Despite running the ball nearly 70 percent of the time against Maryland, the Ohio State offense benefitted from a strong passing game as well, but that wouldn’t have been clear based off the first drive.
The Buckeyes opened Saturday’s 52-24 win with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that featured just one pass.
After the game, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said the plan wasn’t necessarily to run the ball early, but it worked out as redshirt-senior running back Rod Smith capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
That drive was the first of a plethora of scoring possessions that helped the Buckeyes rise to No. 15 in the Associated Press top 25 after the win.
“We script our first eight or 10 plays, but understand that we’ve got to adjust based on what the defense is giving,” Herman said. “We realized early what they were giving to us.”
Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett said he wasn’t surprised by the early success running the ball, and added it was a key to starting fast against the Terrapins.
“I think that was just one of the things we did coming into the game,” Barrett said after the win. “To get an early start, tempo, and things like that, but it just so happened that they were giving it to us so we were taking it.”
From that point on, the true game plan came into view as the Buckeyes attempted 24 passes in the game, but still ran the ball a total of 53 times Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md.
Despite running the ball on the majority of offensive snaps, the total yardage for running and passing came within five yards of each other. OSU had 264 passing yards — which would have been 267 without a three-yard loss during the game’s waning moments — and 269 rushing yards. In order to accumulate those numbers, nine Buckeyes caught at least one pass, five OSU players had at least one carry and two quarterbacks attempted at least one pass.
And it all came against a defensive look the Buckeyes struggled with nearly a month earlier, leading to their first — and so far, only — loss of the season.
The Terrapins spent portions of the game in the same cover-zero bear defense deployed by Virginia Tech on Sept. 6, but instead of fearing it, OSU coach Urban Meyer said his team was happy to face the defensive package that plagued it last month.
“I have to watch the videotape, but I think I’m impressed with the fact that ever since the Virginia Tech game, we are really getting that bear zero coverage,” Meyer said after the game. “You start to see the quarterbacks, receivers and coaching staff get really excited and start making more aggressive calls.”
Senior wide receiver Devin Smith echoed his coach, saying the Buckeyes are much more prepared for the bear look, and adding that he’s not sure why teams still try to play that defense against OSU.
“You know from last year and coming into this year, we had a few chances where they went no deep and we scored,” Smith said after the game. “We seize the opportunity every time it happens.”
Smith played a key role in the Buckeyes’ offensive attack, but did it with just two touches of the ball. One of those two catches happened to be a 30-yard touchdown strike from Barrett that put OSU ahead, 38-10.
The throw was one of four passing touchdowns for Barrett in the game. He also added another score on the ground.
Meyer said Barrett still has room for improvement, but said the quarterback “is playing very well” coming out of the win against Maryland. The third-year OSU coach also saved praise for the players supporting Barrett on offense.
“There’s a lot of confidence when you start rotating six receivers in there and they are all quality guys,” Meyer said.
While Meyer’s comment was directed toward the OSU receiving corps, the Buckeyes’ starting running back — sophomore Ezekiel Elliott — was just as important to the cause against the Terrapins. He totaled 139 yards on 24 carries and went the entire game without being tackled for a loss.
As Barrett, Elliott and the Buckeye receivers certainly held their own on offense, the OSU defense also had big plays that directly led to points.
And the Buckeyes’ special teams unit got in on the fun as well.
When sophomore punter Cameron Johnston launched a 69-yard punt near the end of the first half, the Terrapins were threatening to get back in the game. But Maryland suddenly found itself pinned deep, and redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee intercepted a pass on the first play of the drive. After a fumble, the ball was recovered by freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan at the Maryland one, leading to one of Barrett’s touchdown strikes.
While Lee didn’t technically make it into the end zone, his play — along with three other OSU interceptions — helped spark the Buckeyes throughout the game. One of those interceptions — by McMillan — did directly lead to a touchdown as he scampered in for the first score of his career.
After the game, Meyer praised his defense’s big-play ability, and said the Buckeyes will continue to bring pressure on that side of the ball going forward.
“We are going to be more aggressive on defense with tighter coverage,” Meyer said. “There’s somewhat of a risk that we need to continue to work on with the isolated man-to-man coverage, but there’s also more opportunity to step in front of the ball like we did today.”
Apart from the turnovers caused, the Buckeyes also brought pressure on Maryland’s quarterbacking duo throughout the game. While they only recorded three sacks, sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa — who tallied one of the sacks and led the team with 2.5 tackles for loss — said his fellow defensive linemen were close to putting up much bigger numbers.
He went on to say if the defensive line is at it’s best, there’s no better unit around.
“I think we show flashes of it, and you saw how we can be when we first came out here,” Bosa said after the game. “We hit little bumps throughout the game — same thing that happened last week — but if we are at our best, we are a top team in the country.”
After the strong all-around performance, the Buckeyes are set for a bye week before facing Rutgers for homecoming weekend. Meyer said he’d prefer to keep playing games, but wants to focus on improving before the next game.
“I wish we were playing another one next week, our whole team wishes we were playing,” he said. “I’m going to just give them as many game reps as I can to show maturity.”
The matchup with the Scarlet Knights is set for Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.