Ohio State head football coach Ryan Day speaks to the media in the video player above to ahead of the Buckeyes’ game against Maryland.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State fans may be itching for the “The Game,” but players and coaches know that a different challenge lies ahead Saturday when the Buckeyes play at 3:30 p.m. at Maryland (6-4, 3-4).
It is the final road game of the regular season and a prelude to their home game on Nov. 26 against Michigan.
Here are things to know before the penultimate kickoff.
Shelling the Terrapins
Maryland started hot but has lost three of its last five, including its last two, against Wisconsin and Penn State, by a combined 53-10 margin.
The last time the Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0) went to College Park was 2018, when they escaped with a 52-51 after a Terrapins two-point conversion attempt failed in overtime. It’s the closest Maryland has come to pulling an upset.
“We have an opportunity to go 11-0 this weekend and still not have reached one of our goals yet,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “That’s just sobering, but it’s the facts. And we know that. It’s part of that building process, week in and week out, to be playing our best football in November.”
The teams have played each season but one since 2014, with Ohio State winning all seven times by an average of 59-22. The fewest points scored by the Buckeyes was 49 in 2015, and the 73 scored in 2019 was the most.
If not for a couple of unfortunate bounces, Maryland could be an eight-win football team. The Terrapins hung in with Michigan before falling 34-27 and lost 31-29 at home to Purdue two weeks later when a two-point conversation failed in the final 35 seconds.
Stop the Terps from passing, stop the Terps, period
Although not quite on the level of the Buckeyes receiving corps, Maryland has big-time talent in former five-star recruit Rakeem Jarrett, Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, senior Jeshaun Jones, and senior Dontay Demus Jr., who, like Jarrett, was a top recruit who flashed in 2019 with 41 catches and six touchdowns but has fought injuries since.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is third in the conference in completion percentage (68.3) but has cooled off a bit after a hot start. He has just one TD pass in games against Wisconsin and Penn State, completing just over 45% of his passes. Both of those defenses are active and physical up front, which could give Ohio State an advantage.
“I don’t really look at rankings or anything like that until the end of the year,” Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “You just have to take it week to week with whoever you’re playing and have great habits that turn into a lifestyle and demeanor. If you ever look past somebody because they don’t have the right ranking, you’re in trouble.”
If Maryland finds success through the air, it’s likely to dovetail with a big game from Tagovailoa’s top target. Jarrett leads the Terrapins with 37 catches for 406 yards, and although he hasn’t been as effective as he was in 2021, he is still capable of making big plays.
Jarrett, who visited Ohio State in 2018 while still in high school, caught just one pass against the Buckeyes last season, on a 43-yard touchdown play. That was part of a season where Jarrett made 62 catches for 829 yards and five TDs.
Every Maryland loss this season has come when Jarrett’s impact was limited. Against Michigan, he finished with just 12 yards, and against Purdue, he had 28. Jarrett caught just one pass for five yards against Wisconsin and three for 30 yards this past weekend against Penn State.
Knowles said Tagovailoa is a very good “scrambler and playmaker” and he might be “a little banged up,” which would explain Maryland’s recent lackluster performances. Tagovailoa missed a game Oct. 22 against Northwestern because of a sprained knee ligament but returned the following week against Wisconsin.
Maryland has shown good balance on offense, running 35 times per game and throwing the ball 32 times. Although personnel says the Terrapins should be a heavier passing team, Knowles knows the Buckeyes have to be ready for just about anything against a team that has nothing to lose.
“You have to take it week to week with whoever you’re playing and have great habits that turn into a lifestyle,” he said.
Defense long on potential, short on results
The Terps were expected to make a jump defensively this season, thanks to a 3-4 system that puts emphasis on linebackers making plays. The acquisition of VanDarius Cowan via transfer from West Virginia brought optimism, but he has been banged up most of the season and has just eight tackles.
The secondary has a pair of talented cornerbacks in Tarheeb Still and Jakorian Bennett, and the latter is likely to be matched up with Buckeyes star Marvin Harrison Jr.
It’s a tall order for anyone to stop the sophomore, who against single coverage this season has 32 catches for first downs, 658 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 18 catches of 15 yards or more.
“You have to try to double him, but he’s made catches against us in practice in a bracket,” Knowles said. “If he knows what you’re doing and C.J. (Stroud) knows what you’re doing, they’re going to make plays.”
The fact that the Buckeyes have had the nation’s most lethal passing attack without Jaxon Smith-Njigba says a lot about the talent at receiver and how well the group has developed.
“If you had said to me that (we wouldn’t have missed a beat without Jaxon Smith-Njigba), I wouldn’t have believed you.” Day said. “It’s an exciting time to be a wide receiver at Ohio State.”
Day believes Smith-Njigba is “one of the best receivers in the country and one of the best slot receivers I’ve ever been around.”
Day was reticent to give a health update on Smith-Njigba, who hasn’t played since limited time against Iowa on Oct. 22.
It appears the Buckeyes are on track to have close to a full complement of running backs. TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and Chip Trayanum are expected to be available. Williams was carted off last weekend in a 56-16 win over Indiana because of a leg injury. Henderson has missed two straight games because of a foot injury but appears close to returning, and Trayanum was moved over a couple of weeks ago when depth became low.
Freshman Dallan Hayden assumed the running chores after Williams went out last week and gained 102 yards and a touchdown.
Being as healthy as possible late in the season will go a long way toward determining whether the Buckeyes reach their stated goals – Big Ten title, College Football Playoff appearance and national championship.
“Do I think we’ve played our best football yet? I don’t,” Day said. “We can do better in all three phases of the game, and we’ll have to if we want to get where we want to be.”