COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In the past 13 months, Ohio State has suffered a pair of embarrassing road losses to unranked opponents that have lingered over the team’s reputation ever since.
For much of Saturday’s game at Maryland, it looked as though that might happen again.
The Buckeyes never held a lead in regulation against the Terrapins. Ohio State’s defense gave up 535 yards, its offense committed three turnovers – including a pick-six and a fumble just before the goal line – and on special teams, the Buckeyes failed to recover a kickoff. And if Maryland had been able to convert a two-point conversion in overtime, Ohio State would have suffered its second loss of the season.
Less than one month after suffering a 49-20 loss at Purdue, and just over a year after suffering a 55-24 loss at Iowa, there’s no question that a loss to Maryland – which was just 5-5 entering Saturday’s game – would have cast a dark cloud over the Ohio State football program going into next week’s regular season finale against Michigan.
But the Buckeyes survived all of their struggles and mishaps on Saturday, ultimately escaping from Maryland Stadium with a 52-51 overtime win over the Terrapins, improving their record to 10-1 and keeping their goals alive going into a rivalry game next Saturday that will determine who wins the Big Ten East.
“That was just a back-and-forth, back-and-forth game,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “Very fortunate to get out of there with a win.”
Saturday certainly wasn’t the first ugly win against a mediocre opponent for the Buckeyes this season. They only won by five points two weeks ago against Nebraska, who is just 4-7 this season. They trailed in the second quarter before going on to unspectacular wins against Indiana and Minnesota in October, too.
Ohio State hasn’t been able to take advantage of any of its opportunities to make a convincing statement with a dominant win, and hasn’t been able to cruise to a victory since it played Tulane in September. When the Buckeyes have shown progress in one area, they’ve regressed in another, leaving serious reason for concern heading into next week’s game against Michigan, a better team than anyone Ohio State has played this season.
Yet with the exception of the game at Purdue, the Buckeyes have found a way to win every week.
It looked at times like Saturday’s game might unravel the same way the games at Purdue and Iowa did. There were many points that Ohio State’s chances of winning appeared to be in doubt; the Buckeyes went down by 14 points on three separate occasions between the first and third quarters, and went down by a touchdown twice in the fourth quarter, including with less than two minutes to play.
“Very fortunate to get out of there with a win.”– Urban Meyer on Ohio State's 52-51 win at Maryland
But when Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome’s final pass fell incomplete in the end zone, the Buckeyes were able to sprint onto the field and celebrate a win with the scoreboard in their favor, and that’s what mattered most to Ohio State in the end.
“I think we definitely got to improve on a lot of things, but just knowing that my brothers are going to fight until the end, that they’re always going to have my back and I’m going to have their back, that’s a good feeling going into the next game,” said Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.
Turnovers aside, Ohio State had what Meyer described as “a phenomenal effort on offense” in Saturday’s game, putting up 688 total yards, the most ever for the Buckeyes in a Big Ten game. Dwayne Haskins led the way with 464 total yards (405 passing yards, 59 rushing yards) and six total touchdowns (three passing, three rushing), while J.K. Dobbins ran the ball 37 times for 203 yards and the Buckeyes’ other touchdowns.
The Buckeyes had a far from excellent showing on defense, giving up six touchdowns and five plays of more than 50 yards, and Meyer acknowledged that Ohio State absolutely must play better on that side of the ball to have a chance to win against the Wolverines next week.
“On defense, to give up those kind of yards is obviously very alarming, especially after I thought we had a great week of practice,” Meyer said. “We’ll have to play better than we did on defense, or we won’t win the game.”
That said, the Buckeyes were certainly glad to be able to celebrate their 10th win on their trip back to Columbus instead of their second loss.
“Is (this team) where we need to be? It’s not,” Meyer said. “But we’re 10-1, we’re going to try to find a way to be 11-1.”
Ohio State is going to need to elevate its play and bounce back from a tough game at a level at which it simply hasn’t yet this season to beat Michigan next week, but Haskins said he does believe the adversity can help them going into the rivalry game.
“All that grit, all that adversity we faced in this game to come back on top, it just meant everything for myself, my teammates, the coaches,” Haskins said.