COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- To a man, the Maryland football players and head coach Randy Edsall have stood by the “it’s just another game” mantra, but probe the Terps a little and it’s clear they know what’s about to go down Oct. 4 at Byrd Stadium.
Ohio State at home. First Big Ten home game. Full house. National Television.
“It’s going to be packed, that’s what I’m hearing, especially since it’s the first Big Ten game at home, ABC at 12,” said running back Brandon Ross, who is coming off a 97-total-yard, one touchdown performance in Maryland’s 37-15 victory at Indiana Sept. 27. “I heard the whole state of Maryland and people around the area are going to be watching, so I definitely think [facing OSU] has created a lot more buzz. I can definitely say that.”
Ohio State may not be a top-10 team this year after having lost to Virginia Tech three weeks back, but the No. 18 Buckeyes are still 3-1 and look to be hitting their stride. They are Maryland’s stiffest test, and most notable opponent (with no offense to South Florida, JMU, WVU, Syracuse and Indiana), to date so far in 2014.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game for awhile now,” offensive lineman Michael Dunn said. “It should be pretty loud and a fun atmosphere.”
“When you get to play Ohio State at home, it’s definitely going to be exciting,” added defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, who had two tackles for loss against IU last week. “It’s definitely going to be a great atmosphere Saturday.”
The buildup really began as soon as the 2014 schedule was announced, with Terps fans putting a big red circle (traditional red, not Buckeye mahogany red, mind you) around that Oct. 4 date at Byrd. And as the date has drawn nearer, the hype around College Park has only grown, among students, alumni and the like. It helps, of course, that UMD is playing well and fresh off its first Big Ten victory in Bloomington, Ind.
“It’s crazy,” Kilgo said. “I don’t think we had too much buzz on campus before now. But now we’re 4-1 and we have the team that can compete in the Big Ten -- and we’re playing Ohio State. I think people are really excited about what we can do.”
Ohio State, no, check that, The Ohio State, certainly holds plenty of cache, and not just among the media and fans. The Terps' players are well aware of their opponent’s history and tradition, and the significance of Maryland’s hosting its first ever Big Ten game against such a prestigious foe.
Ross, like most of his teammates, grew up watching college football and knows the names well. A.J. Hawk. Mike Nungent. James Laurinaitis. Troy Smith. Maurice Clarett. Malcolm Jenkins. These were his contemporaries, OSU legends who he saw on SportsCenter every week.
“All those guys. … Troy Smith, he won a Heisman right? Those are my memories. It’s a team growing up you always heard about, one of those traditional programs,” Ross said.
But Ross had to pause before offering up too much Buckeye love. After all, that’s not really what he and the Terps want to harp on this week.
“You can’t really think about [the OSU game] that way, because if you do it throws your focus off, and that’s not really the mindset of the team,” he said. “When you watch the tape, they’re just like us. You just have to take them as another opponent that you have to work hard and prepare for.
“I mean, it feels good [to be playing OSU], but I was excited about the last Big Ten game too [against Indiana], just showing what you can do [against Big Ten competition].”
That’s pretty much what Edsall has preached to his squad since it entered Big Ten play. Edsall said he understands why this game is significant, and why it means a little more to Maryland aficionados, but he’s not about to harbor their mindset. To UMD’s head coach and Co., this Oct. 4 showdown is just another chance to grab a win, improve to 5-1 overall, and start 2-0 in the conference.
“We know that Ohio State is a very good team and we need to play well. But all the surroundings of the game, we leave that up to our operations people,” Edsall said. “What we need to do as a football team is just focus on what Ohio State does offensively, defensively and on special teams. That’s what we did a week ago [against IU], and that’s the same approach we’re taking this week.”
While Dunn admitted he’s heard plenty of banter among his friends and classmates this week, little has changed on the field or in the locker room. He said the Terps haven’t made any significant changes in how they approach practice or how they’re preparing in general.
“This is Ohio State, but it can be anybody. We’re going to have our game plan, and we’ll do what we have to do to get the win,” Kilgo said. “We’re just staying calm and controlling what we can control. We don’t really pay attention to all the outside stuff, because at the end of the day it doesn’t really help us.”
OK, so we weren’t able to cull out any Muhammad Ali-George Foreman back-and-forth here, but at least the players weren’t completely coy about the matchup. Kilgo did say, after all, that he has a couple extra family members who will be in Byrd this week -- and probably would've had more if players were allowed more than two extra tickets.
“There’s been some people [family] that haven’t been able to make it out here yet,” the burly defensive tackle said, “and I wanted them to have a chance to see a big game.”
And if Maryland was able to pull off an upset in that B1G game?
“We’re just going to do our best to prepare and hopefully we’ll come out with the win, but I think if we execute we’re going to be alright,” Kilgo said. “But it would be great [to get the win], and I think it would mean a whole lot to the university and Maryland community.”
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