The Maryland football team showed a lot of pluck against No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday, in what could have been Randy Edsall's last game as the head coach. But Maryland ultimately fell, 49-28, before 107,869 at Ohio Stadium. The loss dropped Maryland to 2-4 heading into a bye week.
In his first start in a month, Perry Hills completed just 10 of 27 passes but ran for 170 yards in a bid to keep Maryland close. Aside from a long touchdown pass to D.J. Moore, Hills's legs were the brunt of Maryland's offense.
With Hills leading two scoring drives, the Terps charged back from a two-touchdown first-half deficit to tie the game early in the third quarter before Ohio State genuinely took charge.
Maryland contained star running back Ezekiel Elliott for as long as the game was close, but the Terps struggled to control Ohio State's passing game. Cardale Jones was 21/28 through the air for 291 yards and two touchdowns, and the Buckeyes ultimately strung together 499 yards of total offense. Still, it was an admirable effort by Maryland's defense, which neutralized the hosts' ground game and rarely broke down.
Attention now surely turns to Edsall. Facing reports of his imminent firing since Thursday, Edsall coached one of his strongest games at Maryland this Saturday. He certainly could still be dismissed, although Saturday's reasonably strong Maryland effort would provide an odd backdrop if it happened immediately.
As much as could be expected, Maryland contained Ohio State's offense early on. The Buckeyes hit on a couple of big plays – most prominently two long ones, including a touchdown – from Jones to Braxton Miller. But Maryland plugged away hard on defense. Elliott ran for just 2.7 yards per carry in the first half, and the Buckeyes couldn't do much of anything on the ground. Despite Jones getting close to 200 yards on 15-of-20 passing, Maryland only surrendered points on three of six real drives. (Ohio State missed a field goal and had another drive end with halftime.)
Maryland's offense struggled badly, except for two big plays in the first half that kept the game tight. Hills found D.J. Moore for a 52-yard score off play action on Maryland's first drive, and he bolted 75 yards to set up his own touchdown with under a minute left before the break. Hills was an egregious 2 of 11 through the air but wildly effective on the ground, despite an overmatched offensive line.
On a trickery-filled opening drive in the second half, Maryland mixed reverses and multiple option variations to set up a Hills misdirection score that tied the game at 21-all and quieted the massive crowd.
Ohio State pulled back ahead a few drives later on a 48-yard strike from Jones to Jalin Marshall, then got a couple of touchdown runs from "No. 2" quarterback J.T. Barrett and Elliott. Those provided the separation the Buckeyes would need to avert a serious scare, as Maryland's offense couldn't sustain scoring drives down the stretch.
Three things to know
1. Maryland coached a solid game. Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley were feeling wild, and it worked. Defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski was savvy, and Maryland's staff did what college football coaches are paid lots of money to do: They put their players in position to be successful. Locksley let Perry Hills do a lot of what he does best, which is take off and run. He called for a handful of triple-options and previously unheard of (for Maryland) misdirection runs, and a lot of them worked. Dudzinski stacked the defensive box full of bodies and made Elliott scuffle, and Maryland's players had a chance to beat Ohio State, at least for awhile. Give credit where it's due, including to Edsall's staff.
2. Penalties hurt Maryland again. The Terps have made a habit of running up double-digit flag totals this season, and they hobbled themselves again on Saturday. They took two facemasking calls and struggled with procedure penalties all day, including three false starts. Against a team as talented (if imperfect) as Ohio State, it's hard to overcome as many setbacks as Maryland had in this regard. The Terps closed with nine penalties for 63 yards. A false start on Damian Prince, as Maryland faced a crucial late fourth-and-9 it ultimately wouldn't convert, exemplified the problems the team had all day.
3. Perry Hills played tough as nails. Hills's offensive line was predictably overmatched against a dominant Ohio State defensive line, and his receivers failed to catch a handful of catchable throws. But Hills ran hard and repeatedly scrambled away from pressure, refusing to let Maryland completely fade. His passing line was putrid, but that doesn't tell the story of how well Hills performed. As a runner, he out-gained Elliott despite a line that couldn't do much to keep him clean. Hills deserved better.