Maryland football’s 2017 schedule includes four teams who started the season and currently remain in the AP Poll’s top 10. This week, the Terps will face the first of those giants, as they visit Ohio State at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Buckeyes are 4-1, but it’s not easy to gauge from the outside where Ohio State fits into the national picture right now. That’s why we brought in Alexis Chassen from our SB Nation friends at Land Grant Holy Land. You can follow her (@Lovelybuckeye) and the blog (@LandGrant33) on Twitter, and our corresponding Q&A will be on their site later this week.
Testudo Times: Ohio State has slipped from its No. 2 preseason ranking to No. 10 in the current polls, but S&P+ and other metrics still have the Buckeyes near the top. What's been your assessment of their early-season performance?
Land Grant Holy Land: It’s been a little tough to really nail down how much the team has improved since the Week 2 loss to Oklahoma given they’ve played Army, UNLV and Rutgers in the weeks since. On paper things seem to be trending in the right direction. The wide receivers are finally getting some separation down field and QB J.T. Barrett has more big-play potential WRs than he’s had the past few seasons. There’s still some concern with the growth of the secondary, with the position group being a bit of a one-and-done situation for guys on the way to the NFL the past few years, and they haven’t really been tested since Week 2. While I feel confident saying the offense has actually improved over the first third of the season, I can’t make the same claim for the DBs. However, Maryland’s passing game should be a good eye test to see if they have actually improved.
TT: Buckeye fans have been on J.T. Barrett all season. Is that a matter of regression or simply failing to meet sky-high expectations?
LGHL: A little bit of both. Barrett’s confidence was completely stripped away during the 2015 QB competition with Cardale Jones. It doesn’t take much – especially a booing home crowd – to shake up a quarterback, and he’s just now seeming to bounce back from that. A combination of coaches and schemes certainly didn’t help stop Barrett’s regression, but I think his lack of pomp can be a bit misleading for fans, too. He’s one of the best, all-time quarterbacks to play for Ohio State – and all the stat lines will agree – but there isn’t much electricity when he runs (no “B” button) and he doesn’t make waves on the sideline. Barrett shows up, does his job, and leads his team from the locker room not in front of the media, and sometimes that makes him overlooked and undersold.
TT: How has the immediate impact of freshman running back J.K. Dobbins changed the outlook of Ohio State's offense?
LGHL: Ohio State has typically boasted either an elusive speed demon at running back (like Ezekiel Elliott) or a bulldozer (like Carlos Hyde), but rarely have they had both at the same time. Until now. With J.K. Dobbins working alongside Mike Weber, the Buckeyes have the best of both worlds, not to mention opening up the running lane for deceptive quick QB J.T. Barrett. It also helped with all the questions surrounding the passing game as we got into the season, to know that the run game can help bail the team out if (and as) needed.
TT: The defense seems loaded as always. Which player or players on that side of the ball do you think will be the most important on Saturday?
LGHL: Without a doubt the secondary. Despite the success of Maryland’s rusher Ty Johnson, Ohio State’s defensive-line is poised to keep him pretty under wraps for most of the game. The real concern will be whether the Buckeyes’ extremely young and green cornerbacks and safeties can cover Terps wideout D.J. Moore. The Ohio State d-line’s ability to put pressure on the quarterback though, could help limit the targets Moore ends up getting and force the team to rely on their younger skill players to step up in a big way.
TT: Ohio State is a 31-point favorite. What would have to go wrong for this game to be close (or turn into an upset?)
LGHL: Maryland’s defense could make or break this game. They may have given up some bigger plays so far this season, but are No. 16 in limiting 5+ yard gains overall. Want to guess where the Buckeyes have found consistency this season? It’s those short passes to receivers that have moved the sticks while also giving the speed demon WRs the ability to make a cut and get 10+ yards after the catch. If Ohio State is limited in the short passing game, and Maryland’s secondary can keep the receivers from getting separation, they could ultimately keep the Buckeyes from the endzone more than once on Saturday.