With the score 24-10 near the end of the second quarter, and with Maryland holding all the momentum, redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee stepped in front of a pass by redshirt-senior quarterback C.J. Brown and put a stop to the Terps’ run.
Then almost gave it back.
Lee fumbled his interception near the Maryland goal line before it was recovered by a fellow Buckeye — freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan — at the Terrapin one-yard line.
Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said the McMillan recovery was a product of effort, not chance.
“It’s not by accident. Those things are made to happen. It’s just like it’s not by accident that somehow No. 5 just comes up with the ball a couple of times,” Fickell said after the game. “He is always around the football. Those are things that I am not saying we taught, but they don’t happen by accident.”
Later in the game, McMillan forced a turnover of his own as he picked off a deflected pass from Maryland’s backup quarterback, junior Caleb Rowe, in the fourth quarter and returned it 19 yards for an OSU score.
McMillan said the play was the result of good teamwork on defense.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” he said postgame. “My teammates helped me out by tipping the ball and I just took advantage of the moment.”
While Rowe was not under too much pressure on that particular throw, McMillan added that the play of the defensive line is what helped him have a big game.
“We have one of the best, if not the best, defensive line in the nation,” he said. “It really helps the linebackers out. It really clears stuff up for us.”
Fickell added that the pressure the defensive line put on the Maryland quarterbacks is something he believes the Buckeyes are improving at every week.
“I think that’s the thing you are starting to see from us. We are a little bit further along now that we’ve got some multiplicity to what we do,” Fickell said. “We can give those guys an opportunity to get pressure and pin their ears back and do some things.”
A week after giving up 352 yards passing without forcing a turnover against Cincinnati, the Buckeyes held the Terrapins to 310 total yards and forced four turnovers — all of which were interceptions.
Fickell said the entire defense deserves credit for the more impressive display, but added that the secondary looked better against Maryland.
“It all works together. I think that is the biggest thing,” he said. “When things break down, when you are not playing sound (defense) — that’s the thing that is going to glare at us. Things are going really, really well but then all of a sudden something big happens. There’s a lot of things to really, really build on.”
One thing the Buckeyes seemed to need to work on was secondary play in the red zone, as two pass interference calls in the end zone eventually led to Terrapin touchdowns.
Coach Urban Meyer said following the game that as he and his coaching staff get more confident in the defense, it will allow them to play more aggressively.
“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.”
With a more successful performance against the Terrapins, Lee said the defense is continuing to build toward a completed product and added that its ultimate goal can be described in one word.
“Dominate. Dominate any way we can. That has been our goal really from the start of the season, but we knew it was going to be a slow process,” Lee said. “We got to dominate and we have to start to dominate on a constant basis. We are going to continue to work on that.”
If the defense continues to improve, Lee said Buckeye fans will be proud of the finished product.
“We are getting a lot better. And we are going to continue to get better,” Lee said. “That’s what gets us going is that we can always get better, and I know that the end result is going to be scary, so just wait on it.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled for a bye week before taking on Rutgers on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.