Ohio State No. 2 has a simple goal tomorrow: tackle Maryland on the road and return with no new injuries so Ryan Day and company can shift focus to Michigan.
But first things first, the Buckeyes need to get down to business at Capital One Field against a Maryland squad coming back from back-to-back road losses with a 53-10 aggregate score at Wisconsin and Penn State.
Taulia Tagovailoa hasn’t been very good in recent weeks as he recovers from an MCL sprain but still gives the Buckeyes some sort of double threat to defend. Could he recover from his struggles of the past few weeks or will Ohio State’s defenses keep him in check? What kind of day do you expect from Tagovailoa and in general how do you feel about Ohio State’s ability to defend quarterbacks that pose at least a marginal threat on the run?
Dan: I’m not sure Tagovailoa is healthy enough at the moment to pose a major threat with his legs, nor has he passed the ball well since coming back from injury. He’s still arguably the most talented quarterback Ohio State has faced all season, so this will be a test for pass defense as he gets closer to 100 percent this week. My feeling is that Tagovailoa will bounce back and have some hits through the air against the Buckeyes, but he needs to get back to his pre-injury form if he’s going to be a real menace for Ohio State on the scoreboard.
Kyle: Given that he’s taken 12 sacks in the last two games since returning from injury, it’s pretty clear he’s not as elusive as he used to be. Add to that his small size reduces his ability to be used in traditional zone-read play, and Taulia is unlikely to injure the Buckeyes with his legs. With the aforementioned terp issues protecting him, I’m not expecting much from him through the air either as the Buckeye line of defense made their move last month and should have another big day in their last vote (essentially) play postseason.
Josh: I thought Maryland’s passing attack would be one of the toughest the Buckeyes would face in the regular season, but Tagovailoa’s struggles over the past few weeks have changed my mind on that. He’s clearly not 100% and the Terps’ offense struggled to score because of it. I have every confidence in Jim Knowles and the Silver Bullets’ ability to keep Taulia and the rest of Maryland’s offense in check, at least with the game closed early. Maryland could score a cheap point or two late in the game.
Maryland boasts a fairly deep receiving corps, led by former five-start wideout Rakim Jarrett and tight end Corey Dyches. Buckeye’s cornerbacks face tougher encounters in practice than Jarrett, but he’s certainly a talented player. How are you feeling about the cornerback situation in Ohio State right now? When we look at Michigan and potential CFP opponents, do the Buckeyes have enough talent on the corner to rival elite receivers? And what about the defense’s ability to defend tight passages? Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker is having a good season and a possible matchup with Georgia’s Brock Bowers would certainly be a tough one.
Josh: I know Kyle talked about this at times: Ohio State’s cornerbacks certainly have the talent, it’s just that sometimes they’re in the wrong places, which has resulted in big plays for the opposing team. While injuries have certainly been an issue, I’m not worried about the cornerback room if only they can get well, at least not yet. The Buckeyes held off Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer – one of the best tight ends in the country – in Week 1 and have only improved as a group since then. The linebackers and safeties will be able to do the same against Maryland.
Dan: Assuming Denzel Burke’s injury doesn’t stop him from playing more games, I think Ohio State’s cornerback unit is in the best spot it’s been all season. Burke has played much better in the second half of the season than he did earlier in the year, Cameron Brown was strong on his return to action against Indiana, Jordan Hancock was solid in his first few games from injury and Jyaire Brown played quite well for a true freshman . I still have concerns about the secondary going up against better receivers considering the pass defense wasn’t great against the best receivers the Buckeyes have faced all season against Penn State, but I think the defensive one Backfield is trending with Ronnie Hickman and in the right direction Lathan Ransom also forms an elite tandem when it comes to safety.
Brock Bowers is a tough matchup for anyone, but Ohio State has done a pretty good job of limiting talented tight ends like Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer so far this season, so I think this defense is certainly capable of effectively covering tight ends in the passing game . The Buckeyes’ depth of safety helps with that, as there are a variety of players who could potentially handle these matchups — although I think they’ll expect Ransom, Hickman, and Tanner McCalister to shoulder that responsibility for the most part.
Kyle: Health continues to be my number one concern with OSU cornerbacks. Personally, I’ve embraced the idea of Day saving everyone for next week when TTUN comes to the shoe, but I can’t help but be nervous because both Cam Brown and Denzel Burke have no repeats this season. Both have shown they can play at a high level, but not consistently, and Jarrett could offer them a good test despite the general problems with Maryland’s passing attack.
Ohio State’s running game had a field day against a poor Indiana defense, even when TreVeyon Henderson sat out and Miyan Williams left early with a lower leg injury. Maryland likely won’t be a much tougher test in what is the final vote before Michigan. Aside from the boys getting healthy, what else would you like to see that would give you more confidence in the ongoing game leading up to the showdown with the Wolverines?
Kyle: Don’t do anything differently, no matter what people say on TV or on forums. Save Henderson and Williams and give all carries to Hayden and Xavier Johnson. OSU should be able to handle Maryland easily without showing anything new, and it’s better for this team to save new creases for next weekend than to use them in this game.
Josh: Being able to convert thirds and fourths and short runs for first downs. The Buckeyes rallied 340 yards on the ground against Indiana last week but still struggled with short yardage downs, which has been a concern for most of the last month or so. If they can convert those runs too, frankly, this offense could be unstoppable. I have a feeling Ryan Day and co. have something up their sleeves to help with that, but still, it’s one of the biggest concerns this season about the Buckeyes’ stellar offense.
Dan: In short-range situations, we really need to see Ohio State have more success running the ball. Even against Indiana, the Buckeyes went only 2-7 on conversion attempts from two yards or less on third and fourth downs. Ryan Day admitted after the game that he was “stubborn” about calling run plays in those situations because he knows that this is an area where the Buckeyes need to improve and I think he’ll be stubborn again this week knowing it’s their last opportunity to work through these issues before The Game – coupled with the fact that Ohio State won’t reveal what short yardage folds it may have holstered for next week.
I’m not sure what I want to ask, but I want to talk about him, so why don’t you just say a few things about Kam Babb. What a great moment to see his and the team’s reaction to his first career touchdown last Saturday.
Dan: I shouldn’t get emotional covering the game as a beatwriter in the press box, but I’ll admit it wasn’t easy after Babb’s touchdown. After all the injuries he’s had to overcome, how could anyone not be happy that Babb is finally having his time to shine? And to see how genuinely excited the entire team was when Babb scored that touchdown really made the moment special. Ohio State players and coaches can easily talk about how great the fraternity is at their program, but actions speak louder than words, and the sheer delight on the Buckeyes’ touchline as they celebrated Babb was perhaps the clearest impression the we got how strong the fraternity of the state of ohio really is.
Kyle: As someone who has suffered serious injuries playing this game myself, I can tell you first hand that these experiences helped me later in life. Not only did I learn that I could overcome difficult obstacles, but I had a reason to because I was working to help everyone else on my team. I spent months rehabilitating a torn knee so I could help my teammates win, and they in turn have helped me in so many other ways. The world witnessed the experience first hand at Ohio Stadium last Saturday as the bond Kam Babb has with his teammates is special, but not necessarily unique. In a world where everything tries to drive us apart, being part of a team brings people together and connects them in ways you won’t find anywhere else. We can all learn a lesson from this.
Josh: Came Babb’s touchdown and I’ll never forget everything about that moment. The play itself, the celebration, the hugs, the tears and everything that was written about it in the days that followed was extraordinary. He deserves all that and much more. The Brotherhood. Forever.
Ohio State goes into Saturday’s matchup against the Terps as a heavy 27.5-point favorite. Cover the horse chestnuts? Give us your final score.
Josh: Another blowout for the Buckeyes in their last voting game before The Game. State of Ohio 48, Maryland 13.
Dan: I just surpassed the Buckeyes in a 45-17 win over Maryland. I’m not sure we’ll see Ohio State’s fiercest football on Saturday as it must be almost impossible not to look forward to the season-defining game that’s only a week away, but I still think the Buckeyes by a wide margin win against a Maryland team who are trending in the wrong direction with just 10 total points in their last two games.
Kyle: The Terps seem to have “let go of the rope” at this point, and I don’t expect much resistance for a determined Ohio State team that’s getting tired of people nagging their performances. OSU wins 49-7.