The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (4-1, 1-0) vs Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1, 0-0)
The Time: 12 PM EST
The Location: Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.
TV/Radio: ABC, 105.7
The Coaches: Randy Edsall and Urban Meyer,
The Maryland Terrapins move to the Big Ten officially sunk in last week, as the Terps had their first conference road game against the Indiana Hoosiers, if you can call it that.
Maryland traveled to Bloomington and thoroughly thumped the Hoosiers 37-15 in spite of losing their starting quarterback for the second half. C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe both torched a porous Indiana defense for a combined three touchdowns and 361 yards. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long combined for over 100 yards apiece as well, as the Terps passing attack really got going for the first time all year.
The Terrapins defense showed off it’s depth as they overcame a rash of injuries to the linebackers to hold a high octane Indiana offense to one touchdown. The Hoosiers only score came as the game was already out of reach.
They’ll need another complete performance both offensively and defensively when #20 Ohio State comes into College Park for the first time ever. The Buckeyes, arguably the crown jewel of Big Ten, are looking for both their first conference and signature win in order to play themselves back into the CFB conversation.
Ohio State has been on a surge since their shocking loss at home to Virginia Tech in week two. Since then, they’ve trounced Kent State 66-0, and outscored Cincinnati 54-28 last week. Freshman QB J.T Barrett has thrown 10 touchdowns and no picks in his last two outings, and appears to have found his comfort zone.
But Ohio State has to overcome a defense that has looked suspect on multiple occasions. They’ve sacrificed a lot of big plays against legitimate opponents, and Maryland is prone to making them. So which defense can make enough stops?
Key Storyline of the Game:
Will Ohio State’s defense give up big plays and can Maryland’s red zone defense hold?
Interestingly enough, while very few analysts would label either of these defenses as “structurally sound,” they are fundamentally different brands of mediocre.
For Ohio State, it’s being burnt by the big play through the air. Last week, the Buckeyes gave up big plays of 60, 19, 83, and 78 yards to Gunner Kiel. Against Virginia Tech, they failed to stop multiple third downs or first down pass plays that picked up huge chunks of yardage and put the Hokies in good field position. That might give you the idea that this Ohio State defense is bad, but they’re not entirely.
See, Ohio State’s defense is actually 18th nationally in yards per game because, outside of those big plays that result from mental lapses, they’re pretty great. The Hokies won because they started drives with great field position, not because their offense was prolific. Cincinnati had a few big plays that accounted for all their yards for the game, the rest of the time was spent going three-and-out. Ohio State had the ball for a whopping 40 minutes.
For Maryland, their folly is in their inability to keep anyone from advancing to the red zone. The Terps are giving up 468 yards per game to opponents defensively, which is good for 101st nationally. Indiana was able to run all over the Terps, and West Virginia eviscerated them through the air. There are major issues with Maryland being able to hold opponents from advancing.
Fortunately, the Terps are opportunistic. They’re creating turnovers (35th nationally in turnovers per game) and when teams get into the red zone, they are incredibly competent. Maryland is 5th nationally in red zone percentage on the defensive end at 60%, while a team like Ohio State is 88th with 89%. The difference is stark there, and it’s because Maryland’s linebackers operate much better when there’s less field to cover. They’re better at coverage, better at rushing the passer, and good at reading the QB.
Both strategies are prone to failure, and this game could really be decided on which defense’s preferred method flops.
X-Factor of the game: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
If there’s one person that matters in this game more than any other, it’s Ohio State’s freshman quarterback, Mr. Barrett. He’s got 10 touchdowns and zero pickles over the last two games, but they’ve been against two of the worst 100 defenses in college football (both worse and less talented than Maryland). When he went up against Virginia Tech (a top forty D), Barrett was horrific: 9-of-26, 1 touchdown and 3 picks.
Maryland isn’t going to be able to transform into an elite defense overnight, but they can at least look the part of a top 50 defense for one game. I can see the Terps trying to make J.T. Barrett do everything early on for Ohio State just to see how he responds. Disguised blitzes that challenge Barrett to use that questionable arm and take away the run, letting him run while sealing off the intermediary and deep routes; Maryland will try it all.
If Barrett gouges Maryland early, then the game plan is going to get exceedingly more difficult. If he can’t make the throws when the Terps give him a chance to, then they know to put a ton of emphasis on the run.
Maryland will win if…
They convert their third downs
It sounds simple, but it’s true. Maryland needs to extend drives and control the clock, and they can only do that by converting third downs. They’re not great at it, ranking in the top 75, and Ohio State is very good at it. Maryland’s got to keep that offense off the field, as they’re likely going to run a hurry up style that gave the Terps so much trouble against WVU.
Current record: 5-0
While I think Maryland will still be able to score on Ohio State, the advantage the Terps offense has over the Buckeyes D is smaller than gap between how good Ohio State’s offense is compared to how iffy Maryland’s D has been. If both teams show up it should be pretty close, but I’ve yet to see the Terps get over the hump against a ranked opponent under Edsall. I’ll gladly be okay being proven wrong here, though.