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Maryland football: Terps offense prepares for Ohio State defensive front, 'best we've faced so far'

Opposing defenses have often stacked the box against Maryland, forcing C.J. Brown to throw against thinner secondaries. The Terps don't expect a redux against Ohio State, because the Buckeyes don't need reinforcements up front.

Defensive end Joey Bosa (97) and the Ohio State defense will challenge Maryland's offense.
Defensive end Joey Bosa (97) and the Ohio State defense will challenge Maryland's offense.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

A series of opposing defenses have loaded the defensive box against Maryland this season, aiming to make C.J. Brown complete passes against thinner secondaries. More men in the box, in theory, limits a running game and opens things up in the passing game. But against Ohio State on Saturday, Maryland expects to face both a sturdy box presence and a relatively full secondary, because Ohio State's talent on the defensive line gives the Buckeyes a significant leg up.

Though it offers varied looks, Ohio State uses a base 4-3 defense with four talented down linemen. Given the ability of those linemen, Maryland right guard Andrew Zeller said, Ohio State doesn't need to take players out of its secondary to pressure the run and pass near the line of scrimmage.

"They're a good front four. It's the best we've seen so far," Zeller said, praising in particular defensive end Joey Bosa and tackle Michael Bennett. "They're very active with their hands."

Zeller said the Terps expected a more straightforward pressure scheme than other opponents, like West Virginia and Syracuse, have thrown their way.

"They're not going to bring a lot of stuff from the outside," Zeller said. "They're going to utilize their inside guys because they are very productive, and they have been productive for them. Their front four is mainly what we need to worry about."

It seems that the offensive line is focusing heavily on Bosa and Bennett. On Tuesday, left tackle Michael Dunn went out of his way mention them as players Maryland has prepared for. Bennett is a significant disrupter in the middle of the line, and Bosa has 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss from his end position.

"They're a really good front four. Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, all those guys, they're good players. At the same time, we feel like we're good players also," Dunn said.

Nose tackle Adolphus Washington and end Steve Miller round out the defensive line. Bosa, Bennett, Washington and Miller have each started all four Ohio State games this season. Behind them, Darron Lee, Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry hold down the Buckeyes' three linebacker spots. In the entire front seven, only Perry has missed even one game, the Buckeyes' first contest of the year on Aug. 30 against Navy.

As a team, the Buckeyes have allowed just 153 rushing yards per game.

Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley likened the Ohio State to front four to some of the better units he has faced in his career.

"Those guys have size, they have speed, they have strength. That is, in my opinion, the strength of their defense, is their front four. Think back to some of the great defenses that I've had to coach against, whether it's the Florida States in the late 90s, the Penn States in the mid-2000s," Locksley said. "They have four to five to six guys they rotate up front that aren't just one-dimensional."

At least in part, how Locksley chooses to combat the Buckeyes' front could hinge on whether Brown or backup Caleb Rowe starts  at quarterback. Brown is more of an out-of-the-pocket runner than Rowe, but Locksley cautioned against underestimating Rowe's own athletic ability. He said Maryland may have kept Rowe "in a box" early on in his career but has seen him develop athletically.

"Caleb is a lot more athletic than maybe some people give him credit for. He has great pocket presence, great pocket awareness, has the ability to pull the ball down," Locksley said. "He's no stiff. He's a pretty good athlete. I don't see us having to change very much."

Dunn said his job wouldn't change regardless of who played quarterback.

"We feel whichever one's in there, we're going to do our job," Dunn said. "We're going to protect him, we're going to block for him and, whichever one's in there, we're going to do everything we can to help him out."

No matter the quarterback, look for Maryland to continue to throw short passes and screens to receivers in space and running backs moving out of the backfield. The Terps have been successful on those throws in recent wins over Indiana and Syracuse, in large part because of strong downfield blocking by wide receivers like Steon Diggs and Deon Long.

"Those guys have stopped up the last two to three weeks on the perimeter and been the reason [for] a lot of those big plays that you've seen, whether it be the screen game or whether it be the option game. The ball's out on the edge, and those guys are at the point of attack, and they have to be able to be efficient and effective in their perimeter blocking," Locksley said. "We've been fortunate that we've been pretty productive out on the edge, and we're going to need to do it again."

Ohio State's athletic secondary has mostly been sturdy, but it did allow Cincinnati to throw for 352 yards in Columbus last weekend, including the surrender of an 83-yard touchdown pass.

Locksley said Maryland looked forward to seeing the Buckeyes' talented front.

"There's no doubt you want to play against the best, and in my opinion, they'll be the best we've faced so far," he said.