COLUMBUS — This is not the same Maryland team Ohio State played last year.
Lat season, the Buckeyes made the Terrapins look like a junior varsity team in a 73-14 demolition that was a blowout from the opening kickoff. But Ohio State coach Ryan Day has watched the film of this season’s edition of Maryland, and he knows the Terrapins, with a new quarterback and a crop of young talent, is much improved.
And while the Buckeyes certainly don’t consider this the most difficult game on their schedule, they aren’t going to be able to just hit the road and come home with an easy win. After watching Maryland put up nearly 40 points last week in a surprise win over Penn State, Ohio State is ready for a challenge.
Coach [Mike] Locksley’s doing a good job of putting them in the right position,” Day said. “So they’re dangerous right now. They just really played well against Penn State, so we’re going to have to do a great job of coming in there with confidence, playing early, taking care of the football, the recipe hasn’t changed. These guys are definitely better than they’ve been. ”
Ohio State isn’t taking the Terrapins lightly this week, and that was apparent from the conversations with Day and select players on Tuesday afternoon. There was plenty for Lettermen Row to unpack to see What We Learned from the Zoom conference with the Buckeyes.
Buckeyes offensive tackles have been spectacular through three games
Ohio State hasn’t found a defense to slow down its incredible offense so far this season. And when Justin Fields is given time to make plays, he’s the best in the country at doing so. The Buckeyes offensive line has been good this year, especially on the outside. But how good have Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford been?
According to the folks at Pro Football Focus, Petit-Frere and Munford have played 110 pass-blocking snaps through three games. The duo has given up one quarterback hurry and no sacks, a remarkable stat that proves just how good the two have been on the outside of the offensive line for the Buckeyes. Maybe that was expected from Munford, who has plenty of starts under his belt at Ohio State. But Petit-Frere, a former five-star tackle himself, is having a great season so far.
“I just try to play as hard as I can to help us win games,” Petit-Frere said. “That’s the end goal of it all. Whatever happens, happens. Everyone, as long as we do our jobs, that’s what Coach Day’s been telling us and our coaches, as long as we do our jobs and we play as hard as we can, everything will work out for everyone in the end.”
He certainly is doing his job, and the Buckeyes are winning games.
Buckeyes focused on stopping mobile Maryland quarterback
Through three games, the Buckeyes have faced two dual-threat quarterbacks. And the results have been mixed. Nebraska had success with running quarterbacks against the Buckeyes, while Penn State had no ability to escape the Ohio State pass rush to make plays.
Ohio State defensive end and captain Jonathon Cooper knows what Tulia Tagovailoa, the younger brother of Tua, can do when he escapes and creates plays with his legs. And the Buckeyes have to make sure Tagovailoa can’t do that Saturday.
“It just means that we have to be even more disciplined in our rush,” Cooper said. “We can’t run upfield, create gaps for those guys. They’re really good quarterbacks and they know how to use their feet, as well. We have to make sure we keep them in the pocket where we want them and then get to them. At the end of the day, that’s the goal, to get to them and make sure we’re affecting him and hitting him. So we can’t let them get out of the pocket and scramble around.”
If Ohio State can keep Tagovailoa in the pocket, Maryland will have a tough time creating the big plays that helped it beat Penn State.
Ohio State hoping to play more young talent
Ohio State is 3-0 and has won every game so far by double-digits, but even in the three blowout wins, there just hasn’t been opportunities to get younger players into games.
And when the younger players are in, they are inexperienced, and the play isn’t as clean as the Buckeyes would probably like it to be. There should have been enough time in Saturday night’s game against Rutgers to play backups for extended periods, but sloppy play forced the Buckeyes to keep starters in much longer than they wanted. That’s an issue when Ryan Day and the coaching staff want to see what they younger players can do on the field in a game setting.
“I was worried about it without a spring,” Day said. “I was worried about it without a normal preseason, and I was worried about it without a normal nonconference lead-up into conference season. It’s something that there’s a lot of reps that just haven’t been had by our younger players. I think you saw a little bit of that on Saturday night. So we’re just going to have to keep building with it and grow and teach now that there’s some stuff on film.”
With only five regular season games remaining, time might be running out for opportunities for young players to take game reps.
Shaun Wade still proving himself at outside cornerback
An offensive playmaker has caught a touchdown pass in back-to-back games against Shaun Wade in coverage. The preseason all-American cornerback has had good plays and not-so-great plays through three games at his new outside cornerback spot, a position he was expected to be a lock-down defender in. As he goes through some growing pains on the outside, the projected first-round pick Wade is still getting comfortable — and better — in that spot.
“That’s all I care about right now,” Wade said. “Me getting better and this team getting better. As a team, we’ve got to focus on penalties, tackling, on the defensive side of the ball… right now, all I care about is just the team getting better and we just keep getting better.
Ohio State preaching defensive discipline
Ohio State has won all three games by at least 13 points so far this season, and the Buckeyes have gone a half of each game without giving up a touchdown. But the Buckeyes have given up two scores already this season on drives that were extended due to defensive penalties. Ohio State was called for a roughing the passer penalty that extended a Penn State drive, which ended in a touchdown. And it gave up a face mask penalty to Rutgers, which scored a touchdown later in the drive.
The Buckeyes have to clean those penalties up and get off the field.
“To be honest, we’ve got to be better, our defense as a whole,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to be better. We can’t have unnecessary disciplines where we go give them 15 yards on any kinds of calls. Offsides, face mask, pass interference, all those calls. They lead to scores for the past two games, we haven’t finished as strong as we’re supposed to. We come out strong but we don’t really finish. That’s something I’m trying to talk to my guys about.”