I used to think the main reason I hated Maryland’s state flag was because it is hideous. Turns out, the real reason is because Maryland works so hard to showcase what is probably the ugliest flag in the United States.
Similarly, Maryland’s performance on the road at Iowa was hideous, to the tune of 51-14, as Terps quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw five interceptions.
Even with that disaster which also saw the Terps lose their dynamic receiver Dontay Demus, Mike Locksley’s squad arrives in Columbus with a 4-1 record.
Will Ohio State’s pass defense keep Tagovailoa from enjoying a bounce-back performance? Which Buckeyes might shine tomorrow afternoon?
For answers to those queries and more, we welcome 11W staffers Kevin Harrish, Andy Vance and George Eisner to this week’s roundtable.
Through five games, who has been Ohio State’s most important player and why?
Kevin: It’s Ronnie Hickman, and I don’t think this is even close. He has nearly more solo tackles than the next three guys on the team combined while also leading the team in interceptions. He’s one of just three players in the country with at least 44 tackles and multiple interceptions.
He’s been a player that can do it all – stop the run and impact the passing game – and that has been absolutely vital to a defense that replaced its top four linebackers from last year and is still figuring things out in the secondary. And he’s not just versatile; frankly, he’s also been better than or just as good as anybody on the roster in both the run game and the passing game.
There are a lot of important players on offense, too, but when there are that many weapons on one side of the ball, the reality is that each one individually matters a little less. And as good as C.J. Stroud has been, I’m sure any of Ohio State’s quarterbacks would have been fine to a certain extent.
Andy: C.J. Stroud is the obvious choice here, and I actually typed and deleted a cogent argument for TreVeyon Henderson given the importance of a soul-crushing ground attack to Ohio State’s offensive identity. But if I’m being really honest with myself, I think Denzel Burke is the correct answer. Look at how bad Ohio State’s offense looked through the better part of three games… and yet, the one bright spot was Burke coming seemingly out of nowhere to establish himself as the next great defensive back at Ohio State.
According to PFF’s analysis, the true freshman’s man has been targeted just 29 times in 176 coverage snaps, allowing just 12 catches, 0 touchdowns and bringing up one interception… which quite frankly, should be two because he was obviously and unforgivably hosed on that pick in the Tulsa game. Did I mention that the dude’s a true freshman?
George: Though hardly a controversial answer, I feel it has to be C.J. Stroud. The emergence of TreVeyon Henderson has given Ohio State’s offense three home-run threats from skill positions on any given play when defenses also have to account for Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. With that much talent at an offense’s disposal, it ultimately falls on the quarterback to ensure the skill players receive the ball in positions to be successful.
Stroud did an excellent job of that in the second half of the Minnesota game, the middle portions of the Oregon game, and the entirety of the Rutgers game last week. The times where he has fallen short of that standard — whether for health, inexperience, or whatever other reasons — reflect the roughest points of the Buckeyes’ season so far.
Last week’s performance from Stroud was highly encouraging for the trajectory of Ohio State’s offense. His ability to trust himself and execute in crucial moments will ultimately be what defines the successes of this team in 2021.
Since Urban Meyer’s been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons, select one player from the Meyer era you think would add the most to this year’s team.
Andy: When you think of Urban Meyer’s teams, you no doubt think of offense, so it might be tempting to go with someone like Braxton Miller or Zeke Elliott, but let’s get real: Ohio State has perhaps the best offense in the country at the moment, so there is zero reason to add an offensive star of yesteryear to the mix. This team could use some of Meyers’ stars on the other side of the ball in a big way.
The Bosa brothers are obvious choices here, but I’m not overly worried about the defensive line and I’ve been relatively pleased with the defensive backs, all things considered. So what I’m going for here is a linebacker who can shore up the clearest deficiency on the team: Ryan Damn Shazier. One of the best to ever do it, the first-round draft pick recorded more than 300 tackles in his Ohio State career, including 45.5 for a loss, along with 15 sacks. He was a stone-cold killer who led the team in tackles in 2012 and 2013, including a career-high 16 solo stops against Indiana in 2013, the most solo tackles in the school’s record book. His 143 total tackles that season stands as the 12th-best in Ohio State history, and he’s No. 7 in the records for most tackles for loss in a career.
Yeah, Ohio State’s defense could use that kind of juice heading into the meat of the Big Ten season.
George: I would gladly welcome Ryan Shazier on any and every Buckeye team ever. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a single starting linebacker from the Meyer era I wouldn’t like to see on this team other than maybe 19-year-old Tuf Borland.
Kevin: I’d take Nick Bosa for two reasons – the Buckeye pass rush has still been lacking a little bit this season (at least on the edge), and I still feel cheated with just how little we got to see of the younger Bosa. He was buried on the roster for his first two years, then was maybe the most dominant EDGE rusher I’ve ever seen until he got hurt his junior year. He then followed that up by immediately becoming one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
I just think a dominant pass rusher is an absolute game-changer for a defense, and I didn’t get to see enough of Nick Bosa in a Buckeye uniform to feel content.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa stunk it up last week versus Iowa but the dude can play. With him guiding the attack, the Terps are 13th nationally in passing offense (317 ypg), 24th in total offense (469 ypg) and 45th in scoring offense (32.6). How will Ohio State’s seemingly rejuvenated secondary hold up against the pass this week? What kind of statline do you see for Tagovailoa?
Kevin: This is technically the best offense Ohio State’s faced all season, including the Oregon offense that sliced the Buckeye defense apart like a little kid with safety scissors. I expect it to be a real test, but I also think the Buckeyes are going to be just fine.
As frustrating as Ohio State’s defense has been at times, especially at the start of the season, the Buckeyes really haven’t been beaten with a downfield passing game very consistently. And I think Maryland is going to be one of the first teams Ohio State’s faced that will try to hit the Buckeyes will just a straight-up downfield passing game, which I honestly think is playing into the strength of the defense.
I think we’ll see the pass rush get going and the secondary make some plays. I’ll be bold and say we see an Ohio State defensive score for the fourth-straight week.
Andy: This is the real test of the defensive reboot Matt Barnes has orchestrated. Having a field day against Akron and Rutgers was fun, but it didn’t really tell us anything other than that the Buckeye defense looked much more comfortable with the scheme and individual assignments, and that they were finally playing fast. The Maryland offense is a bird of a different feather entirely, ranking No. 18 in Bill Connelly’s latest SP+ offensive ratings (Ohio State is No. 1, for reference). If you want to hear something scary, Oregon’s offense is currently ranked No. 28 by the same measure, even after that Hawkeye ass-kicking.
Iowa’s defense (No. 4 in SP+) is muchmuchmuch better than Ohio State’s (No. 27), so this game has the potential to feel like the Oregon matchup when Maryland has the ball. The comfort, knowing these stats, is that the gap between Ohio State’s offense and Maryland’s defense is probably twice as large as the gap between Maryland’s offense and Ohio State’s defense, if you want to think about it in those terms.
Shaking off a pick-a-palooza like last week is going to be tough for Tagovailoa, and I assume Ohio State’s secondary will have watched that film and come into the game hungry to further establish that they are a strength of the defense. The Buckeyes notch their fourth-consecutive game with an interception, and it won’t surprise me if one of these young ballhawks takes one to the house again.
George: It is probably worth noting that Maryland’s only impressive win so far this year was their home opener against West Virginia. After that, they beat Howard and Kent State by a combined score of 99-16 with a three point win over Illinois wedged between those two games.
Maryland’s trend the last three seasons has been a hot start followed by an epic collapse the rest of the way. In 2018, they upset #9 Texas in the first game of their season before losing by three touchdowns to Temple two weeks later. They would go on to post a 5-7 record that included a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State in overtime.
The following year, the Terrapins scored 142 points in their first two games — which included a 43 point upset over a top 25 Syracuse team. They promptly lost to Temple again the following weekend, got stomped out 59-0 by Penn State in the next game, and then lost to seven straight opponents at the end of their season. In 2020, Maryland upset Minnesota and Penn State on consecutive weekends, but then fell to an Indiana team playing without Michael Penix before ending their season by losing to Rutgers in overtime.
After a 4-0 start in 2021, Maryland promptly got exposed by Iowa to the tune of a 51-14 beatdown last weekend that included 31 second quarter points from the Hawkeyes. Tagovailoa barely threw for over 150 yards on his way to tossing five interceptions. The fourth annual unravelling of the Maryland football team has already begun, and I expect that a young Ohio State defense eager to both prove and redeem themselves will take advantage. Tagovailoa will more than likely end the day once again with more turnovers than touchdowns.
The biggest game in the Big Ten this week, and really across the country, has No. 4 Penn State heading to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes. Which of those teams have surprised you the most this season and which emerges victorious on Saturday? Any chance you see Penn State winning the Big Ten East?
George: While I am far more impressed with Iowa through five weeks of the season, Penn State still strikes me as the bigger surprise between the two teams. Sean Clifford has stepped up his play a bit relative to his previous two campaigns, completing nearly seven percent more of his passes this season than last while having thrown multiple touchdown passes in each of his last three games. His steady play has been key to the early success of wide receiver Jahan Dotson — already with six touchdown catches in 2021 but better known among Buckeye fans for being the man that took a chunk out of Shaun Wade’s stock last season.
I will have further thoughts on this game in the Viewing Guide on Saturday morning, but my sense is that Iowa will come out on top in what figures to be a slog. Spencer Petras has already taken 11 sacks this year and will face a Penn State pass rush that has recorded multiple sacks in three games so far this season. Conversely, Iowa’s defense that forces nearly 2.5 turnovers per game will easily be the most formidable test so far for Clifford — especially given the Nittany Lions will be outside the comforts of Happy Valley.
Sacks kill drives, but turnovers are more reliable for setting up scoring chances, so I give the edge to the Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz figures to be much more of a threat to Ohio State’s Big Ten title aspirations than the James Franklin experience.
Kevin: I think Penn State has surprised me the most, mostly because I thought Iowa was going to be really good before the start of the season, and I wasn’t 100 percent sold on Penn State. Honestly, I would not have been shocked at all if the Nittany Lions entered this game 2-3 or 3-2 instead of 5-0. But here we are.
As for the game, I’m picking Iowa. I absolutely love this Hawkeye defense and think it’s going to give Penn State a lot of problems on Saturday. You’ve got a secondary that turns opponents over better than anyone else in the country and a defensive line and linebacking corps that absolutely shuts down the run. And Iowa’s offense sure ain’t flashy, but they can control the ball on the ground and make it very difficult for you to get enough chances to do any real damage against its defense – it’s Tresselball at its peak.
Plus, the game is at Kinnick, which is probably worth at least 31 points, from experience.
Andy: If this game were in Happy Valley I’d take Penn State and not think too much about it. Having the game in Iowa changes things a bit, as Ohio State fans know all too well. On a neutral field, SP+ would give Penn State a 6-point advantage, but you cut that down to 3.5 given the location. I ultimately think it comes down to the fact that Penn State’s offense is much more dynamic than Iowa’s, and the Nittany Lions remain unbeaten after their trip to the Heartland.
As far as winning the east? Well, there’s a chance, of course, but I’m giving Ohio State the win in the head-to-head for the same reason I’m giving Penn State the edge versus the Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes simply have a much better offense, and the fact that the game will be played in the Horseshoe is all to the good.
Ohio State enters this one as a 21-point favorite. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score and game MVP.
Andy: Absolutely – the Buckeyes cover running away, 45-24. The new-look defense gives up some points but ultimately gets the job done as Burke snags another pick-six and earns himself player of the game honors.
George: Ohio State wins 56-17. Maryland’s ability to stop the run is markedly better than their pass defense, so I expect C.J. Stroud to be the focal point of the offense’s success in this matchup.
Kevin: Yeah, Ohio State’s going to cruise. I’ve got the Buckeyes winning 56-7 with a strong performance on both sides of the ball. Ronnie Hickman is going to be the game MVP, because who the hell else would it be?