When it hasn’t been the offense looking shaky this season for the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes, it has been the defense. Despite allowing 253 rushing yards to Maryland on Saturday, OSU still came away with a 49-28 win to improve to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play.
Still, OSU coach Urban Meyer was more than happy with his team’s effort.
“It was a good win,” Meyer said. “As a matter of fact, it was a great win. We’re going to enjoy that one and get back to work next week.”
The afternoon did not get off to a great start for the Buckeyes, as a quick three-and-out on offense gave Maryland (2-4, 0-2) the ball at its own 18-yard line. After a pair of third-down conversions, Maryland redshirt junior Perry Hills found freshman wide receiver D.J. Moore wide open after a play-action fake for 52 yards and an early 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing possession for OSU, redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones drove the ball 50 yards to Maryland’s 25-yard line. From there, redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett came in — something Meyer alluded to considering earlier in the week.
“J.T. is just a very good player,” Meyer said after the game. “We’ve been having some red zone issues … he provided an obvious spark for us in there.”
Barrett brought the Buckeyes the rest of the way in six plays, capping the drive with a three-yard run up the middle to tie the game at 7-7.
Meyer stuck with the same strategy on OSU’s next drive, putting Barrett in the game after Jones and redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller combined to get the ball to the 5-yard line.
“J.T.’s one of our team leaders, and he always has a great attitude, so it’s just good to see him go out there, compete and have a good game,” junior running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “I’m happy for him, and it’s good to see him get some playing time now.”
OSU stuck to the ground in the short-yardage situation, as two runs Elliott and a carry by Barrett led to Elliott punching in his ninth touchdown of the year from two yards away to make the score 14-7 early in the second quarter.
After a three-and-out from each team, OSU extended its lead to 21-7 with the help of Miller.
Miller, who had not scored since he had two touchdowns in OSU’s opening game at Virginia Tech, grabbed consecutive passes of 33 and 19 yards, with the latter resulting in a touchdown from Jones.
The score was the 87th one that Miller either caught, ran or threw for in his collegiate career, extending his OSU record.
“It was great to see him smiling,” redshirt junior receiver Michael Thomas said. “He scored that touchdown and he made that great catch over the middle. He’s been able to showcase his ability in front of everyone, and that’s all he wants to do.”
After a missed kick by redshirt senior Jack Willoughby, the game seemed primed to enter the half with a 21-7 score. However, Hills changed that presumption.
After a false start moved the Terrapins to their own 22-yard line, Hills scrambled up the middle and got in open field for 75 yards. He kept the ball again on the next play, falling into the end zone to make it 21-14.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth going to the locker room, but we were motivated to not let anything come of it, not give anything up,” redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Hubbard said.
Jones finished the half 15-of-20 for 195 yards and a touchdown, while his counterpart Hills was just 2-of-11 for 62 yards, but ran nine times for 97 yards. Both of Hills’ completions came on the opening drive. Barrett was 1-of-1 for 20 yards in the first half, and gained seven yards and a score in four carries.
Miller and Thomas combined for 11 of OSU’s 16 first-half completions for 174 yards.
The passing game reopened for the Terrapins to open the second half, as Hills used three completions to help move the ball 69 yards. The drive was capped by another touchdown run by Hills from four yards out to tie the game.
“That’s probably the most difficult thing, keeping a person like that in the pocket,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Tyquan Lewis said about Hills.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall opted not to name a starting quarterback until the first snap, something Lewis said made defensive adjustments more difficult.
With the announced crowd of 107,869 getting uneasy in the tie game, the OSU offense kicked into gear midway through the third quarter, as Jones found redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall for a 48-yard score on OSU’s first play following a punt.
Jones waited in the pocket and found Marshall uncovered in the middle of the field for the Middletown, Ohio, native’s second touchdown grab of the year.
After a defensive stop, the OSU offense kept its foot on the gas pedal, moving 66 yards in nine plays, capped off by Barrett’s second touchdown run of the day from a yard out to make it 35-21.
At Indiana, the Buckeyes did not score a touchdown in three red zone trips. That turned around on Saturday, as they got into the end zone on all six trips — five led by Barrett and one by Jones.
With the game safely in hand, the Buckeyes began padding their lead late in the fourth quarter. Barrett started the drive for the first time and called five consecutive runs, the last of which was a 16-yard touchdown run by Elliott.
Jones started OSU’s next drive following an interception by redshirt junior safety Tyvis Powell, but was pulled after one play in which he found Thomas for 12 yards. Barrett came back in with OSU in the red zone, and quickly scrambled 18 yards for his third rushing touchdown of the game to make it 49-21.
“I think the red-zone package they put in for J.T. was perfect, and I think they complemented each other perfectly,” Elliott said. “They both were able to get into a rhythm, and it worked out pretty well for us.”
Elliott’s touchdown put him over 100 yards rushing for the 11th consecutive game. He finished with 106 yards on 21 carries and two scores.
A late rushing touchdown made the final score more pleasant for the Terrapins, but OSU still walked away with the 21-point victory.
“That was easily our best game,” Elliott said. “We played a complete offense, moved the ball around, everyone made plays and we have good momentum going into next week.”
Hills completed just 10 of 27 passes but picked up 170 yards on the ground — the most an opposing player has had against OSU this season by 72 yards.
Jones finished the game 21-of-28 for 291 yards, setting a new career high in passing yards in the process.
“I think he was great,” Meyer said of Jones. “He played his best game since last year.”
Barrett only threw two passes, completing both for 26 yards, but ran for 62 yards and three scores on 12 carries.
OSU is next set to remain in Columbus to host Penn State on Oct. 17. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.