There was a dark cloud hanging over Saturday’s game.
Ohio State tried to focus on the task at hand as much as possible, but next week’s all-important rivalry matchup with Michigan might have contributed to an off day for the Buckeyes against Maryland. The scarlet and gray still escaped College Park with a 43-30 win, but Ohio State trailed by three points at halftime and still held just a three-point lead with less than a minute to go.
One of the biggest factors in Ohio State’s win was the improvement of the run game, which mustered just 28 yards in the first half before a 132-yard explosion in the final two quarters. That can be attributed largely to the play of true freshman running back Dallan Hayden, who filled in for a banged-up TreVeyon Henderson in the second half to rush for 147 yards and three scores.
Hayden rushed for 102 yards last week, but Ryan Day said Saturday’s performance was particularly big for the first-year Buckeye.
“We didn't quite get the running game going there in the first half, and then made the change to Dallan, and he really got us into a rhythm,” Day said. “I thought he was hitting the holes hard. Right after the blocked punt there, two good hard runs, and that was good. And then from there on, I thought he almost broke a couple. I mean, he almost did. But for a young player with so much on the line here today, to play like that – first off to take care of the football, it's the number one thing. When you hand somebody that football, you're putting the whole team in their hands. And that's something we talk about a lot. And so we trusted that Dallan was going to do that.
“He's had a couple spots this year, but this was big. And for him to get this game under his belt, I think it'll build some confidence for him.”
While Ohio State couldn’t get Henderson going with several runs to the outside in the first half, Hayden had a lot more success knifing straight up the middle and getting north and south on the Maryland front.
“I feel like I've always naturally been able to just hit the hole and get downhill and get vertical. I've never really been like a dancing type of back,” Hayden said. “So yeah, I feel like it's natural.”
Another big turning point for Ohio State was a blocked punt by Lathan Ransom, his second in as many weeks, to set up Hayden’s go-ahead touchdown run in the third quarter. The play was made even more impressive by the fact that Ransom broke his thumb on the very first play of the game against the Terps.
Ransom said he drew inspiration from Buckeye linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, who he said is playing with two “messed up” hands.
“(It was) super big and real emotional. I broke my thumb the first play of the game and then just had to come back. We have a leader like Tommy, he’s our leader and we look up to him and he’s one of the toughest dudes I know. It really just shows the defense how tough we are and to get that momentum and that play, it felt great.
“I think that just shows how strong the brotherhood is. We’re doing it for our brothers, for each other. That’s what this whole team’s about this year, and I think that really embodies it. Just doing it for our brothers.”
After the game, Day heaped praise upon the Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist, who also had seven total tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass breakup at the safety position Saturday.
“Production. And in today's day and age, there's a lot of things that go on and said and everything like that. This guy is producing. To block two punts in back-to-back weeks, I mean, has that been done before at Ohio State? I don't know, I'd have to look. But that's amazing. And that was a really huge point of the game and got us a lot of momentum.”
But even though Maryland ended up requiring all of Ohio State’s attention for all four quarters, Day said the Buckeyes shifted focus to their archrival as soon as the game ended.
“I just got done with the team, and you probably can imagine what the first thing that was said. 'It's onto team up north.'”
Day said living with last year’s Michigan loss has been hard for the last 12 months, and that Ohio State has dedicated many of those to ensuring it doesn’t suffer the same fate in next week’s matchup.
“That has not been easy. Hasn't been good. We'll probably talk about it more this week. But looking forward to the preparation and our guys have been focused on it all offseason. And during the season, it's always been in the back of our minds. We work it every day of the year. And so the week is officially here.”
C.J. Stroud, who finished with 241 yards and a touchdown against Maryland, said he’s just happy that Michigan week is finally here after a year of reflecting on the loss and dealing with the criticism that came along with it.
“I'm excited man. Of course, we've been licking our wounds for 365 days, hearing all the laughing and everything that everybody's been saying. So I definitely think that we've been preparing for it, not only on the field but in the weight room as well. So man, we're very excited.”