It’s the final Maryland football home game of a tumultuous 2018 season, and if the Terps want to earn their sixth win and return to a bowl game, they’ll have to play spoiler.
Maryland started the season 5-3, but losses in the last two weeks to Michigan State and Indiana have put the Terps in a tough spot. Their last two games are against Ohio State and Penn State, two of the Big Ten East’s perennial heavyweights. Maryland also lost quarterback Kasim Hill to a torn ACL, so redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome will start in his place.
The Buckeyes enter College Park 9-1, but are barely in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings, so even winning out might not be enough to crack the field of four. Ohio State has been through plenty of off-field controversy itself this year, but one of the most talented rosters in the nation has weathered the storm well.
It’s senior day for the Terps, which means the final home game for nearly two dozen players, including 13 listed starters. Maryland’s senior class has played for two head coaches and two interim coaches, and dealt with iffy results and this year’s emotional roller coaster off the field. Pulling off an upset would be a career highlight for almost everyone in the group.
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon ET on ABC.
No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten)
2017 record: 12-2, 8-1
Head coach Urban Meyer is in his seventh season in Columbus, boasting a 79-9 record. His career mark of 183-32 includes three national championships—two at Florida in 2006 and 2008 and one with the Buckeyes in 2014. Meyer’s head coaching career started at Bowling Green (where DJ Durkin was a graduate assistant) from 2001-02, then he won 22 games in two years at Utah before heading to Gainesville. He was placed on administrative leave in August after reports that he knew about domestic abuse allegations against former assistant Zach Smith, but ultimately returned to the job after a three-game suspension.
Players to know
Dwayne Haskins, RS sophomore, QB, 6’3/218, No. 7
If you’re reading this, you probably know the story. Haskins committed to Maryland in April 2015, but flipped to Ohio State two weeks before National Signing Day in January. After redshirting in 2016 and backing up J.T. Barrett last year, Haskins has become a star in Columbus. He’s completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards and 33 touchdowns while being picked off just six times. He’s 51 yards and three touchdowns from setting new school records in both categories. It’s his first time in College Park as a visiting player, and both sides have been waiting for this matchup.
J.K. Dobbins, sophomore. RB, 5’10/212, No. 2
Mike Weber, RS junior, RB, 5’10/214, No. 25
Both running backs have 1,000-yard seasons under their belt, but it’d take two dominant performances for either to reach that milestone again. Dobbins currently holds a 712-711 lead in yardage, but Weber is averaging 5.6 yards per carry to Dobbins’ 4.5. Weber rushed for 1,096 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2016, but Dobbins stole the spotlight as a true freshman, racking up 1,403 yards on the ground. Unlike Maryland, which has given six different running backs meaningful carries, the Buckeyes’ backfield is thin beyond these two; backup quarterback Tate Martell is third on the team with 126 rushing yards this season.
Dre’Mont Jones, RS junior, DT, 6’3/290, No. 86
Chase Young, sophomore, DE, 6’5/265, No. 2
The pass rush won’t have star junior Nick Bosa on Saturday, but these two will still be a lot for Maryland’s offensive line to handle. Jones leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks this season, while Young—a former DeMatha teammate of nearly a dozen Maryland players—has 8.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. It’s worth noting that Ohio State didn’t pick up a single sack against Michigan State and had just one against Nebraska the weekend prior, but Jones in particular put his stamp on the game with a fumble recovery and return for a touchdown, his second score of the season. According to Ohio State, he’s the first Buckeye defender to score two touchdowns in one year.
Passing offense. Haskins is a deserving Heisman candidate, but he’s got plenty of help from his receiving corps. Senior Parris Campbell leads the way with 62 receptions and nine touchdowns, while junior K.J. Hill tops the team with 733 receiving yards on his 57 catches (four for scores). Senior Terry McLaurin has eight touchdowns of his own, while senior Johnnie Dixon has five. McLaurin went over the 1,000-yard mark for his career last weekend, and with Hill and Campbell well past that threshold, it’s the first time Ohio State has ever had three 1,000-yard receivers.
Allowing explosive plays. The Buckeyes rank 115th in the country in defensive IsoPPP, which measures explosiveness. (They’re 105th rushing and 85th passing in this category.) Maryland has relied on big plays all year, and although speed backs Ty Johnson and Javon Leake are “game-time decisions” with injuries, there should be still enough playmakers healthy for the Terps to take advantage. If they don’t, it’ll be a long afternoon.
Three things to watch
1. Which running backs are healthy? Johnson and Leake both questionable for Saturday’s game, the possibility remains for a particularly deep or thin backfield. Maryland will still have Anthony McFarland, who’s coming off an absurd 210-yard performance at Indiana, as well as Tayon Fleet-Davis and Jake Funk. But both Johnson and Leake are threats to break off a big run at any time, and the Terps will need exactly that if they want to make this game interesting.
2. Can Pigrome replicate last weekend’s passing success? The redshirt sophomore saw his first extended time of the season in relief of Hill last weekend, going 10-of-13 for 146 yards and a touchdown. He entered the game just 7-of-18 for the year, but his performance at Indiana reminded fans his last start at Texas, when he went 9-of-12 with two scores in the Terps’ upset win. Ironically enough, he’ll be starting Saturday opposite Haskins, whose defection opened up the spot for Pigrome in Maryland’s 2016 recruiting class. He’s no Haskins, but the Terps will need him to hold his own.
3. How well does Maryland contain the passing game? Ohio State is third in the country with 354.9 passing yards per contest, while the Terps allow an average of just 181.8 yards through the air, second-best in the Big Ten. That number is helped a lot by the Rutgers apocalypse and doesn’t count yards gained via penalty, which has been an issue for the Terps. But other teams have held the Buckeyes’ offense somewhat in check, and Maryland still has enough talent in the secondary to do the same.
Vegas: Ohio State -15 (O/U 58.5)
S&P+: Ohio State 34, Maryland 22
Me: Ohio State 38, Maryland 17