Before the Buckeyes took the field against Maryland on Saturday, I wish someone could have warned us to sit down, strap in, and hang on because it was going to be a wild ride. Our favorite college football team came back from an early 17-3 deficit, and had to rally to score twice in the late stages against the Terrapins just to get to overtime. Then they had to sweat out a two-point try by the Terps when clinging to a 52-51 lead. When the dust finally settled after the teams combined for 1,223 yards, the Buckeyes had somehow managed a win.
I say “somehow” because the defense was abysmal. Maryland roasted them for one big play after another. Anthony McFarland scored on runs of 81 and 75 yards in the game’s first six minutes, and quarterback Tyrrell Pigrone completed a 56-yard pass a little later to round out a first quarter which saw the Terrapins put up 226 yards on just nine plays. Other than the third quarter when the Buckeye defense somehow managed to hold Maryland to just 18 yards, that’s pretty much how it went all afternoon. After the offense managed to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, the Terps went on a drive that saw a 27-yard run, fake punt to keep the drive alive, and a 27-yard touchdown pass on a circus catch. The Buckeye offense managed to battle back again to tie the game, only to have Maryland receiver Darryl Jones torch cornerback Damon Arnette on the first play after the kickoff, and put the ball at the one-yard line. The Terrapins took the lead with under a minute to play, but the Buckeye offense managed to score to tie it again. On their first play after the kickoff, Pigrone found a wide open receiver for a gain of 30 to the Buckeye 38. Fortunately the OSU defensive line finally mounted a pass rush and got a couple of sacks to end the threat. But, after the Buckeyes scored to take a 51-45 lead in OT, McFarland went 24 yards to the Buckeye one-yard line. It is almost difficult to find words to describe how bad it was.
The Buckeyes even blew the coverage on the two-point try. Fortunately Maryland’s passing issues finally reared their head, and the pass was incomplete. Pigrone was very accurate on throws when he was able to take his time and set his feet. The Buckeyes mustered no pressure
at all on those occasions. On the two-point try Pigrone rolled to his right, and saw that Tuf Borland was mirroring his movements a few yards away. He was unable to set his feet, and threw almost across his body completely missing a wide open receiver. How did that receiver get so open? Maryland lined up in a three-receiver formation to the right. The middle and inside receivers crossed, and did a good job of running a pick play without making it look like one. Linebacker Pete Werner, who lined up on the inside receiver, stayed on him as he continued to the outside. There was only one problem with that. Safety Jordan Fuller, who had lined up on the middle receiver, switched to the inside receiver Werner was covering when they crossed. The result was double coverage on one receiver, and a wide open one in the end zone. Brendan White was unable to get over to cover him because he was being blocked (more on that later). At his weekly Monday press conference, Meyer said the defensive staff meetings have been uncomfortable and direct. I sure hope so.
All of that shifting and motion the Terrapins do before the snap affected the Buckeyes. Million-dollar defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, and the rest of the defensive staff never seemed to quite figure out how to handle and adjust to it. Do I sound disgusted by that? I am, and very much so. McFarland ran for 298 yards and averaged over 14 yards per carry. Pigrone threw for 181 yards on just six completions. Wow. “Somehow” our favorite team still won. That “somehow” came in the form of Dwayne Haskins and the offense.
The 688 yards of offense is the most the Buckeyes have ever put up against a Big Ten team. They were nearly unstoppable, and are the reason Maryland interim coach Matt Canada decided to go for the win in OT. J.K. Dobbins ran for a career high 203 yards behind a dominating performance by the offensive line. How dominating? The Buckeyes lost just six yards all day. Haskins threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns. On most passes his placement of the ball was outstanding, but when it wasn’t the receivers made the difficult catches; something they had not been doing recently. Johnnie Dixon (6 catches for 102 yards) and Binjimen Victor both were far better than they had been against Michigan State. Victor made an outstanding catch on the game-tying touchdown in the final seconds by outfighting the Maryland defender for the ball. Haskins added 59 more yards on 15 carries and three touchdowns. This is what this offense is supposed to look like. They put a lot of pressure on Maryland by making them defend the entire field. It was the most complete performance we’ve seen from them in two months.
What I Liked
Dwayne Haskins running with the ball. It isn’t just the fact he ran with it, it’s HOW he ran with it. He did it with confidence, and an attitude we have not seen all season. When he was in the
pocket and felt pressure, he took off and got whatever yards he could. Numerous times he turned a possible sack into a 2-3 yard gain. Second and 7 or 8 sure is a lot easier to deal with then second and 12 or 13. But, the biggest difference his willingness to run was seen is in the way it affected Maryland’s defense. Time and again the Terrapins attacked J.K. Dobbins when Haskins would put the ball in the running back’s stomach on a zone read play, only to pull it out and get up field for positive yardage. This has been missing all season from the Buckeye offense, and is very needed because it makes such a difference to have another threat as a ball carrier on the field all the time. The long touchdown pass in the second quarter to Terry McLaurin came after a play action fake froze the defense. The Buckeyes converted a critical fourth and one in OT when Haskins’ fake to Dobbins froze the defense once again, and Rashod Berry was able to slip into the flat wide open. Running the ball as they did Saturday opens up so much for the offense, and having Haskins as a viable threat to gain yards helps to do that.
What I Didn’t Like
I don’t want to just say the defense; that’s too easy. I’m going with what looked to be a decision by the coaches to return to things that had allowed mediocre offenses to shred the Buckeyes’
defense. They went away from the press-bail coverage the cornerbacks had been playing the
last few weeks, and returned to the in-your-face press coverage. In press-bail we’ve seen completions, but not the chunk completions that had plagued this defense. As I’ve already detailed, the cornerbacks were repeatedly beaten for long gains when in press coverage. This group of cornerbacks, Kendall Sheffield, Damon Arnette, Jeffrey Okudah, and Shaun Wade simply are not good enough to play the type of pass coverage we’ve seen in the past few seasons. No idea why the coaches thought it was a good idea to go back to this.
Also, it seemed as if the linebackers were back to getting caught in traffic again. They were nowhere to be found on the long runs, and I mean nowhere to be found. Obviously I’m not privy to what their exact assignments were, but I couldn’t figure out what they were doing at times. The flow was going one way, and they seemed to be going the other.
The Buckeyes are 10-1, and in the end that’s all that matters. I stopped being frustrated with the defense during the game because I stopped expecting them to not give up big plays. It seemed pointless to fret over it. We’d seen it pretty much all season, so expecting anything else seemed
foolish. I really believe Meyer needs to consider changes to the defensive staff after the season. Yes, an awful lot of defensive talent has left the program in the last few years, but things like missed tackles comes down to coaching. Meyer cited all of those missed tackles as a huge problem on Saturday. On the other hand the offense was a lot of fun to watch. It felt like Haskins took another step in his overall development. They’re a Big XII-style football team where there isn’t a lot of defense, and the offense has to hope to keep scoring. It’s something we’re not used to, but need to learn to deal with it for the remainder of the season.
Keep one thing in mind about this win: it probably clinched at least a Rose Bowl berth for the Buckeyes. The very fine people at the Tournament of Roses (trust me, they’re wonderful people) love having that Big Ten-Pac 12 matchup. So, regardless of what happens against Michigan, I think OSU is headed to the Rose Bowl. Even with a win and another in the Big Ten Championship game, I still think they’re going to Pasadena. The College Football Playoff committee doesn’t seem interested in them.
Random Stuff From A Turtle Flipping
Haskins broke the school single season records for most passing yards and passing touchdowns on Saturday. He now has 3,685 yards and 36 touchdowns with at least two games to play. Those 36 passing TD’s are tied for tops in the country right now. Looking at his total performance on Saturday I certainly hope he has moved ahead of certain players, like WVU’s Will Grier, in the Heisman talk. If he doesn’t, what more do the talking heads want from him? He was named as the Big Ten’s Co-Offensive Player of the week for the fifth time this year.
J.K. Dobbins now has 2,318 career rushing yards. He moved past the legendary Pete Johnson on the school’s all-time list into 20th place.
Mike Weber sat out with a thigh bruise he had suffered in practice. Meyer said he will be good to go this week, as will linebacker Baron Browning. Dre’mont Jones left the game for a while in the second quarter after getting a stinger in his shoulder. He returned for the second half. The most concerning injury may have been to left tackle Thayer Munford. A Maryland defensive lineman landed on his ankle in the first half, and he had to miss the rest of the game. Josh Alabi filled in very well in his absence. Meyer said he is probable for Saturday and “doing good.”
With Weber on the sidelines, Demario McCall backed up Dobbins. He rushed just twice for twelve yards. But, it was on kick returns where McCall’s presence was most felt. After Johnnie Dixon struggled to field a couple of short Maryland kicks, he was replaced by the sophomore speedster. It was McCall’s 42-yard kick return after Maryland took a 45-38 lead with 1:41 to play that helped set up the Buckeyes’ game-tying touchdown. Meyer said McCall is the main kick returner going forward, and was the special teams player of the game.
Terry McLaurin had his second 100-yard receiving day of the season. He had four catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. After having just five receptions in the team’s first seven games, tight end Luke Farrell has had twelve catches in their last four.
Just when it looked like the problem at field safety had been taken care of by Brendan White, he struggled against Maryland. On the Terps first TD run, he took a poor angle to the ball carrier. On the second he missed a tackle just beyond the line of scrimmage. He came flying up to the line of scrimmage on another, got caught up in traffic, and it led to yet another long run. Very disappointed by these things because he’s proven he is capable of playing better.
Although I thought the linebackers looked lost at times, Tuf Borland had eight tackles, a sack, and four tackles-for-loss. He was named the team’s defensive player of the game.
The Buckeyes and Terrapins are two of the most penalized teams in the country, and it showed as they combined for nineteen penalties. It was the fifth time in eleven games the Buckeyes had at least ten penalties. I’m sorry, but that comes down to coaching.
The fake punt Maryland pulled off is the third successful fake kick the Buckeyes have allowed in the last two seasons. When your multi-million dollar head coach is in charge of that phase of the game, that’s three too many.
I think it is safe to say that was not the Big Ten’s best officiating crew. I thought they were inconsistent, and allowed both teams to get away with some blatant infractions. I was bothered by Jaylen Harris being egregiously held in the open field on the fake punt as the ball carrier ran by. He repeatedly tried to rip himself away from the Maryland “blocker.” How is this not seen when it occurs out in the open at the point of attack? But, the worst missed call had to be on the two-point try when Maryland had a lineman downfield. In the picture you can plainly see Terps right tackle Damian Prince was two yards deep in the end zone blocking Brendan White. That’s another “how was this missed?” non-call.
In my preview blog on Friday, I mentioned Buckeye punter Drue Chrisman being named as a semi-finalist for the Ray Guy Award, and meant to include a link where you could vote for him. Well, I neglected to include the link. You can help the Buckeye punter become a finalist by clicking here.
I’m not bothering to write about anything else. Why? Because it is Michigan week, and nothing else matters? J.K. Dobbins agrees, “Next week’s game is what I left Texas for.” There is nothing like a great football rivalry.