COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 7 Ohio State moved up four spots in the Associated Press poll after a lopsided 52-13 road win over Rutgers in which the Buckeyes put together their best all-around performance.
This week, Ohio State returns home to host a Maryland team coming off an embarrassing 51-14 loss to No. 3 Iowa. Despite the loss, the Terrapins are more than capable of coming into the Horseshoe and derailing OSU’s season.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s noon game at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State hasn’t had a problem with protecting quarterback C.J. Stroud but they might have trouble against a Maryland team that leads the Big Ten in sacks per game (3.6) and ranks tied for seventh in the country.
The Buckeyes give up just 1.4 sacks per game, fourth-best in the Big Ten and tied for 26th in the country. Stroud had his best first quarter by far against Rutgers, which helped the redshirt freshman gain confidence early and more importantly give the Buckeyes a cushion in case the defense faltered, which it did not.
In order for Stroud to start hot again, it’s incumbent for the offensive line to keep him off the ground with plenty of time to find his playmakers like he did with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson against the Scarlet Knights.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had his worst game last week throwing a staggering five interceptions against the Hawkeyes. Tagovailoa can be prone to making mistakes when pressured and when playing good defenses. And those mistakes come in bunches. Aside from the game against Iowa, Tagovailoa had three interceptions in his collegiate debut against Indiana last year and three interceptions in the Terps final game of 2020 versus Northwestern.
Ohio State’s defense has thrived off turnovers this year forcing nine while returning four for a touchdown. The Buckeyes are capable of forcing turnovers against the Terps but as always it starts up front where true freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer says the unit is getting better.
“We’ve been having our best practices moving forward, and I think here in a few weeks, you guys are going to be like, ‘Wow, here’s the Buckeye d-line you know that you guys have seen in years past,'” Sawyer said. “Guys are just progressing at a high rate right now, and it’s all of us, too.”
So far, Ohio State’s defensive tackles are outpacing the defensive ends when it comes to sacks at a nine to two ratio.
“When you look at the pressure we’re starting to get, I think that’s exciting,” coach Ryan Day said. “We’re starting to get home on some things, and I think a lot of that has to do with our guys getting better at rushing. But also I think that the quarterback isn’t seeing the same picture all the time.”
Is Ohio State’s secondary better?
The Buckeyes have been saying for weeks their secondary is much improved from the beginning of the season to now. And now is the time to prove it.
Maryland’s passing game ranks 13th in the country, and that’s what you get with Tagovailoa. When it rains, it pours for the second-year starter when it comes to both making mistakes and torching opposing defenses.
The Terps will be a true test to see if the Buckeyes secondary can rise up to the challenge of facing an offense that averages more than 300 yards passing. Maryland’s passing game did take a hit last week when Dontay Demus Jr. suffered a knee injury and has been ruled out for the rest of the season.
It’s unclear whether cornerback Cam Brown will be available this week as he continues to deal with a head injury.
Surprisingly, Ohio State’s best defensive back is true freshman Denzel Burke, who hasn’t allowed a touchdown and has only given up 12 catches.
Cornerback Sevyn Banks will need to step up on the opposite side despite dealing with a nagging injury from last year that’s forced him to play only sparingly so far.
“I’m up there. I wouldn’t say top notch right now but I’m up there,” Banks said. “Y’all ain’t seen the best yet.”
Ohio State continues to utilize a double-safety look with Cam Martinez and Maryland native Bryson Shaw who was recruited by the Terps and actually committed to Maryland for lacrosse before coming to OSU.
“They recruited me pretty hard you know great people I know a lot of them but it’s time to go against them now so I’m ready,” Shaw said.