players in the Top 11 in the country in picks.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback and Potomac, Maryland, native Dwayne Haskins, knows firsthand what this Maryland team can do.
“They beat Texas last year, they beat them this year, so I know how talented those guys are,” Haskins said. “[I] worked out with them, hang out with them. I know how skilled they are and how much they put into the game, so I feel like it’s good to have that self-scout report heading into this week.”
Maryland defeated No. 15 Texas 34-29 in the opening game of the season behind 232 total yards and a touchdown from redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill.
Hill was labeled out for the season this week following an ACL tear in the loss against Indiana.
Offensively, the Terrapins are one of the most one-dimensional teams the Buckeyes have faced all season. Even with Hill, Maryland has the sixth-worst passing offense in the nation, averaging 131.4 passing yards per game.
But in the run game, the Terrapins thrive, averaging 234.9 yards per game, No. 18 in the NCAA, and earning 21 touchdowns on the ground.
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Robert Landers said he expects an improved Maryland team from the one Ohio State faced last season.
“They always have great athletes. All the way across the board from their O-line to their D-line to their skill positions, they’ve always been a very athletic team,” Landers said. “From my personal experiences and my personal opinion, I feel like they are a lot better this year than they were last year.”
Taking over for Hill at quarterback is redshirt sophomore Tyrell Pigrome, who is more rush-oriented, throwing 31 times and rushing 38 times on the season.
“You know the guy that’s in can run the ball,” junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said. “That definitely plays an effect into practice and everything.”
Maryland uses a variety of running backs, with the primary back being redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland, who has totaled 724 yards and two touchdowns on seven yards per carry.
Redshirt senior running back Ty Johnson has 506 yards and three touchdowns in the run game, and sophomore Javon Leake is the big-play running back for the Terrapins, averaging 14.4 yards per rush.
Maryland’s run game provides an opportunity to make some of the big plays that Ohio State is known for giving up. With a team average of 5.8 yards per carry, the Terrapins have four backs who can all make a major difference against the Buckeyes, specifically exploiting the second level of defense.
Hill’s injury shouldn’t make an impact on a team that struggles in the passing game already, but Pigrome hasn’t shown an ability to be the guy down the stretch to pull out an upset if the game is close late.
The best chance Maryland has is in the battle between Haskins and the impressive Terrapins’ secondary. But with the rise of Ohio State’s run game, this matchup won’t matter as much as it would have three weeks ago.
The Terrapins are getting a confident Buckeyes team, even after a sloppy victory in East Lansing, Michigan, and that might be enough for Ohio State to get an advantage.
The debate isn’t really whether Ohio State will win, but if it will secure that statement victory the team desperately needs to move up in the College Football Playoff.
I don’t think this is that game. Maryland should get enough going in the run game to keep it mildly close, and Ohio State’s offense has not exploded in a matchup since Tulane.
The Buckeyes will win, and most likely cover the spread at 15, but I don’t see this being that explosion Ohio State is looking for.
Wyatt Crosher: 34-17 Ohio State
Rachel Bules: 35-20 Ohio State
Colin Gay: 38-17 Ohio State
Kaylin Hynes: 35-17 Ohio State
Edward Sutelan: 31-20 Ohio State