Maryland-Ohio St. Preview
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Billy Price knows all about the angst over Ohio State’s recent performances, and the left guard for the top-ranked Buckeyes has a message for those worried fans.
”To address the criticism, I think everybody just needs to relax,” he said Monday. ”We will take care of our business.”
It worked out for Ohio State last Saturday, when it won 34-27 at previously unbeaten Indiana after entering as a three-touchdown favorite.
The outcome was in doubt until cornerback Eli Apple broke up a pass in the end zone by Hoosiers backup Zander Diamont on the final play.
It was an ugly win. The Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) turned the ball over three times, got two field goals from four trips to the red zone and committed eight penalties for 109 yards.
”Two areas of strength in the past are not strengths right now,” coach Urban Meyer said. ”We’re hitting that really, really hard, and that’s turnovers and that’s red-zone production.”
Ohio State has fumbled 14 times, losing six, and thrown seven interceptions. Its minus-four turnover margin is tied for 101st out of 128 teams.
Also, the Buckeyes are 108th in red-zone conversion with 12 scores in 16 attempts (75 percent), including just six TDs (37.5 percent).
Meyer is not ruling out bringing in backup quarterback J.T. Barrett for Cardale Jones during red-zone situations when the Buckeyes host Maryland on Saturday.
Last season, with Barrett taking the majority of snaps, Ohio State converted 63 of 74 times (85.1 percent), including 53 touchdowns (71.6 percent).
”We’ve thought about it,” Meyer said. ”We’ve had that conversation. At this time we haven’t made any decisions on that.”
Price said Ohio State’s explosive offense – Ezekiel Elliott had rushing TDs of 55, 65, and 75 yards in the second half against the Hoosiers – can be a problem near the goal line.
”Given a confined space, it makes it easier for the defense just because they don’t have as much ground to cover, especially as we go vertical or we go sideline to sideline,” he said.
But the Buckeyes stopped themselves at times at Indiana. Although Jones completed 18 of 27 passes for 245 yards, he was off target on consecutive throws on one red-zone series and threw an interception deep in Indiana territory on another.
”We had three turnovers to their none and we still found a way to come out with a `W’,” he said after the game. ”But we can’t expect that each week.”
No, the expectations are much higher for a team that opened the season with a 42-24 win at Virginia Tech and showed promise of more.
Ohio State since has posted unimpressive wins against Hawaii (38-0), Northern Illinois (20-13) and Western Michigan (38-12). The players, particularly Jones, received nasty Twitter comments following the Indiana game.
”It comes with the game itself and (us) being a heightened offense and we’ve got a lot of special players,” Price said. ”But fans, you have no idea what’s going on, unfortunately.
”It’s frustrating on our end, especially when I see tweets being thrown at Cardale. It’s not pretty. I’ve been on the receiving end of those … just stay in your lane.”
Despite the misfires and miscues, Meyer saw positives in the Indiana game, particularly the ability to control the offensive line of scrimmage and better perimeter blocking by the receivers.
He stopped short of saying he felt the offense was close to being great but added, ”I think we’re on the border of being very good.”
Like Ohio State, Maryland has a quarterback quandary. All three players at the position have struggled, and coach Randy Edsall must pick one to start Saturday.
It’s a decision the coach has opted to delay until the morning of the game.
”What we want to do is find a guy to give us the best opportunity to win a ballgame,” Edsall said Tuesday.
Maryland said Thursday that Edsall will coach against the Buckeyes amid reports that he will be fired.
”Randy Edsall is our head football coach and he’ll be on the sidelines Saturday against Ohio State,” the school said in a statement.
During summer camp, Edsall held an open competition for the starting quarterback job. Now, after only five games, he’s doing it again.
The problem is, no one has done anything to distinguish himself. That is perhaps the biggest reason why Maryland (2-3, 0-1) is off to a poor start and has been outscored by a combined 73-6 in its last two games.
Perry Hills got the starting job in the opener and didn’t make it through two games before giving way to Caleb Rowe, who started in Week 3 against South Florida.
Rowe led the Terrapins to a 35-17 win despite throwing three interceptions and fumbling three times. One week later, after being picked off four times in a 45-6 loss to West Virginia, Rowe was pulled.
Rowe returned to start last Saturday against Michigan, but after going 8 for 27 for 47 yards and three interceptions, the redshirt junior was replaced by Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman in a second straight game. Maryland lost 28-0.
Garman threw for 2,041 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Cowboys last year but has yet to make his mark with the Terrapins. He’s 6 for 18 for 115 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
Hills was pulled and dropped to third on the depth chart for being too tentative with his throws, but his 52.9 completion percentage and 153.0 quarterback rating is by far the best of the three.
There’s no telling who will start against Ohio State.
”Those kids are out there trying,” Edsall said. ”It’s not because they’re not giving effort. We just have to keep working with them to hit that groove, to hit that stride, for them to be able to play at the level they’re capable of playing.”
This will be Maryland’s first trip to Ohio State. Maryland’s last win over a defending national champion came in 1984, 42-40 over Miami.
”It’s a tremendous challenge,” Edsall said, ”but a great opportunity as well.”