This Week in Ohio State Football: Finding the right level of aggression

After a week off, Ohio State is preparing for an eight-week sprint to the finish, and aggression is the word of the week.

Will Ohio State show more of it on either side of the ball? Would that even be a good idea?

Those are among the questions we are pondering This Week in Ohio State Football:

1. What is the next step on offense?

Head coach Ryan Day hinted throughout the offseason he might like to have an offense that leaned on the running game while the quarterback got his feet under him, suggesting a departure from the pass-oriented, more wide-open offensive style he brought to Ohio State as offensive coordinator in 2017.

Since I enjoy an old-school brand of football, I wondered if that was just me hearing what I wanted to hear in the spring and summer, but those are indeed the cards Day showed with his formations and play-calling to start the season.

The results have been mixed. The running game has been solid on early downs, but the Buckeyes have struggled in short-yardage situations and getting a yard when they absolutely have to have it (with the final play at Notre Dame a notable exception), so now what?

So do they keep trying to pound that rock hoping it cracks or…

2, Is Kyle McCord ready to take the next step?

That is what Day said he wants to see after the junior first-year starting quarterback led a stirring fourth quarter rally at Notre Dame.

“He’s got to grow,” Day said. “He’s got to get better in a lot of different areas like everybody else. It was good to get that experience. We all need to be more efficient and finish drives off better. There were a lot of plays he wished he had back, but now we’re moving forward. After the bye week, we have addressed all of those things and the focus is on Maryland.”

With the kind of weapons the Buckeyes have on the perimeter, they could get more dangerous in a hurry if they click with McCord even if the running game continues to be just average, but the staff also has to give him a chance — if it feels he is ready.

3. Will the Buckeyes keep trying to prove their “toughness”?

Day made headlines after calling out critics, including Lou Holtz, of his team’s toughness following the the Notre Dame game.

While it no doubt fired up fans and presumably his team, there was also a certain “he doth protest too much” feel to Day’s comments.

That’s because he has clearly spent the past year and a half trying to get his team to prove it can line up and push people around like Michigan did to the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor in 2021, but the Buckeyes haven’t really been able to do it.

They displayed mental toughness in rallying against the Fighting Irish, but physicality seems to remain an issue.

Run back the tape this year and you will frequently see a run play go awry because someone slipped off a block after making solid initial contact. That is the difference between an average running game and a good one the staff can rely on in big moments, something that can drastically change play-calling let alone the tenor of a game or even a season.

“We have to do whatever we have to do to get the first down,” Day said Tuesday. “We have to do what we can schematically to get it done.

“It’s frustrating to look back at the film and see the way we moved the ball up and down the field but not finish those drives.”

4. This should be a good milepost game for the Ohio State defense.

The Terrapins were the first team to do some damage to the Buckeyes under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles last season, and it turned out Maryland’s success was a sign of things to come as Michigan and Georgia tore the unit to shreds.

While Knowles said he sees Maryland running the same type of offense he saw last year, his unit continues to evolve by focusing more on preventing big plays than creating havoc.

In a perfect world, he would like to have both of course, but this is another test of Knowles’ new mindset and his ability to put it into practice.

“Winning third down, winning fourth down, and limiting explosive plays — that’s the most important thing,” Knowles said. “So we seem to be on a good track with that, and we want to keep that up. Everybody loves a lot of sacks. So do I. I think when I was younger, I was probably driven more by that. Like, ‘How can how can we get more sacks, more negative plays?’ But the bottom line is eliminate the explosive plays, win on third and fourth down. So that’s what we got to continue to focus on.”

5. Reading through Maryland’s pregame notes, it is easy to conclude this is one of the best stretches of football the Terrapins have played in a long time, certainly the best of their Big Ten era.

They are 5-0 for the first time since 2001 (when they were still in the ACC), and they have won all their first five games by at least 18 points for the first time in program history.

They haven’t lost since Ohio State beat them in late November last year, so Mike Locksley’s team certainly has something going.

I have often likened the Terrapins to Penn State, a team that typically has more explosive athletes and playmakers than anyone else in the Big Ten (aside from Ohio State) but has had a hard time maintaining depth, and this appears to be the best version yet.

While we will find out later this month if Penn State has gotten over that hump, but Maryland should be a good physical test for the Ohio State back seven on defense mentally and physically.

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