No. 2 Ohio State looked ordinary to flat out bad during large stretches for the third-straight time during a road contest but the Buckeyes also found a way to win, mostly due to freshman reserve running back Dallan Hayden in a 43-30 win over Maryland in College Park.
Self-inflicted wounds in the form of 11 penalties and not having the right personnel on the field causing a three-point swing by way of a missed extra point returned for a two-point defensive score were problematic. So was the fact Maryland came to play, especially quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa who racked up 305 total yards and three touchdowns to, statistically at least, outduel Ohio State signal-caller C.J. Stroud.
Still, after Maryland cut Ohio State's lead to 33-30 midway through the final quarter, the Buckeyes scored the game's final 10 points via a critical five-minute field goal drive followed by a defensive score as Maryland's offense tried to conjure up one last gasp.
It wasn't pretty but the Buckeyes accomplished their goal which sets the stage for next weekend's showdown at home against Michigan. Both teams will enter undefeated and ranked in the country's top-3, playing for a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
Before we focus on all things The Game, here are Five Things from yesterday's squeaker against Maryland.
DALLAN F. HAYDEN
After Ohio State rushed for a dismal 31 yards on 2.2 per carry in the first half, mostly behind TreVeyon Henderson's 11 carries for 19 yards before he eventually left due to injury, true freshman tailback Dallan Hayden took over in the game's final 30 minutes.
Following one carry for three yards in the first half, Hayden came up huge in the second half rushing for 143 yards on 5.5 a pop with three crucial touchdowns.
Considering Henderson didn't look healthy almost from the jump, it's a bit interesting Hayden didn't start considering what he's shown when given a chance. It becomes more questionable when anyone not afraid to be honest knows Henderson is kind of like the overall offense - a finicky Ferrari that often needs all factors aligned just right to fully shine. And when he's exactly right and feeling 100%, he's a big-time weapon.
Meanwhile, Hayden is a grinder. He looks to get north and south and he does so quickly. He doesn't run like every play should be a long touchdown run, constantly bouncing outside to avoid contact or traffic at the line of scrimmage. He hits the hole with aggression and purpose. Henderson, in large part due to injury of course, hasn't carried the ball like that since the first week of October.
Hayden's value was no more evident yesterday than on Ohio State's final scoring drive as he carried the ball on nine of the possession's 11 plays, churning out 48 of the offense's 61 yards leading to a Noah Ruggles 45-yard field goal giving the Buckeyes a 36-30 lead with 42 seconds left in regulation. Hayden averaged 5.3 yards per carry on a drive chewing up over five minutes of precious game clock.
Unless Miyan Williams is deemed 100% healthy for next Saturday, I would give Hayden first crack at the Wolverines. It's going to be a fistfight and Hayden seems unafraid of such a scenario.
Usually the ugliest flag on display when any team plays Maryland is on the Terps' helmets. Yesterday however, the ugliest flags were the 11 penalties Ohio State racked up, costing it 97 yards.
The Ohio State offense continued its struggles on the road when it comes to getting plays off in time and not jumping the snap, and it wasn't even loud in the stadium. The Buckeyes had three delay of game infractions with a few coming after change of possession or extended stoppage time beforehand. It's inexcusable that it keeps happening but Ryan Day offered one, saying the officials were starting the play clock really fast.
The Buckeye offense also had two false starts on possessions ending in punts. One came after a delay of game on first down. Another came after a fumbled exchange between Stroud and Henderson on first down to lose five yards.
On defense, Lathan Ransom and Cam Martinez picked up pass interference calls, J.T. Tuimoloau was flagged for a facemask and Taron Vincent a personal foul, among the biggies.
Eleven penalties next week likely won't cut it so Buckeye fans should hope today's extra conditioning, for both the coaches and players, does the trick.
EGBUKA QUIETLY CLUTCH
After posting just four catches for 44 yards over his two previous outings, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka bounced back to lead Ohio State in receiving yesterday with six grabs for 82 yards.
Those certainly aren't eye-popping stats for a player with four 100-yard receiving games so far this season but on a day when all-everything receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. wasn't overly productive with five catches on 10 targets (68 yards), Ohio State needed another receiver to step up alongside him and it was Egbuka.
Egbuka's 35-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 extended a second half field goal drive giving Ohio State a 20-13 lead midway through the third quarter. Two possessions later, Egbuka turned in a 13-yard grab setting up a Hayden touchdown run on the next play putting Ohio State in front 33-21 with 12:36 left in the fourth quarter.
A huge play on Ohio State's final field goal drive, Egbuka hauled in an 8-yard connection with Stroud on 3rd-and-6, moving the chains and setting up Ruggles' field goal making it 36-30 Ohio State with 42 ticks left.
All six of Egbuka's catches gave Ohio State first downs with four of those coming on third down during a clutch performance.
On the season, Egbuka stands at 914 receiving yards meaning a big day against the Wolverines could push him over 1,000.
Placekicker Noah Ruggles had himself a day against the Terps, drilling 3-of-3 field goals.
The first, a 33-yarder, gave the Buckeyes a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. The final two however, were much tougher asks based on distance and pressure.
Field goal number two came with Ohio State nursing a 17-13 lead. After a 3rd-and-9 disaster resulted in a six-yard sack and a 10-yard intentional grounding flag on Stroud, Ruggles was able to salvage points with a season-long 47-yard field goal on a drive that saw Ohio State reach the Maryland 14.
Finally, with the Buckeye offense trying to run clock and record a game-clinching touchdown, a drive spanning over five minutes stalled at the Maryland 27. Facing 4th-and-3, Day opted for a field goal try so Maryland would need a touchdown with just 42 seconds to work with. Ruggles cashed in on that decision, nailing a 45-yarder with ease.
Ruggles is now 12-of-14 on the season with a perfect 5-for-5 mark on field goal tries between 40 and 49 yards.
Defensive end Zach Harrison's production this season has come in bunches and yesterday was another example.
Harrison posted a season-highs in tackles (5), tackles for loss (2.5) and sacks (2.0) while also forcing a fumble.
His production yesterday was backloaded as he dominated Maryland's last-gasp series as it took possession down six points with 42 seconds left in the game.
On 1st-and-10 at the Maryland 16, Harrison busted through the line to record a seven-yard sack, backing the Terps up to their own nine.
Now facing 2nd-and-17 and time running short, Tagovailoa felt pressure from Harrison and scrambled right but not before Harrison wrangled the quarterback at the one-yard line, knocking the ball in the air in the process. Teammate Steele Chambers snatched the ball and waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown with nine seconds left to provide the game's final margin.
Just two absolutely dominating and clutch plays from Harrison with the game on the line.