The Terrapins' Big Ten home debut on Saturday devolved into a blowout.
Behind a fine effort from freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, an effective running game and a dominant defensive line, No. 20 Ohio State pounded Maryland, 52-24, before a national TV audience and 51,802 fans at Byrd Stadium.
The most meaningful thing about this game for Maryland might be what follows it. Starter C.J. Brown played poorly at quarterback in the first half, and Caleb Rowe replaced him to start the third quarter. Rowe didn't draw Maryland close to a comeback at any point, but he ran an offense far more efficient than the one Brown ran in the first half.
Rowe finished his day with a 13-for-22 completion clip, one touchdown, three interceptions and 173 yards, for a 112.9 rating. Brown, in the first half, went 11-for-18 no scores, an interception and 78 yards. The Terps scored 14 of their 24 points with Rowe leading the offense.
Maryland has a bye week ahead, but when they the Terps host Iowa on Oct. 18, might they have a different man under center? In his postgame press conference, Edsall indicated not, but the quarterback position will surely be scrutinized by fans and media alike. In a bit of a paradox, Edsall backed Brown as his starter while acknowledging that Rowe gave his passing offense a better chance start churning against Ohio State.
"I felt that we needed to be able to throw the football a little bit more in the second half if we were going to have an opportunity to win," Edsall said. But, he added, "C.J.'s our quarterback."
On Saturday, it didn't much matter who played quarterback. The offense's four turnovers didn't help the Maryland defense, but the Buckeyes scored 52 points – a number the offense was never going to sniff going up against Ohio State's front seven. Brian Stewart's unit allowed 533 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. Barrett ran both read and pitch option plays masterfully, setting up Ezekiel Elliott for a 139-yard rushing outing and himself for a 267-yard, four-touchdown passing day. Barrett himself ran for 71 yards and a touchdown.
"There were things we tried to do; pressure him and zone coverage," Edsall said of facing Barrett. He's very good. My hat's off to him in terms of how he played."
The Buckeyes' receivers outplayed the Terps' secondary. Will Likely, having an otherwise tremendous season, couldn't even interfere to stop a wonderful touchdown catch by Ohio State's Michael Thomas. Likely didn't have a good afternoon in pass defense, nor did safety Sean Davis, who was in deep coverage on a couple of long touchdown throws and could not prevent them.
Without starter Matt Robinson, Maryland's linebackers had a hard time in pass coverage, too. On a first-half touchdown pass from Barrett to Jalin Marshall, inside linebacker Cole Farrand found himself matched up as a cornerback with the speedier Elliott near the sideline. When Barrett lobbed a pass toward Marshall, Farrand couldn't rotate quickly enough to close in on the wideout (understandably, given that his role as a middle linebacker). On a deep attempt for tight end Jeff Heuerman in the second half, outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil lost a jump-ball for a 28-yard gain, despite taking a flag for defensive pass interference.
Ohio State jumped ahead with almost 200 yards of offense in the first quarter alone. It took the Buckeyes just three minutes to fire their opening salvo, a one-yard touchdown plunge from running back Rod Smith. The Maryland defense allowed 67 rushing yards on that drive alone, and the outlook never got much better.
"It was critical, and I knew that coming in," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said of his team's fast start. "I had never been to this stadium. It's a very nice stadium with the students and fans right on you, but it worked out that we started on [Byrd Stadium's open end] to get some momentum going."
The Buckeyes were up 14-0 by the time Maryland made its most impressive play of the day – a 57-yard, program record-setting field goal by kicker Brad Craddock. That kick provided more in excitement than it did in progress toward closing the lead, though, as Ohio State subsequently jumped out to a 21-3 lead.
At one flashpoint late in the second quarter, after a Brandon Ross touchdown run and a three-and-out from the Maryland defense, the Terps looked poised to make a game of it. They trailed, 24-10 and were about to get the bal backl with 1:12 left on the clock. They would get the ball after halftime, too: A couple of scoring drives could tie the game.
But after Cameron Johnston's punt went 69 yards and was downed at the Maryland seven-yard line, Brown threw a ghastly interception directly into the arms of linebacker Darron Lee, who returned it to near the goal line.
"The young man made a poor decision, and things like that happen in football," Edsall said. "You don't like to see things like that happen, but it did."
To whatever extent one believes in momentum, Maryland's died there. Barrett found receiver Nick Vannett for an easy one-yard touchdown on the next play. A 24-10 lead became 31-10, and Maryland never recovered.
"That was a huge play by them. Credit to their defense, stepping up and making that play. Obviously, we had just got a little bit of momentum, so the momentum shifted once again," cornerback Jeremiah Johnson said.
As the game wore on from there, it only became more ugly for Maryland. Rowe's three interceptions – one on an overthrow for Leak in the end zone and two on balls that bounced off receivers' hands – were extra nails in Maryland's already-sealed coffin. One was returned for a touchdown, and another came close.
All afternoon, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and the Buckeyes' front four wreaked havoc on the Maryland offensive line. Bosa snuck around Maryland's tackles on the edges, squeezed between linemen or sometimes simply bull-rushed his way toward Brown or Rowe. Bosa himself had 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, but he jarred the offense out of its comfort zone on what seemed like every play.
"Their defensive line did a great job getting penetration and was really good with their hands," running back Brandon Ross said. "They really disrupted the offense."
In the running game particularly, the Ohio State line made things hard on Ross and Maryland's tailbacks. Ross had a 23-yard run, Jacquille Veii had one for 11 and C.J. Brown had one effective scramble for a first down. Other than that, Maryland could muster very little on the ground. The Terps finished with 66 yards on 24 carries, a 2.8-yard average.
"They are good up front. They have a great defensive line and linebackers and very athletic defensive backs," Rowe said, though he put much of the weight of the game on Maryland's inability to execute.
Amid the wreckage of a lopsided home loss, Maryland took solace in a couple of positives.
The Terps' own defensive front created eight tackles for loss and four sacks, working against a maturing Ohio State offensive line that had allowed just one sack total in its past two games. Maryland had serious tackling problems in the open field, but its defensive line and linebackers still managed to do some damage with splash plays. Andre Monroe had two sacks, and Yannick Ngakoue had 1.5 tackles for loss, bringing his total on the year to an impressive 8.5.
"We were just executing the play calls," nose tackle Darius Kilgo said. "Certain guys recognized things, and were were able to get up the field and make a couple plays."
Craddock was a popular topic of conversation, too. His record-breaking field goal vaulted him ahead of Nick Novak and Steve Mike-Miller, who shared the mark with 54-yard makes in 2003 and 1973, respectively. Craddock also set a Maryland record by making his 17th straight attempt, 11 of those coming this season.
The Australian junior is a vastly different kicker than the one who clanked a game-winning 33-yard field goal try off the upright against North Carolina State two years ago.
"It's really different. It's just like a confidence, I guess," Craddock said. "I'm confident in my technique, which is the biggest thing, and I expect to do it, whereas a freshman I didn't have that. It's very different."
The Terrapins also didn't appear to suffer any major injuries heading into their bye week.
After the game, Edsall talked at length about Ohio State's performance. He was flattering toward Meyer's program and said the Buckeyes set an example of what he'd like Maryland to become.
"What we found out today is that Ohio State is a very good football team. We knew that coming in," Edsall said. "That's the standard that we are going to have to reach here at Maryland. We are prepared to do that."
If Saturday's game made anything clear, it was that the Terrapins still had a wide gap to close.