Ohio State improved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play yesterday in convincing fashion, crushing Maryland, 66-17, on Homecoming in Ohio Stadium.
Freshman sensation TreVeyon Henderson continued his Heisman-discussion-worthy start with 169 total yards and three touchdowns, giving him 11 end zone trips in his first six collegiate games.
Henderson was one of many offensive standouts including the incredible receiving trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jason Smith-Njibga. The threesome scorched a Terrapins squad missing its top-two corners to the tune of 17 receptions on 22 targets for 307 yards and four touchdowns. And hell that was basically through not even three full quarters before Ryan Day more aggressively shuffled in his reserves.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State's evolving defense recorded a pick-six for the fourth-straight game, this one courtesy of Craig Young, while holding the Terrapins to 10 yards or less on six of 12 possessions.
The win comes ahead of an open week which gives Thayer Munford, Haskell Garrett and others a chance to heal up before the Buckeyes hit the road to face Indiana on October 23.
Let's get to Five Things from a shellacking of Maryland.
THREADING THE NEEDLE
First-year starting quarterback C.J. Stroud continued to impress following a week off a couple weeks back to rest an ailing throwing shoulder.
After shredding Rutgers for 330 yards and five touchdowns against zero interceptions last week, Stroud was even better against the Terps, completing 24-of-33 throws for 406 yards and another five touchdowns and zero picks.
Stroud was money in the decisive first half, hitting on 17-of-22 attempts for 293 yards and three scores. This was even as his receivers dropped at least two passes and the run game sputtered, averaging 3.3 yards on 14 attempts.
A couple standout throws included a simple out route for 10 yards to Olave but it came from the far hash, arriving on a rope and on time, showing not just his healthy arm but his growing confidence. I also enjoyed a well-placed 22-yard connection to Smith-Njigba on a slant, among other throws.
Stroud led the Buckeyes to eight touchdowns on their first eight possessions as he completed 12 passes for 15+ yards and six throws for over 25 yards on the afternoon.
Over the last two weeks, Stroud's completed 73% of his passes with those 10 touchdowns versus no interceptions. On the season, he's up to a 66% completion rate with 18 touchdowns and three picks. His 339.8 passing yards per game slot No. 6 in the country and his yards per attempt stand at No. 2 (10.8).
If he keeps this up, he'll be in New York come December and his team could be playoff bound. Lots of football to go, for sure, but that sound you hear is his detractors fading into the bushes Homer style.
EVOLVE AND ADVANCE
Ohio State's resurgent defense continued its evolution on Saturday, holding the Terps to 15 points below their season average.
With Matt Barnes continuing to call the defense on game day while partnering primarily with Kerry Coombs and Larry Johnson to craft a more schematically-diverse game plan, the Buckeyes have held their last four opponents to 20 points or less after giving up an average of 33 points over the first two weeks of the season.
With role definition largely complete in key spots within the back seven that were once uncertain, thanks to guys like Denzel Burke, Cameron Martinez, Ronnie Hickman and Cody Simon, among others, the entire defense is playing with an urgency and competency we didn't see over the first few weeks.
Yesterday, the starters and main reserves played the first eight Maryland possessions, stretching until about the 2:30 mark of the third quarter. In that span, the Buckeyes gave up just 199 yards on 54 plays (3.68 YPP), leading to 10 points.
For the game, Ohio State posted three 3-and-outs, two interceptions (one a pick six) and one turnover on downs in 12 total possessions.
After only one sack and three tackles for loss versus Rutgers, the Buckeyes bounced back with five sacks and nine tackles for loss yesterday.
BIG PLAYS FOR DAYS
Maryland's defense didn't come into the game as the second coming of the Steel Curtain but they were a respectable 53rd in total defense giving up 345 yards per contest.
Ohio State of course chewed them up for 598 yards despite emptying the bench for more than a quarter.
Big plays were a huge factor in the lopsided outcome, as is often the case, as Day's offense overwhelmed a bombed out and depleted Maryland defense. As noted in the Stroud section of this here collection of words, the quarterback connected on 12 different passes that went for 15+ yards. The dirty dozen went for a total of 308 passing yards, or 71% of Ohio State's 432 passing yards on the afternoon.
On the ground, Day's offense tallied seven different carries that went for at least 10 yards (five of those coming from Henderson) for 98 yards, or 59% of the team's rushing yards on the day, and the running game didn't even really get going until after halftime.
The gaggle of gash plays helped the Buckeyes log four touchdown drives under 2:00 in the first half alone. Ohio State scored three touchdowns in six plays during one stretch.
For the game, the Buckeyes posted six different touchdown drives less than 2:30 in length.
Through six games, Ohio State ranks No. 2 nationally in scrimmage plays over 10 yards (124), 20 yards (46) and 30 yards (23). The Buckeyes also lead the country in total offense at 562.7 yards per game.
Special teams helped influence the quick strikes as true freshman Emeka Egbuka posted kickoff returns of 33, 46 and 67 yards as part of a 166-yard day on four kickoff returns, giving the offense excellent starting field position.
Hell it's probably past due but I need to devote a Thing to running back-turned-linebacker Steele Chambers.
First of all, as a scholar athlete and an Academic All-B1G guy, his makeup is exactly what Day is looking for as he maintains a certain culture inside the WHAC.
Chambers had been repping on both offense and defense during the spring but it wasn't until August when he made the full switch to linebacker.
He could've pissed and moaned about not getting chances at tailback or simply and quietly transferred out like we've seen from other guys who left the linebacker room earlier this year but he didn't. He stuck it out and good things are now happening. (And hey, no hate on the two who left whatsoever, just illustrating the different ways to handle a lack of playing time.)
Yesterday, Chambers tied for the team lead in tackles with seven and posted his first career sack. From what I've seen, despite a lack of experience at the position at this level, he looks like he belongs - he's not just getting mop-up reps as a solid for moving over and providing some much-needed depth.
Despite missing one of Ohio State's six games to-date, Chambers ranks sixth on the team with 19 tackles.
Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon are the clear-cut top two linebackers on this team in my eyes but there's no reason to think Chambers can't continue carving out a productive rotational role on this defense. That's one of hell of an accomplishment and testament to the guy's talent, character and work ethic.
Figure I'll wrap it up today with a couple quick thoughts on Ohio State's head coach.
Day found himself in unfamiliar territory after losing his first regular season game versus Oregon at home in week two. Fans were barking about the quarterback and his defense was in shambles.
What's he do? He sticks by Stroud, develops him in the lab, and pretty much blows up the defense, essentially demoting defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs following a press conference in which he didn't mince words, and installed secondary coach Matt Barnes as his new defensive playcaller.
A couple weeks after that, just days after reserve linebacker Dallas Gant entered the transfer portal, fellow reserve linebacker K'Vaughan Pope lost his cool on the sideline and fired off some regretful tweets. By Sunday afternoon, Day had dismissed Pope from the team but still gave him the opportunity to stay on scholarship through the semester along with access to student-athlete programs.
Day's handling of things on the defensive side helped galvanize the group and now it appears headed in a much better direction. Similarly, on offense, Stroud is finding a groove guiding a lethal Ohio State attack.
Then off the field, Day is also everything Ohio State fans could want in a program steward as evidenced by his work in supporting mental health services for youths.
A January day in 1988 changed Ryan Day's life forever.— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 9, 2021
Tom Rinaldi tells the story of his father, Ray Day, and how his death shaped the @OhioStateFB Head Coach's view on mental health pic.twitter.com/9ndPHo4vTj
Ohio State is incredibly fortunate to call Ryan Day its head coach.