Sep 13, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Darron Lee (43) tackles Kent State Golden Flashes running back Nick Holley (4) at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 66-0. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Against Cincinnati, Ohio State relied on a lot of man-to-man defense in order to stick their opponent. As talented as the Ohio State secondary is, they had a lot of issues staying with their man the whole way. In a pass-heavy offense, Cincinnati had the deep ball open almost all game. Cincinnati’s receivers had very little issues getting separation from the cornerback. Despite the Buckeyes allowing the 13th-least passing yards in the country with 162.5 yards per game, the same secondary allowed 352 yards in the air against Cincinnati. When Ohio State played a zone (excluding third down plays), one or two outside linebackers would do a great job of blitzing the quarterback and forcing their opponent into a mistake or getting rid of the ball earlier than they would have initially liked. However, as good as the linebackers and defensive line are, the secondary is very concerning moving forward. Despite the loss, Gunner Kiel had a great day, finishing 21/32 for 352 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. What the secondary lacks, the defensive line makes up.
When sophomore sensation DE Noah Spence was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season, I questioned the Buckeyes’ pass rush. However, what I saw was that their line is their strength. Sophomore DE Joey Bosa is in on almost every play, providing a reliable defender that can stop both the run and pass. Their defensive tackles, junior Adolphus Washington and senior Michael Bennett, are two big tackles that do a good job plugging the middle of the defense, but are also quick, making them very tough to match up against. Even with the four man rush, Ohio State did a good job of getting to Kiel, even when Cincinnati used an extra blocker to give the offense time to develop.
How Maryland Attacks
Maryland enters the game ranked 48th in the nation in passing yards per game. Surprisingly low, it’s Maryland’s balanced offense that has weighed that down. Nonetheless, whoever starts at quarterback on Saturday will certainly look to get his receivers involved. When Ohio State plays zone, the defense looks to keep the ball in front of them and avoid the big plays. This gives junior receiver Stefon Diggs an advantage here, as his playmaking-ability to turn short passes into big gains can force Ohio State into increased coverage on Diggs. Marcus Leak could be this week’s version of Cincinnati’s Chris Moore, who caught three catches for 228 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Buckeyes. The emergence of Leak has given Maryland a reliable third option in the passing game. Long’s crisp route running and strong hands can give Maryland a good chance against the secondary on the sidelines. I expect at least forty pass attempts in this game, as the Buckeyes’ exposed secondary will be tested against arguably one of the best passing attacks in the Big Ten.
In the Cincinnati Game, the run defense was not tested as much as previous weeks. The Buckeyes allowed just 70 yards on 19 attempts last week, however. Largely in part to defensive tackles Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington, the defensive line is easily the most impressive unit of this defense. Even in their loss against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes allowed just three yards per rushing attempt and 123 yards in the game. Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Steven Miller do a good job of containing the running back and not overcommitting. The linebackers also are high-IQ players that bring a lot of talent on the field. Led by senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant, this quick group does a good job of hitting the holes in the trenches and stopping the running back early. Just like the defensive line, outside linebackers Joshua Perry and Darron Lee are the Ohio State version of Yannick Ngakoue: great pass-rushers that can blow by the offensive line and disrupt the quarterback. With CJ Brown not 100%, expect a lot of Perry and Lee in the Maryland backfield.
Looking at the statistics, you may question how the run defense has improved when they’re ranked so low. One word: Navy. In the season opener in Baltimore, the Buckeyes allowed 390 yards in the game, but 370 came on the ground. A big outlier, the run-heavy offense of Navy made Ohio State’s run defense look, on paper, much worse than it truly is. While the run defense was surely humbled in this game, the Buckeyes haven’t been beaten on the ground this season. For an experienced rushing attack like Maryland’s, I expect the Terps to certainly test this defense.
How Maryland Attacks
This is where losing tight end Andrew Isaacs hurts Maryland. P.J. Gallo and Derrick Hayward give Maryland a threat in the passing game, but their in-game blocking ability isn’t as good as Isaacs. That doesn’t mean all is lost, however, as sophomore Kenneth Goins Jr. has done a great job leading Brandon Ross this year into finding the open holes. I believe no matter who is running the ball, Goins must continue to play at the high level he’s played this season in order to get the ground game running.
In terms of who should get the majority of the running calls, I believe Wes Brown gets the nod here. Brown is a more bruising, grind-it-out type back that can wear down the defensive line over time. While Brandon Ross has been playing exceptionally well, he tends to struggle against bigger, physical defensive lines. That does not mean abandon Ross, because his ability to catch and run has continued to impress this season. However, if Ross has trouble holding onto the football, expect Edsall to give him a short leash in favor of the former Good Counsel standout.
Now onto Maryland’s leading rusher, C.J. Brown. Whether he plays will impact the running game, as Brown’s dual-threat ability to tuck-and-go has made the Terps’ offense lethal all year.
Ohio State run defense: 65th, 153 yards per game
Ohio State pass defense: 13th, 162.5 yards per game
Ohio State first down defense: t-14th, 36 rushing FD, 26 passing FD, 6 FD from penalties
Ohio State red-zone defense: 92nd, 88.9% efficiency
Ohio State team sacks: t-51st, 2.25 sacks/game
Ohio State turnovers: t-55th, 2 FRs, 5 INTs