If anyone thought Ohio State would be distracted by Chase Young’s suspension, content with being No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings or fail to take its underdog opponent seriously when it played Maryland on Saturday, it quickly became clear that wasn’t the case.
To the contrary, the Buckeyes appeared to be as motivated as they’ve been all season to dominate their opponent, prove their ability to overcome adversity and make yet another statement that they should be considered the best team in college football this year.
Ohio State scored on each of its first six possessions in Saturday’s game while it shut Maryland out for nearly three quarters, all on the way to securing a 73-14 win – the Buckeyes’ second largest win of the season – against the Terrapins on Saturday.
“They played with an edge and something to prove,” Ryan Day said after Saturday’s game. “And any time our guys come out with something to prove, we're dangerous.”
That motivation, particularly for Ohio State’s defense, stemmed in part from what happened at Maryland last year, when the Buckeyes narrowly escaped College Park with a 52-51 overtime win.
“I think our defense was tired of hearing about that for a year. So it was fresh on their minds,” Day said. “And I think we had a lot of respect for this team coming into this game because of that game we played last year. So we started fast and I thought we played well throughout the game.”
Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland, who tied for the team lead with five tackles on Saturday, said that although he didn’t watch the film from last year’s game, it was a factor that made the Buckeyes want to win decisively against Maryland this year.
“I think that’s all embedded in the back of all of our minds, just what happened last year, so that was kind of a big motivating factor that pushed us this week,” Borland said.
Right from the beginning of Saturday’s game, it became clear that this year’s game wasn’t going to look anything like last year’s game. The Buckeyes held Maryland to just one yard of offense in the first quarter. For the game as a whole, Ohio State held Maryland to just 139 yards of offense, a far cry from the 535 the Buckeyes gave up last year. They held Anthony McFarland, the running back who torched the Buckeyes for 298 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries last season, to just seven yards on six carries this year.
Offensively, the Buckeyes were just as impressive, carving up the Terrapins for a season-high 705 yards. In the first half, they went 8-for-8 on third downs and 6-for-6 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
Even in the second half, after Ohio State had taken nearly all of its starters out of the game on both sides of the ball and Maryland still had most of its starters in, the Buckeyes continued to dominate. They scored four more touchdowns and a field goal between the third and fourth quarters, while their second-team defense allowed only two touchdowns – one of which came after a lengthy return by Maryland’s Javon Leake against a kickoff coverage team that featured mostly walk-ons at that point in the game.
“They played with an edge and something to prove. And any time our guys come out with something to prove, we're dangerous.”– Ryan Day on Saturday's 73-14 win
Ohio State didn’t need to play its best football to beat Maryland, which is now 3-7 this season with five straight losses and five losses by 26 points or more. Yet the Buckeyes were just as impressive as they’ve been all year, and Day credits that to the team’s leaders for keeping them focused, even in a week when they were without Young – who is not only a superstar defensive end, but also a team captain – and in which it would have been easy to start looking ahead to their big games that will come at the end of the regular season and could come in the postseason.
“I think that there's great leadership. I think our coaching staff’s doing a good job week in, week out of preparing these guys. And we're playing with an edge,” Day said.
As consistently good as Ohio State’s offense and defense were on Saturday, the two moments that perhaps best defined the edge the Buckeyes played with against the Terrapins were a pair of decisions that Day made in the first half.
In the first quarter, after the Buckeyes scored their second touchdown of the game to take a 14-0 lead, Ohio State decided to attempt an onside kick. The Buckeyes certainly didn’t need a spark with the way they were already dominating the game; theoretically, they had more to lose than gain, as they could have given Maryland good field position. But special teams coordinator Matt Barnes, who previously worked for Maryland, thought the Buckeyes could pull it off, so they took a shot at it.
The play was executed to perfection, as Olave caught Haubeil’s kick streaking down the sideline 22 yards downfield as if he was catching a deep ball, and Day felt that play helped the Buckeyes really exert their dominance over the Terrapins.
“It was cool to feel the excitement in the stadium. There was just something about that kick; it was like, wow,” Day said. “It was executed well and there was just a feeling in the stadium, you could feel when that was executed. And then from then on, I just felt like the game kind of went like this (pointing upward).”
The Buckeyes also made a statement in the final minute of the second quarter, at which point they were already up 42-0, when they called a pair of timeouts – then forced an incomplete pass on third down – to get the ball back one last time before halftime with the goal of blocking a punt. It didn’t work, and the Buckeyes took a knee instead of running any offensive play, but Sevyn Banks came close, and Day said that was just another example of how aggressive Ohio State always wants to be before halftime.
“That's just the way that we want to be around here. We did that at the end of the Northwestern (first half) as well. But that's just our approach every week,” Day said. “I think the guys like that. They feed off the aggressiveness and confidence, and they kind of build on it as the game goes on.”
Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison corroborated that statement from his head coach.
“It’s like the phrase, keep your foot on their throat,” Harrison said. “We can’t never let up on anything that we do.”
While the Buckeyes certainly didn’t need any more points before halftime in that scenario, Day said after the game that there was no intent to run up the score or make a personal statement against Maryland. That’s just the way that they want to play in the first half of every game, regardless of who they are playing or what the score is.
“We're always going to be aggressive in the first half,” Day said. “I feel like when you're playing the first half of any game, anything could happen in the second half. So you do the best you can to be aggressive.”
It’s that kind of mentality that has made Ohio State the most dominant team in the country this season, and while the Buckeyes might not necessarily be No. 1 in next week’s playoff rankings after No. 2 LSU earned a 46-41 win over No. 3 Alabama on Saturday, their standing as the nation’s most dominant team was only strengthened against the Terrapins. Ohio State has now won nine straight games by at least 24 points to start the season, with an average margin of victory of 42.4 points.
Now, the Buckeyes just need to keep it going.
“We have to continue to bring it each week, and we have to challenge the guys to do that,” Day said. “And we know what happens if you don't. If you don't bring it every week, you can really get yourself jammed up. So we have to make sure that we're bringing it each week.”