Ohio State vs. Maryland: Matchups to watch Saturday

COLUMBUS — Ohio State is back in action Saturday against a Maryland team that figures to be able to challenge the fourth-ranked Buckeyes in multiple ways.

“They are sound — strong up front and athletic in the back end,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said of the 5-0 Terrapins’ defense. “They have replaced some really good defensive backs from last year with more good DBs. The safeties are playing well and the corners are excellent. The linebackers are more experienced this year and playing fast. They have recruited some guys up front.”

Here are five areas to watch when the Terrapins invade Ohio Stadium at high noon:

1. Can the Buckeyes contain Taulia Tagovailoa and the Maryland passing game?

Maryland’s senior quarterback is the reining Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after he completed 24 of 34 passes for 352 yards in a 44-17 win over Indiana.

Tagovailoa threw five touchdown passes and ran for a touchdown.

“He makes a lot of plays,” Day said. “They’ve always got playmakers on offense. We’ve got to do a good job of recognizing how they’re trying to attack us and have a great week of practice. Ultimately it comes down to winning the game up front, and our secondary is going to get challenged this week.”

Tagovailoa, the younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, gave the Buckeyes some fits in their matchup last season, and defense coordinator Jim Knowles said he can challenge the defense both in his ability to get rid of the ball quickly and to scramble when necessary.

“We always talk about coverage and rush working together,” Knowles said. “He has the ability to extend plays, and when you get an extended play, the opportunity to make an explosive play goes up.

“It’s not like a typical quarterback where you say, ‘Hey, let’s present some different pictures, get him to hold the ball and just go after him. You can’t do that with him because if you present different pictures and he holds the ball, now you better be coordinated with your rush.”

2. Ohio State is looking to maintain its defensive improvement.

With Knowles making some adjustments to his philosophy and the players more comfortable in his scheme, Ohio State has so far avoided giving up the explosive plays that were its undoing at the end of 2022.

This season, Maryland’s offense has been more efficient than explosive, but a Week 12 game at Maryland was when things started to unravel last season for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State allowed an average of 6.4 explosive plays in its first 10 games in 2022 before Maryland notched nine. A week later, Michigan also had nine, and Georgia posted 17 in the Peach Bowl while erasing a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to win 42-41.

This year Ohio State is allowing 6.25 explosive plays per game through four games.

“Like Kobe (Bryant) said, ‘The job’s not finished,” senior safety Lathan Ransom said. “We got a long season left. What we did in the first four games was really good, but like y’all seen last year, we were one of the best defenses for a lot of games. That don’t matter unless we do it for the whole season. That’s our mindset.”

3. What will Kyle McCord do for an encore?

“He’s gotten better every week that he has started,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said of Ohio State’s quarterback. “That’s what you expect with a first-year starter at the quarterback position. He’s taken over a system that is a quarterback-friendly system. He has the intangibles. He has the ability to make all the throws. They’ve done a really good job in how they’ve brought him along.”

Ohio State star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., said he hasn’t seen any change in McCord since he led a comeback win at Notre Dame two weeks ago, and that is a good thing.

“One thing that’s really cool about Kyle, he’s the same guy all the time no matter where he is on the depth chart,” said Harrison, who played high school football with McCord at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. “That’s the kind of person he is. He has confidence in himself that he can go out there and perform at a high level.”

4. Ohio State hopes to show progress in its ground game.

The Buckeyes have struggled to convert third- and fourth-and-short so far this season, something that sticks in Day’s craw as much as it does fans of a program once known for Woody Hayes’ “Three yards and a cloud of dust” approach to offense.

“As we all know, you’ve got to give the running game a little bit of time to take effect and then when it does, you start to wear teams down,” Day said. “Those runs of three or four turn into six or seven and start to run into explosive plays. We’ve got to start faster. We’ve got to be more efficient early on to make those four, five and sixes.”

He said the rushing attack took a step in the right direction at Notre Dame, but there is more work to be done against a Maryland defense that is 42nd in the nation against the run but ranks 106th in power rushing defense (short-yardage plays), 96th in stuff rate (plays stopped for no gain or a loss) and 93rd in average defensive line yards.

Ohio State right tackle Josh Fryar expressed confidence his group can work it out.

“We’ve just got to get better,” Fryar said. “We’ve got to work our fit and then fall back on our technique. Mainly those are the two key things that’ll improve the running game.”

5. Locksley wants to see his team embrace a opportunity for a signature win.

The Terrapins are 0-8 against Ohio State, and they have barely been competitive in the four games played in Ohio Stadium.

With his team 5-0 and riding high, Locksley told reporters in College Park this week he wants to make sure they are not intimidated by the scene.

“I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere,” Locksley said. “It is their homecoming. While we have a lot of respect for Ohio State, we also know that it’s game six on our schedule. It’s not the Super Bowl.

“As we prepare each week, it’s Terps vs.Terps. That will be more evident this week as prepare because, as I’ve told our staff it’s our job as a staff to have our players in the best position.

“But ultimately, it will come down to players making plays. We have some talented players in our locker room. Big-time players show up in big-time games. We’re excited about it. We prepare the same each week regardless of who our opponent is. Our players have embraced that approach. It has really helped us.”


Maryland at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410

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