The 10th-ranked Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) have four straight lopsided wins over the Terrapins and they’re heavy favorites Saturday when the teams tangle at Maryland Stadium in College Park. Don’t tell Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, though.
“No, we’re not playing great at times,” he said. “But then our defense came out and played the way they did. And our special teams played the way they did, and got us a great team win (26-6 at Michigan State). We’re not where I would like us to be.”
Still, Ohio State is in the hunt for a Big Ten title, if they dismantle Maryland and then beat archrival Michigan next week in the biggest Big Ten showdown in Columbus. And yes, Meyer has already talked to his team about the perils of looking ahead to the Maize and Blue, he admitted at his Monday press conference.
Interim Maryland coach Matt Canada faces different problems as the Terrapins (5-5, 3-4) prepare for their final home game.
The Terps not only suffered a tough 34-32 loss at Indiana last week, they also lost starting quarterback Kasim Hill for the rest of the season with an ACL injury. Of course, Maryland has been battling uphill all year since the death of sophomore lineman Jordan McNair in a summer workout.
Repercussions are still ripping through the program — coach DJ Durkin, a former Meyer assistant, finally was fired two weeks ago; university president Wallace Loh announced his retirement at the end of the school year and University System of Maryland Board of Regents chair Jim Brady resigned after the board first attempted to reinstate Durkin to great furor.
At times, playing football on Saturdays has been the least of the Terrapins’ worries, but the loss to the Hoosiers was particularly tough, so close to a sixth victory and bowl eligibility. Now Maryland hopes hinge on beating Ohio State at home or 16th-ranked Penn State on the road.
“There’s a lot more going on this year with this football team than anyone understands,” Canada said. “The way they lean on each other, the way they stick together. I don’t haven any doubt they’re going to play very, very hard.”
Two-touchdown favorite Ohio State is so good that may not matter if Meyer’s team can stay on task even with Michigan on their mind. The Buckeyes have reeled off back-to-back victories since the upset loss at Purdue last month, and Meyer is leery of the up-and-down Terrapins.
“I think this is one of the more talented teams in the Big Ten,” he said. “They beat Texas early on. They have extremely good skill. They just had a guy (Anthony McFarland) rush for 200 yards. Their defense is a Top 20 defense. Our guys watch film. They know what’s in store, and I can assure you their focus is on going in to win that game at noon.”
Meanwhile, Maryland really hasn’t faced a passing attack like the Buckeyes can muster. Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins is passing into rarified air, just 51 yards from breaking a 20-year old school record for passing yards in a season (3,330) set by Joe Germaine. Haskins leads the Big Ten with a 165.4 passer rating, completing 68.9 percent with 33 touchdowns.
To add insult to injury, Haskins was a major Maryland recruiting target coming out of Potomac, Md., and The Bullis School. He opted for Ohio State and this will be a homecoming for him Saturday, going against a Maryland pass defense ranked second in the Big Ten, allowing just 181.8 yards per game.
The Terrapins, meanwhile, will have backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome taking over for Hill. Pigrome was the starter last year before going down with a knee injury in the season opener at Texas.He was replaced by Hill, who then won the preseason battle for the job this year.
But “Pig” is a gifted runner and able passer who can present different problems for the Ohio State defense.
The ground game is the Terrapins’ bread and butter. Maryland is 4-1 when rushing for more than 300 yards, and McFarland had 210 rushing yards at Indiana last week. The Ohio State ground defense has been stout of late, allowing only 3.5 yards per rush in the recent wins over Michigan State and Nebraska.
“We have a ranked opponent coming to our stadium,” Canada said. “We get to play Ohio State. Not that many people get to line up and say they get to play against a great team, a great tradition, a great program like this. And our guys get to play against them.”