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Maryland football vs. Ohio State preview: Terps face their 2nd straight enormous test

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DJ Durkin faces another one of his mentors, and he has a significant talent disadvantage.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

After losing 59-3 to Michigan last week, Maryland football has a test that’s almost as difficult this week against Ohio State. The Terps take on the Buckeyes at 3:30 on ESPN, and this will undoubtedly be Maryland’s second-biggest challenge this season.

Last week’s game wasn’t pretty, even if the quality of play was a little better than the final score might suggest. The Buckeyes are coming off an even more lopsided result, beating Nebraska, the No. 21 team in the latest AP Poll and No. 35 squad in S&P+, by a 62-3 final score.

After his loss to Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines last week, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin takes on another of his mentors in Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Durkin was a graduate assistant under Meyer at Bowling Green, and Meyer said he would have hired him full-time if he hadn’t left for Utah after two seasons.

But just like last week, Durkin faces some pretty tremendous odds. Even at home, his team is a 28-point underdog. If it weren’t for a slip-up against Penn State earlier this season, the Buckeyes could very well be in the College Football Playoff’s top four. Even now, a win over Michigan in two weeks would catapult them right back in.

Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1)

2015 record: 12-1

Head coach: Urban Meyer

All-time record vs. Maryland: 2-0

F/+ ranking: No. 3 (Maryland is No. 78)

Five-year recruiting ranking: No. 4 (Maryland is No. 41)

Players to watch

J.T. Barrett, QB, junior, 6'2/222, No. 16. Barrett’s rebounded pretty well from a weird 2015 season. Now that Cardale Jones has moved on to the NFL, Barrett’s the guy in Columbus. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per pass attempt, which is fine, and he’s Ohio State’s second-leading rusher too, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Mike Weber, RB, freshman, 5'10/212, No. 25. Weber’s in the unenviable position of replacing Ezekiel Elliot, but he’s done a solid job so far, averaging six yards per carry. He’s playing through a sprained AC joint, but he’ll be out there on Saturday.

Curtis Samuel, RB, junior, 5’11/197, No. 4. Samuel has 52 catches, double that of any other Buckeye receiver, and he’s the team’s second-leading rusher. He averages nearly eight yards per rush and 13 yards per reception. We might see him returning punts, as well.

Raekwon MacMillan, LB, junior, 6'2/243, No. 5. He’s been one of the top performers on this Buckeye defense so far, ranking third on the team in tackles and tied for third in pass break-ups. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s a big guy and could cause trouble for Maryland’s running backs.

Malik Hooker, S, sophomore, 6'2/205, No. 24. He’s made a huge jump from from his freshman to sophomore year. He had eight tackles last year, and now he leads the team with 42. He also has five interceptions and four pass break-ups.

Strengths

Rushing offense. Behind Weber, Samuel and Barrett, this team runs an offense that Maryland is going to have a really, really tough time stopping. The Buckeyes have one of the best ground games in the nation by any conceivable metric (3rd in S&P+, 9th in yards per rush). Maryland has the second-worst rush defense in all of FBS football, according to S&P+, which makes for a big mismatch.

Pass defense. S&P+ ranks Ohio State as the fifth-best team in the country in this category, with players like Hooker and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Denzel Ward all registering at least seven pass break-ups. Yeah, this team is hard to throw against. Also, the Buckeyes have the No. 18 run defense in the country. Nothing’s going to come easy on Saturday.

Weaknesses

Explosiveness. The Buckeyes struggle to get big plays and they aren’t great at keeping their opponents from getting them. There’s a huge discrepancy on offense between their explosiveness on standard downs (104th in isoPPP) and passing downs (27th), while the reverse is true for their defensive unit (35th in standard downs isoPPP and 108th in passing downs isoPPP). This all means Ohio State doesn’t hit on many big plays on regular downs where running and passing are both viable options, but they do when they are in obvious passing situations. On defense, they struggle to contain big plays during regular downs, but are good at keeping a lid on opponents when it’s obvious they have to pass. For the Terps to win, they’re going to have to hit on some big runs, as they’re capable of doing, and some long passes, which they haven’t been too good at this season.

Predictions

S&P+: 42.3- 15.4, Ohio State. Maryland has a 6 percent chance of winning.

Ryan’s prediction: Ohio State wins, 47-14. This won’t be quite as bad as last week. Probably.