Ohio State’s offense had a great day in Saturday’s 62-14 win against Maryland, accumulating 584 total yards.
The Buckeyes’ defense also had a great day on Saturday, holding Maryland to just 66 total yards.
Ohio State’s special teams, however, did not have a great day.
Nearly every Ohio State special teams unit made notable mistakes in Saturday’s game, which kept Maryland in the game longer than it should have been and kept the final score from being even more lopsided than it could have been.
While Ohio State coach Urban Meyer thought the Buckeyes’ offense continued to make strides on Saturday and the defense was "outstanding," he audibly grunted in dismay when he was asked about the Buckeyes’ special teams performance after Saturday’s game.
"That’s something to work on and get fixed," Meyer said of Ohio State’s special teams play. "There are some people very upset about that, and I’m one of them, so we’ll find out."
Ohio State changed kickoff specialists for Saturday’s game, in hopes that Sean Nuernberger would be an upgrade over Blake Haubeil, but the results proved to be even worse. Nuernberger consistently struggled to put the kickoffs where Ohio State’s coaches expect them – inside the 10-yard line, but not in the end zone, and outside the numbers – and had his second kickoff of the day returned 100 yards for a touchdown, which was Maryland’s only touchdown of the day until a late 20-yard scoring run by Javon Leake against Ohio State’s defensive backups.
Nuernberger also incurred a rare delay of game penalty before one of his kickoffs and was penalized for kicking the ball out of bounds on his first kick of the second half, after which he was replaced by Haubeil for the rest of the game.
Meyer did not say after Saturday’s game who would handle kickoffs next week at Nebraska, but the head coach – who plays a more active role than most head coaches in working with special teams – said he would have to continue trying to figure out a solution at that position.
"We’re the only team in the country that can’t kick the ball down the field," Meyer said. "It’s something I have to really strongly evaluate and find out why.
"A big part of our kickoff is kick the ball on target. And we’re not on target."
Nuernberger’s struggles extended to the place kicking game, where both of his field goal attempts and one of his extra point attempts were unsuccessful. Not all of those were his fault, however.
His 47-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter was blocked, which Meyer attributed to a missed assignment up front by freshman offensive tackle Thayer Munford. Nuernberger had no opportunity to kick the ball on the failed extra point after holder Drue Chrisman was unable to catch a high snap from long snapper Liam McCullough. Nuernberger was the culpable party, however, on a 29-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter that he missed wide left.
“We’re the only team in the country that can’t kick the ball down the field. It’s something I have to really strongly evaluate and find out why.” – Urban Meyer
Chrisman, who was rock-solid in his first five games as Ohio State’s punter, shanked his first punt of Saturday’s game for only 22 yards. He only had one opportunity to redeem himself, which he hit 49 yards and was downed at the 17-yard line, but Meyer wasn’t pleased with his performance either.
"The freshman punter didn’t hit it very well," Meyer said.
K.J. Hill nearly had his first big punt return of the season, returning one inside the 15-yard line, but that was negated by an illegal block in the back penalty against true freshman cornerback Amir Riep.
The only special teams unit that avoided miscues was the kickoff return unit, as Parris Campbell continued to perform well with two returns for 58 yards, but that unit only saw the field three times.
All the special teams gaffes were ultimately of little consequence in Saturday’s game because of how dominant Ohio State was in the other phases of the game.
The Buckeyes offense scored touchdown on nine of its first 14 possessions, while the defense had its most dominant performance against a Big Ten opponent since 1960, holding Maryland to just 39 total yards before its final possession. Had the Buckeyes made all of their kicks and not allowed a kickoff return touchdown, they hypothetically could have won by as many as 62 points, but no one will be dissatisfied with a 48-point win.
Saturday’s special teams performance could still keep Meyer up at night, though, because he knows his offense and defense won’t be that dominant every game. Special teams mistakes have cost Ohio State in the past; last year’s game against Penn State, when Ohio State had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown and a punt blocked, was a prime example. They could cost the Buckeyes again in a game against a more competitive opponent – such as Penn State, who Ohio State plays on Oct. 28 – if the Buckeyes' play in that phase of the game doesn't improve.
Campbell, who sometimes plays on other special teams units in addition to returning kickoffs, said he attributes Saturday’s special teams woes to players missing assignments. Campbell is confident, though, that the Buckeyes will cut down on mistakes in future games.
"Every single guy on our special teams unit is out there because he wants to be out there," Campbell said. "So we have different types of guys that are willing to do anything. But I think the biggest thing is just knowing your assignment and getting the job done, it’s as simple as that. If one guy doesn’t do his job, then you see exploitation. So I think it’s just holding up your end of the bargain."