Before each week's Ohio State game, Eleven Warriors catches up with a media member who covers the opposing team to get his or her perspective on the Buckeyes' upcoming opponent.
Just as we did before Ohio State's trip to Maryland last year, we welcome in Emily Giambalvo of The Washington Post this week to get her insights on the Terrapins as they prepare to come to Columbus to face the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Ohio State is a 44-point favorite to win this week's game against Maryland, who is just 3-6 this season while the Buckeyes are 8-0 and No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. That said, Ohio State needed overtime last year to defeat Maryland, 52-51. Can Maryland keep this year's game competitive again, or will this year's Buckeyes simply be too much for the reeling Terrapins, who have lost their last four straight games?
3-6 (1-5 BIG TEN)
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Why have the Terrapins struggled so much after a promising 2-0 start, how is Maryland's fanbase currently feeling about first-year coach Mike Locksley and who are the players who could do some damage against the Buckeyes on Saturday?
Giambalvo answers those questions and more in this week's edition of Across The Field.
Q: After starting out the season 2-0 with a pair of blowout wins, Maryland has lost five of its last six games, including four losses by at least 26 points. What have been the biggest issues that have led to such struggles after a promising start?
Giambalvo: I don’t think issues suddenly emerged after those two games, but instead I think it’s more that we now have a better idea of what this team really is. You expect Maryland to knock off Howard, and the win over Syracuse, which was ranked at the time, continues to look less impressive. But Maryland did have a handful of injuries at key positions that haven’t helped. Quarterback Josh Jackson was out for three games, and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. has dealt with an ankle issue and really hasn’t been himself. So Maryland has gone through this perfect storm of the schedule getting tougher and injuries piling up.
October was the month that it seemed – at least on paper at the beginning of the season – Maryland could rack up some wins to get closer to bowl eligibility. But Maryland finished the month with a win over Rutgers and losses against Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota. Jackson was out for all three of those losses.
In Big Ten play, Maryland’s offensive and defensive lines have struggled. The pass defense has been abysmal at times. The offense hasn’t had much consistency because of Jackson’s injury. I don’t think there’s really one position group you point to and say, “Well, hey, at least they’ve been consistently great.” Even the kicker has struggled.
Q: There was seemingly a lot of optimism entering the season that Mike Locksley would be able to build Maryland into a more competitive program, particularly on the recruiting trail. How are Maryland fans feeling about Locksley now? Is there still optimism for the future?
Giambalvo: I don’t think optimism is gone because people are somewhat realistic in that Locksley took over a program in complete turmoil, but it’s definitely wavering. There was such a surge in excitement after those first two wins that it’s only made the downswing feel more dramatic. Plus, there haven’t been those marquee recruiting wins thus far. I think people thought there’d be a few of those to make a rough year one on the field seem more bearable.
Q: Anthony McFarland shredded Ohio State's defense for 298 yards last season, but he's only rushed for 438 yards all season this year, while Javon Leake has been the Terrapins' most productive runner. How would you assess the performance of Maryland's running game this season?
Giambalvo: McFarland had a high ankle sprain in the third game of the season, but he played through it the next three games. Locksley had downplayed the severity of it until the staff finally decided to hold McFarland out against Indiana (Oct. 19). He says he feels better now, but it’s definitely been an issue. It seems obvious to say, but I think his year would look totally different if that injury hadn’t happened. And maybe the offense as a whole looks different, too.
Leake is a speedy running back (and kickoff returner), but I think for Maryland’s run game to be its best, it needs both those guys to have good days. It doesn’t help that the offensive line hasn’t been great.
Q: Keandre Jones played only sparingly in his three seasons at Ohio State, but currently leads the Terrapins with 11 tackles for loss and six sacks. What has he brought to the Terrapins' defense this year?
Giambalvo: He’s certainly one of the best defensive players here, so he brought talent to a defense that lost a handful of starters. Locksley always talks about how Jones (along with fellow transfer linebacker Shaq Smith from Clemson) have helped this team instill a winning culture, which they’re familiar with because of the schools they come from. Jones has clearly been the player who has best affected opposing quarterbacks. Locksley said earlier in the season that Jones is “one of those guys that practices like his hair's on fire and he will give you every ounce of energy that he has.” It definitely seems like his decision to transfer was beneficial for him and for Maryland.
Q: Who are the other players that Ohio State and its fans should be aware of entering this week's game?
Giambalvo: On offense, I’d say tight ends Tyler Mabry and Chigoziem Okonkwo. Both have been good in flashes this season, and maybe Maryland tries to use quicker, shorter passes to deal with Ohio State’s defense. Definitely keep an eye on Leake on any kickoff return.
Defensively, Smith and Jones have been good. Maybe Jones turns it on even more this weekend because he’s playing his former team. Freshman safety Nick Cross has also played well in a secondary that has had its share of issues this season.
Q: You correctly predicted that last year's game wouldn't be a blowout, but Ohio State is favored to win this week's game by more than six touchdowns. Are the Terrapins capable of giving the Buckeyes another scare this year, or are they going to be too overmatched?
Giambalvo: Yeah, there’s no way. I’m so rarely definitive when I have to do picks like this. (Though I did feel confident last year when I thought it’d be close and was then thankful it was on record!) But this feels like a game in which Maryland will be overmatched from the get-go. Maryland couldn’t get anything going against Purdue and Minnesota. I can’t envision a scenario where Maryland keeps it at all close. I watched the Ohio State-Northwestern game and kept imagining what the Buckeyes would do to Maryland. Who knows if it’ll be by six touchdowns, but I think it’s safe to say it’ll be a blowout.