Was it spooky Saturday?
It sure felt like it, as Ohio State's 13-point margin of victory over Maryland was the largest win of the day among the College Football Playoff top 4, and No. 5 Tennessee was depantsed in prime time by South Carolina.
That Team Up North needed a last-second field goal to win at home on senior day against Illinois, so it was pretty clear what was on the minds of the Buckeyes and Wolverines.
Survive and advance. Survive and advance.
I'm going to worry about Ohio State's performance for roughly 4 seconds pic.twitter.com/tjT6TF3ZrY— Jason Priestas (@priestas) November 20, 2022
TL;DR: JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM
Ohio State found itself in a shallow hole at half time after starting an injured TreVeyon Henderson at running back and being thoroughly unable to run the ball. Dallan Hayden came in from the bullpen and had promptly went off, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring three of the team's four offensive touchdowns.
Taulia Tagovailoa exposed some of the vulnerabilities in the Buckeye passing defense, throwing for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns as he completed 72% of his passes. But the defense came up clutch when it counted most, ending the game by forcing a fumble and running it back for a touchdown on a drive when Maryland could have stolen the victory.
HOW IT WENT DOWN
This is either one of the games you want to forget, or a character building exercise for a young team, depending on how you want to look at it. C.J. Stroud completed just 60% of his passes and just one touchdown, ironically enough to an incredibly banged-up TreVeyon Henderson.
None of the receivers cracked 100 yards receiving, as Emeka Egbuka and Route Man Marv received the lion's share of Stroud's targets and finished with 82 and 68 yards, respectively.
The biggest story of the day was the puzzling decision to start Henderson at tailback in a game when Ohio State theoretically shouldn't have needed him. Knowing the injury status of the team's two feature backs, it seemed logical to think that Henderson would stay on the shelf alongside Miyan Williams in anticipation of next weekend's regular season finale.
Instead, Day opted to start Henderson, who rushed 11 times for a grand total of 19 yards... in other words, an average of 1.7 yards per carry. He would leave the game late in the first half and be seen later on the sidelines in a walking boot, not an encouraging sign if the staff was hoping to employ his services against That Team Up North.
But Dallan Hayden once again showed that he's ready for duty and capable of getting the job done, turning in a career high 146 yards on 27 carries. He averaged 5.4 yards per attempt, and found the endzone three times.
With his longest run just 18 yards, he may not be a certified "home run hitter" like Henderson and Williams, but he's been a critical player for one of the most injured units on the team. Why he didn't start the game remains one of the bigger mysteries of the season, and the decision did little to dispel feelings from the grumpier segments of the fanbase that head coach Ryan Day is too stubborn for his own good.
Penalties were a problem for both teams, with each team in double digits for just shy of 100 yards a piece. Ohio State was able to out-talent the Terrapins, but as Maryland head coach Mike Locksley put it, his team was able to go "blow for blow" with what he called one of the best teams in the country; had the Buckeyes played a cleaner game, perhaps it wouldn't have been quite so close.
- Dallan Hayden: The team's leading rusher logged his third 100-yard game of the season, and his fifth TD.
- Noah Ruggles: Went 3-for-3 on field goals on a day when Ohio State needed every point it could get.
- Marvin Harrison Jr.: Became the 8th player in OSU history to achieve 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Ohio State's defensive players are a different kind of animal:
Lathan Ransom said he broke his thumb on the first play of the game. He blocked the punt with his injured hand.— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) November 20, 2022
Zach Harrison said Tommy Eichenberg was playing with two broken hands.
Ryan Day said hes hopeful Miyan Williams will be able to return next week.
I'm not sure I want to think about playing football as hard as Tommy Eichenberg does with a broken anything, let along two broken hands. Or blocking a punt with a broken thumb? Good gravy, that has to smart a bit.
Both men were integral to the Buckeye victory. Ransom blocked his second punt in as many weeks, getting his injured mitt on the ball when Maryland punted on their first drive after halftime. Eichenberg was again the team's leading tackler, garnering 13 total and 10 solo.
Through 11 games, Ohio State's defense is ranked 10th out of 131 FBS teams in the country in points allowed per game and 7th in total defense. The Debriefing has maintained all season that Ohio State doesn't need a top-five defense to win championships, but Jim Knowles said he came to build a top-five defense, and by god, he's pretty close to having made it happen.
The bad news, however, is that Maryland had plenty of success through the air, with Tagovailoa completing 72% of his passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. They had far less success on the ground, rushing for just 84 yards
Eichenberg and Ransom were stellar overall, and Rocket Ronnie Hickman once again made his presence known. Zach Harrison stuffed the stat sheet, with 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 Tackles for Loss and the game-sealing forced fumble that Steele Chambers returned for a touchdown.
Overall, the team was fairly disruptive up front, getting to the quarterback for 5 sacks on the day, and recording 8 TFLs along with the turnover late in the game.
Through 11 games, the defense is allowing just 175.5 yards per game through the air and only 107.9 on the ground, for an average total yards allowed of 283.4. It's hard to oversell what the program has accomplished defensively this season.
- Lathan Ransom: Second week in a row with a blocked punt.
- Steele Chambers: Now has as many touchdowns as a linebacker as he did as a running back.
- Zach Harrison: He didn't earn much press early in the year, but he's made his presence known in recent weeks in a big way.
JIM TRESSEL'S LEAST FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE GAME
Bob Ross is a national treasure, this much is known. What is less known is that Jim Tressel has a deft hand with a brush himself. After watching Ross wax philosophical over his "happy little trees" for a bit as inspiration, The Senator took up his palette and continued working on his rendition of Mike Nugent kicking the game-winning field goal versus Marshall in the 2004 campaign.
It was the Hall of Famer's only kick of the game, and the 55-yarder from the left hash as time expired gave the Buckeyes the win, 24-21. It was one of Nugent's best, and Tressel was determined to do it justice on canvas.
"You have to remember special moments like that," he said to Lady Ellen when she brought in a cup of tea and commented on how well the piece was coming together.
After working on the shading a bit, Tressel joined his wife in the den for the Buckeye game, expecting them to roll against the Terrapins more or less as they did against the Hoosiers last week. After all, Penn State thumped Maryland 30-0 a week ago, so the Buckeyes should have no trouble.
Instead, the Buckeyes did everything they could to break his Ross-like state of zen. From mental mistakes that showed up as costly penalties to an inability to run the ball at all in the first half, it was not an inspiring performance.
"The true measure of a team is how they deal with adversity," he said at intermission, with the Buckeyes trailing by a field goal. "Now we'll see what these men are made of."
He was largely impressed with the adjustments, and particularly pleased with young Dallan Hayden, stepping up when the team needed him most. When Hayden found paydirt for the third time, Tressel thought things were pretty well in hand as Ohio State would have a two-score lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But his calm was thoroughly dashed when Maryland's Deonte Banks ran into the Buckeye backfield completely untouched and blocked Noah Ruggles extra point attempt. Jakorian Bennett returned the ball all the way to the endzone for a 2-point Maryland score.
"There should have been another tackle there!" Tressel spat in frustration. "Those are the kind of mistakes you just can't make at this level."
As always, Miss Ellen knew just what to do.
"Why don't you go work on your painting while the light's just right, Dear," she said. "I'm sure The Boys will be just fine."
Adversity causes some men to break and others to break records.#QuietTime— Jim Tressel (@JimTressel5) November 18, 2022
IT WAS OVER WHEN
...Steele Chambers crossed the goal line for a defensive score, scooping up a Zach Harrison-forced fumble. Maryland could have won the game had they marched down the field and scored, with the Buckeyes up by just 6 with the game on the line.
Instead, Ohio State bagged another double-digit victory and return to Columbus with an 11-0 record and all their goals firmly in front of them.
UP NEXT: It's the only game on the schedule you plan for all year long. It's time for the annual renewal of The Greatest Rivalry In All of Sport, the annual clash between good and evil, right and wrong, the light side and the dark side of The Force... THE GAME. Live from Ohio Stadium at High Noon on FOX. Be ready.