Buckeyes flex their muscles in Maryland

Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan's pick-6 was one of several big plays by the Buckeye defense Saturday. 

Tommy Gilligan/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

COLLEGE PARK, MD. — Ohio State welcomed Maryland to the Big Ten with a mix of old-school power and new-fashioned finesse Saturday. In a 52-24 victory, the 20th-ranked Buckeyes flexed their muscles on one of the conference’s newest members, serving notice they will have a major say in how the race for the first Big Ten East division title turns out.

In their first ever clash against the Terrapins, the Buckeyes opened the game with a drive centered on power football. They ran through, over and around their hosts, picking up 67 of their 75 yards on the ground. The last came on a touchdown run by Rod Smith, the Buckeyes’ backup running back who slammed over the goal line after J.T. Barrett and Evan Spencer hooked up for an 8-yard pass to set up first-and-goal at the 1.

It sent a clear message to Maryland, a team hosting a Big Ten game for the first time and hoping to reach the level of the Buckeyes, who entered the game ranked No. 20 and looked worthy of moving up as they reach the 50-point mark for the second consecutive game and third time this season.

"What we found out today is that Ohio State is a very good football team," Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said. "We knew that coming in. That’s the standard that we are going to have to reach here at Maryland. We are prepared to do that."

OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said there was not a specific plan to attack the Terrapins on the ground early, but Maryland’s early defensive looks were more geared toward stopping the pass. Left tackle Taylor Decker acknowledged the Buckeyes were happy to take the invitation to attack on the ground in that case.

"We wanted to set the tone up front and we wanted to let them know we’re gonna be physical," Decker said. "We were going to dictate how the game goes."

In the end, Ohio State achieved the balance Herman was looking for. The Buckeyes piled up 269 yards on the ground and added another 264 through the air, putting them over 500 total yards for the third week in a row and continuing to show they are loaded with playmakers. Three Buckeyes had runs of at least 20 yards, and five Ohio State players had receptions of that distance or more.

The Buckeye defense was up to the task, too, in another challenge against a high-scoring offense.

After coming out of an otherwise rousing 50-28 win over Cincinnati a week earlier with a bad taste in its mouth from three long touchdown passes allowed, the Buckeye defense turned up the pressure and forced Maryland into numerous mistakes.

Ohio State intercepted four passes, including one that set up a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Vannett and another that was returned 19 yards for a touchdown by freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

"Give Ohio State credit, they are a pretty good football team and they can run on defense," Edsall said. "They are very athletic and what we are working to do is to get to that point. They should probably be ranked higher than what they are and we were not able to do some things against them."

The Buckeyes sacked Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown three times and hurried both he and backup Caleb Rowe regularly. As was the case a week earlier against the Bearcats, though, there were a handful of coverage breakdowns that were cause for concern, including a 60-yard catch and run by Jacquille Veii that set up a short pass from Rowe to Stefon Diggs for Maryland’s last touchdown. Overall, the 28-point win felt like a step forward for a team that began the season ranked in the top 10 but has been working its way back into the national picture since a surprising 35-21 upset loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6.

Decker acknowledged the players were aware of the hype surrounding Maryland’s entrance into the Big Ten, but welcoming the Terrapins in an appropriate fashion seemed to be somewhat down on the list of things the Buckeyes wanted to achieve in College Park.

"We knew they had good players obviously and we were going to be a big game for them," Decker said. "But it all came down to us. It’s always going to be about how we execute and how we play. We’re definitely not gonna overlook any opponent because they have talented players who can make plays, but it’s all gonna come down to what we do."

Buckeye gameball goes to brothers battling muscular dystrophy

After taking next week off, Ohio State will play seven consecutive weeks against Big Ten foes. First will be a visit from Rutgers — Maryland’s 2014 expansion partner — and a trip to Penn State. After taking on perennial doormat Illinois, the Buckeyes will head to Michigan State for a rematch of the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.

The Spartans won that contest 34-24, knocking Ohio State off its course for the BCS National Championship Game and piercing the air of invincibility the program build while winning 24 consecutive games, not to mention seven of the preceding 11 conference crowns.

The loss to the Hokies — as well as a setback against Clemson in the Orange Bowl in January — called into question the state of the Ohio State program in its third season under head coach Urban Meyer, but if the Buckeyes can be as productive with the next month of this season as they have been in the month that passed since the loss to Virginia Tech, they should be ready to give their best shot to the defending champions.

Follow on Twitter @marcushartman