Thanks to Chuck McKeever of Land Grant Holy Land, SB Nation's Ohio State site, for taking the time to craft incredibly detailed responses to questions about the Buckeyes this week. Follow Chuck on Twitter and check out some of his work ahead of Saturday's game.
Let's get to it, ahead of the biggest game of Maryland's season:
TT: Ohio State has posted some ridiculous offensive totals lately. I know the Buckeyes aren't as strong as they were last year, but, uh, is there any way this team can be as strong as it was last year?
CM: A few weeks ago, that would have seemed like a really ridiculous question. I would say that the answer is still no, but Ohio State is looking about as dynamic as could possibly have been expected given the circumstances. Losing Braxton Miller for the year, losing most of the O-line and Carlos Hyde to the NFL...those things have totally changed the shape of the offense. We've lost the hard-nosed option attack that made the Buckeyes such a nightmare for opposing defenses last year, but the offense has gained ground in other areas in the absence of that. It's definitely less consistent than last year's--we have a lot of weapons, but no real go-to guy has emerged--but despite that, we've still managed to put an awful lot of points on the board. Time will tell if the team will be able to keep that up against stronger defenses as the season goes on.
TT: In Braxton Miller's unfortunate absence, has his replacement, J.T. Barrett, met your expectations? What can you tell us about his overall game?
CM: Given the hand that Barrett was dealt, I think it's safe to say he's met expectations so far. This is a guy who hadn't played a football game in almost two full years, thanks to a knee injury suffered early in his senior year of high school and last year's redshirt. Fortunately he was practicing with the first team for most of camp this year thanks to Miller's initial shoulder injury, so he wasn't thrown completely into the fire. He's probably somewhere in between the QB we saw against Virginia Tech and the one we've seen the last two weeks--the Hokies have fallen off big time since upsetting Ohio State, but their 4-4 Bear front was pretty much perfectly tailored to wreak havoc against a young QB leading an option-heavy offense behind a depleted offensive line. Barrett has more than made up for that performance in the two games since, helping the Buckeyes hang 116 points on their opponents. He can't expect that kind of pillowy-soft reception in the weeks to come, but he's looked more and more confident with each quarter of football he's played.
Barrett isn't the runner that Braxton Miller is/was, but not many QBs are. He's still made plenty of plays with his legs, and is currently second on the team with 205 rush yards on 55 carries. It's also instructive that he's the first Ohio State QB to throw for 300 yards in a game since Troy Smith in 2006, the year he won the Heisman Trophy. Barrett has now done that twice this season, and it's no surprise that he's been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times already.
TT: Systematically, what should the Terps expect to see from the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball?
CM: Look for the Buckeyes to hand off to Ezekiel Elliott early and often to set the tempo. Elliott is coming off of his first 100-yard game of the season, having steamrolled Cincinnati to the tune of 182 yards and a touchdown. Maryland is giving up 200 yards a game on the ground--a number that Ohio State will look to match after their great rushing display this past week. Curtis Samuel is another name to know in the backfield.
With tight end Jeff Heuerman back, the passing game becomes more multi-dimensional. That should scare Terps fans, since J.T. Barrett is coming off of back-to-back 300-yard games, largely without Heuerman's services. Once the running game opens things up, expect Barrett to take some shots downfield to his stable of playmakers. Dontre Wilson, Devin Smith, and Michael Thomas have all looked dangerous this season. The no-huddle is definitely in play, too. The Terps have allowed opponents to run about 85 plays per game, which shouldn't improve much against an Ohio State team that hit 100 plays against Cincinnati.
Defensively, look for Ohio State's pass rush to try to exploit matchups and get to the quarterback before he can make a throw--last week's game showed how bad the Buckeye secondary can be when the line doesn't get after the QB, but it also showed how much the front 4 can change the game when they do get into the backfield quickly. Joey Bosa's strip-sack of Gunner Kiel was a huge moment for Ohio State early in the game, and the Buckeyes will look to keep up their 2.5 sack-per-game pace against the Terps.
TT: Ohio State has a top-to-bottom talent advantage against just about everyone it plays, and this week won't be an exception. But do you see any individual match-ups where Maryland can make up significant ground?
CM: Stefon Diggs vs. whoever is tasked with keeping him covered. Here's a fun stat from the Cincinnati game: the Bearcats' Chris Moore finished the game with 3 catches for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns. It's safe to say that Ohio State doesn't defend against the home-run pass very well--young corner Eli Apple got exploited big time against UC, as did safety Vonn Bell. The secondary will need to do a much better job of disguising coverages and not blowing assignments if they hope to contain a playmaker like Diggs.
TT: C.J. Brown hurt his wrist against Indiana, and we don't know if he or backup Caleb Rowe will play on Saturday. Brown offers more as a runner, while Rowe is a cleaner passer. Which quarterback would Ohio State rather see, in your opinion?
CM: After the season that the secondary has had, that's an easy choice. Brown is the better player, obviously, but Ohio State was able to handle Navy despite facing a good rushing QB in Keenan Reynolds. Anything resembling a competent passing attack rightly makes Buckeye fans very, very nervous. We'll take our chances trying to set the edge against a mobile QB over having to defend an aerial game plan any day of the week.
TT: Special teams play has been a critical advantage for Maryland in the season's first five weeks. How have the Buckeyes looked in that ever-important phase of the game?
CM: One of the best things about having a coach who can recruit at will is that the roster ends up loaded with fast, talented guys looking for their shot. Thanks to that, the Buckeyes' special teams coverage has been great this year. It also doesn't hurt that Cameron Johnston, Ohio State's punter, seems to be able to put the ball wherever he wants it on the field. It's worth noting that the Buckeyes are only punting 2.5 times a game. We've also yet to allow a kickoff return for a score, which is pretty cool given the sheer volume of kickoffs our offense produces.
Sean Nuernberger, our freshman kicker, has looked pretty good. He missed a pair of field goals in the Virginia Tech game that were pretty emblematic of how that entire contest went; he's hit 5 of 7 overall. Dontre Wilson, our Percy Harvin analogue, has yet to take a kick or punt to the house this year, but he's a dynamic player who could certainly go off at any time.
TT: If the Terrapins are going to pull off an upset, how will they do it?
CM: I suppose the Buckeyes could be caught looking ahead--Maryland and Rutgers joining the B1G was seen as something of a joke by many heading into the season--but Urban Meyer isn't really the kind of coach to take any game lightly, much less a game against a 4-1 conference foe. The aforementioned weaknesses in Ohio State's pass defense will be the key for Maryland if they hope to upset the Buckeyes on Saturday. It's horrifyingly easy to imagine a scenario unfolding much like the one last week that allowed Cincinnati to pull within 5 points in the 3rd quarter, with a few big plays through the air totally shifting the momentum in the Terps' favor. Couple that with a few stalled drives by Ohio State and there could be upset potential on the horizon.
TT: Does Ohio State cover a 10-point spread, and who wins?
CM: That being said, I don't see the upset happening here (though I suppose the very nature of an upset is that no one seems to see it coming). I think Ohio State wins and covers the 10-point spread. The Buckeye offense is firing on all cylinders right now, and I'm not sure Maryland can be the team that stifles it. Impressive as the Terrapins have been through five games, they haven't faced a team as talented and well-coached as Ohio State this season. I don't see the Maryland defense rolling over quite as badly as Cincinnati's or Kent State's did, but I think the multi-dimensional Ohio State offense will prove to be too much for a team that's so far only been tested against the likes of Syracuse and Indiana. Final score prediction: Buckeyes win, 38-17.