COLUMBUS (AP) – No. 10 Ohio State continues to plow through a series of lesser opponents before the next big test comes Oct. 28 against No. 4 Penn State. Maryland, coming off an exhilarating win over Minnesota last week, will try to keep up with the more-talented Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Ohio State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) beat up on Rutgers last week , 56-0, after routs of UNLV and Army. The games were confidence builders after the Buckeyes were beaten by Oklahoma in the week No. 2. But given the level of competition, it’s difficult to know if they really have made improvements in an inconsistent passing game and other problem areas.
Coach Urban Meyer insists Ohio State has gotten better while feasting on outgunned opponents.
“The good thing about this team and the coaching staff is we’re not walking around with blinders on,” Meyer said. “We’re optimistic, and we’re pleased with the progress, but we’re also realistic. Where are we? I think we’ve improved, like anybody can see we improved. When it comes time, this week, can we continue against good, very good competition?”
Center Billy Price put it more bluntly: “There’s been a lot of progress. You’re blind if you can’t see that.”
Despite being a 30-point underdog, Maryland (3-1, 1-0) should be the best team Ohio State has faced since Oklahoma.
Some other things to watch for Saturday:
MAKE WAY FOR MAD MAX
Third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager was pressed into service as a starter after ACL injuries to the two guys in front of him, Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill. The sophomore was up for the task.
He put together a long game-winning drive against Minnesota last week, hitting some clutch throws to set up a 34-yard touchdown run by Ty Johnson with 70 seconds remaining. He finished 18 of 28 for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
“I really think, again, it comes back to his teammates around him,” Maryland coach D.J. Durkin said. “I thought our receivers played phenomenal in that game, our O-line did a great job protecting him, as well as our running backs being effective in the run game and converting on third downs.”
RUNNING BACK ROULETTE
With Ohio State running back Mike Weber now fully healthy after a hamstring injury that has dogged him most of the season, Meyer has a pleasant conundrum: How should he divide carries between Weber, a 1,000-yard rusher last season , and dynamic true freshman J.K. Dobbins, who has piled up the yards as the primary back so far.
Weber played his first completely healthy game of the season against Rutgers, rushing for 44 yards and bullying his way in for three touchdowns.
Meyer said a package of plays is being developed for a scheme that includes both backs in the game at the same time.
A big key for Maryland last week was its play on third down. The Terps turned a third down into a first-and-10 on nine of 16 occasions last week. Minnesota went 5 for 12.
Duplicating that feat will be important, because the less Maryland sees of the Buckeyes’ offense on the field, the better.
“We’ve got to win on third down and get off the field defensively, and on offense it’s how you extend drives,” Durkin said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to figure out what you can execute on third down in order to stay on the field. We had a good plan put together and our guys executed it.”
Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley, who has missed time with a foot injury, is probable for Saturday. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, who cut himself in a freak locker room accident and had to have stitches last week, will miss a second game. Backup running back Antonio Williams is questionable.
Also, starting safety Erick Smith will miss his second game for unspecified reasons, which will take a bite out of the depth in the defensive secondary.