Ohio State football: Lessons learned versus the University of Maryland

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 7: Antoine Brooks
COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 7: Antoine Brooks /

Ohio State destroyed Maryland from the get-go, but there are always lessons to be learned. What were they from Saturday?

Despite some special teams miscues and a head scratching ejection, Ohio State slammed their foot on the gas and never looked back against the Maryland Terrapins. What did we learn about the Buckeyes after their most recent dominate performance?

The Ohio State pass defense has figured it out.

Say what you will about it “only being Maryland”, but D.J. Moore is a legit top flight receiver. He managed only two catches for 11 yards on the entire afternoon. Moore entered the game as the Big Ten leader in catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns.

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It didn’t help that Maryland needed Max Bortenschlager to be their starter, a player who began the season as the third-string quarterback. Even against a backup quarterback, the Buckeye secondary never allowed a Maryland receiver to get any kind of room to make a play. Bortenschlager was only 3-12 for 16 yards in the air.

The pass rush was also a big factor, keeping Bortenschlager from even remotely getting comfortable and forcing five sacks and three Bortenschlager fumbles. The blueprint for the Buckeyes pass defense is clear: Get after the quarterback and take advantage of the pressured throws to limit deep threats.

Losing two corners for targeting calls might make things a little tough, especially against a pass first Nebraska team that gets to avoid Damon Arnette for the first half. There is nothing out there that can convince me that the Denzel Ward hit was worthy of a targeting call, much less the subsequent ejection.

That kind of physical play is necessary in the Big Ten and Ward was largely responsible for D.J. Moore’s big day. The play did, however, prove out that Gus Johnson is one of the absolute best in the business:

The passing attack has figured it out as well. Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson appear to have worked out some of the kinks that plagued the Buckeyes early in the season. While the deep throws still leave something to be desired, J.T. Barrett is looking more and more comfortable with the 2017 receiving corps.

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Take for example the drive that resulted in the second offensive touchdown of the day. Mike Weber caught a nice tough pass on a swing route from Barrett for a 53 yard play. Early season Barrett may not have caught Weber in stride or simply missed him.

Instead, the pass hit Weber in stride with plenty of space ahead to rumble deep into Maryland territory. A few plays later, a missile from Barrett to Binjimen Victor in the back of the end zone shows the zip and timing missing earlier in the year. Barrett hit Victor where only the big bodied receiver could catch it, resulting in the score.

It’s crucial Ohio State maintains a serious threat through the air, even if it’s just to hit route in the back of the end zone or in space. Nebraska just gave up over 350 yards to Wisconsin on the ground and Ohio State will need offensive balance to beat the best in the Big Ten.

If Barrett and the receivers have found their rhythm, it could be a special Big Ten Conference season for the Buckeye offense.

It’s officially a time share at running back.

Both Weber and J.K. Dobbins carried the ball 13 times for the Buckeyes and both hovered around 100 total yards. Weber recorded the big catch and run in the first quarter while Dobbins fell just shy of 100 rushing yards on only those 13 carries. It looks as if Urban Meyer’s reliance on a single back is giving way to a two-back approach.

It makes sense. Both Dobbins and Weber are capable of leading the offense, so Meyer can choose the hot hand or split time to keep both backs fresh and aggressive. Dobbins will still continue to see the bulk of the carries in the middle of field given his big play ability. Weber, though, looks as healthy as ever and certainly busted loose on the big catch.

As mentioned above, offensive balance is key for the Buckeyes. Last season and early in 2017, teams could load the box and take their chances against the pass. Now that Barrett and the passing game are showing signs of life, both Dobbins and Weber should be thrilled. With ample running lanes, they should both take advantage of a Nebraska run defense that simply could not stop Johnathan Taylor and the Wisconsin ground game.

Special Teams aren’t special.

A kickoff return for a touchdown was only the start. There was a flubbed snap on an extra point, a blocked field goal, and a shanked punt. Against bad teams, Ohio State can overcome these types of errors. Against better competition, not so much.

Ty Johnson is a true home run hitter as a return man. It’s not a huge surprise that he was able to break loose and get a big return against the Buckeyes. Nebraska has their own big play return man in J.D. Spielman, who is one the leaders nationally in kick return average.

For Nebraska to stay in it for an upset bid, they will look to take advantage of the Buckeye coverage unit and steal points where they can. It might not matter against Nebraska.

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The program looks ready to fire their head coach and the athletic director is currently scanning the job postings. Mike Reilly will be coaching to save his job and an upset over the vaunted Buckeyes will do the trick. Meyer leads the special teams units as a whole, so you better believe that will be a focus in practice this week.