Big Ten Opener: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland couldn't match Ohio State Oct. 4 at Byrd Stadium, falling 52-24.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland’s greatest ambitions and biggest fears about Big Ten football were all realized on the same day. With a sellout crowd of 51,802 on hand, the Terrapins lost their Big Ten home opener 52-24 to Ohio State in a game in which Maryland barely hung around with the Big Ten bullies.

The 20th-ranked Buckeyes scored five of the first six times they had the ball and built a 31-10 lead by the half to quiet most of the red-clad crowd. Ohio State (4-1,1-0) racked up 533 yards total offense, gobbled up four Terrapin turnovers and won their 17 consecutive conference regular season games.

“It’s painful, we had a chance to be 5-1, 2-0 in the conference,” said Maryland tailback Brandon Ross. “We’ve got a bye week and a chance to get guys healthy for Iowa. It’s not a good loss but we’ve still got everything we want to do in front of us. Now we see there’s another level that we can hit. (Ohio State is) already up there, one of the top teams.”

The Terrapins (4-2, 1-1) now have two weeks through the bye this coming week to lick their wounds, get their groove back and determine who will be the quarterback when they reconvene Oct. 18 at home against Iowa, another Big Ten powerhouse. Caleb Rowe relieved C.J. Brown in the second half for the second straight week, this time to give Maryland some more quick-strike ability.

“Well, I felt that we needed to be able to throw the football a little bit more in the second half if we were going to have an opportunity to win,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. “So that’s why I ended up making the decision I made to go with Caleb. C.J. is our quarterback, but I felt that we just needed to do that and that’s why I made the decision that I made.”

The Buckeyes were big and strong and fast, and what they did, they did well, including running a little more option than the Terrapins expected. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett had 267 yards passing and another 103 on the ground. He rushed for a score and threw four more, completing 18-of-23 passes.

“The thing that impressed me most was that they knew what they were going to do, they came in and they stuck to it,” said defensive end Andre Monroe of that option game. “When you play good teams and you make mistakes they’re going to capitalize. That’s what makes good teams good teams.”

And Ohio State certainly showed they were a good team. They built a three-touchdown lead before Maryland ever had a turnover.

“Give Ohio State credit, they’re a very good football team,” said Edsall. “They should probably be ranked higher than what they are. They did a good job and we weren’t able to do some things against them.”

Battling Back

Rowe took over in the second half for a Maryland offense getting doubled up in total yardage (289-104) and tripled up on the scoreboard. “He didn’t say much, he just said, ‘You’re going in,’” said Rowe of the way Edsall put the change to him. He added that he gets enough work with the first team each week to feel comfortable coming in despite any circumstance.

Rowe completed his first pass but the Terps ended up punting after three plays and Nathan Renfro’s 31-yarder into a stiff wind got returned 32 yards by Dontre Wilson to the Maryland 29.

When the Buckeyes got inside the five, though, the Terrapins toughened up. Keith Bowers and L.A. Goree stuffed Ezekiel Elliott for no gain at the 3, and on fourth down, Cole Farrand and Keith Bowers nabbed Barrett for a three-yard loss on a roll out.

Farrand had 17 tackles on the heels of his 19-stop, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week performance at Indiana. Sean Davis had a career high 14 tackles, many after Barrett or Elliott came barreling thru to the second level. Goree and Will Likely also had 14 tackles and the defense had a season-high four sacks. Yannick Ngakoue had 1.5 tackles for loss and now has 8.5 on the season, tops in the Big Ten.

Rowe had the Terps moving on the next possession. He hit Marcus Leak on a 25-yard play up the sideline, Leak making a great grab over his defender. Leak caught a 15-yarder, too, but then seemed to stop running on a streak route when Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple intercepted Rowe in the end zone.

“Their front four is very big and athletic but I was never shaken by it,” said Rowe. “I just had to be ready like coach preaches all the time. Ohio State is Ohio State. They’re very good. We just had to execute better.”

The Buckeyes then took just four plays to make it 38-10 at 6:30, when Barrett finished off an 80-yard drive with a 30-yard scoring pass to Devin Smith.

Rowe responded, taking the Terps 75 yards in seven plays. He had a 16-yard strike to Deon Long, and a pass interference penalty drawn by Leak moved the ball to the two. Wes Brown slammed in for his second score at 4:06 of the third quarter to make it 38-17.

The Buckeyes had a response, though, going 60 yards in nine plays, capped off by Barrett’s nine-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 45-17.

The Terps slammed the ball right back down the field, the big play Rowe hitting Jacquille Veii for 60 yards. One play later, Rowe found Stefon Diggs in the back of the end zone on a four-yard strike, and it was 45-24 with 13:32 to play.

Diggs has caught a pass in 24 consecutive games, the fifth best mark in school history. Diggs caught seven passes for 72 yards and Long had six grabs for 57 yards.

The Terrapins forced a punt and seemed to have a chance to start making the final more respectable but Rowe’s pass into the flat bounced off Leak’s hands and right to Raekwon McMillan who danced 19 yards into the end zone to make it 52-14 at 8:58

On the next possession, Rowe had a pass bank off P.J. Gallo’s hands for another interception, but the Terrapin defense kept the Buckeyes off the scoreboard. On a fourth-and-one at the one, Farrand and Goree stopping quarterback Cardale Jones for a yard loss.

“We’re close to being a team like Ohio State,” stressed Edsall. “Again, what we have to do is continue to build the program. We have to get the facilities and we have to be able to recruit at the level we have been recruiting at. Our guys now know that this is the league we are in. If we want to win the Eastern Division of the Big Ten, we are going to have to go through these places. So, today was good for us and told us what stands in front of us.”

Disaster Just Before Half

Near the end of a first half that saw Maryland get pushed all over the field, the Terrapins did a little pushing of their own, driving 75 yards in 13 plays. C.J. Brown made some big plays with a 15-yard run on a fourth down and then a 13-yard scamper. Long drew a pass interference in the end zone to move the ball to the two, and then two plays later Wes Brown crashed in from two yards to cut the lead to 24-10 at 2:34.

Wes Brown’s score was a nice little piece of misdirection, Diggs coming in motion on a fake sweep move and then Brown slashing back the other way.

The Maryland defense came up with another stop, their first three-and-out of the day, highlighted by a 13-yard sack by Monroe, one of two on the day for him. But a 69-yard punt by OSU’s Cameron Johnston rolled dead at Maryland’s seven with 2:28 to play and the Terrapins made their biggest mistake of the half.

Brown, throwing from his own end zone, handed Darron Lee an easy interception inside the 20. Lee was hit and fumbled and McMillan carried it to the one. One play later, Barrett found Nick Vannett for a one-yard score and a 31-10 edge just 57 seconds before the half.

“We were in a two-minute situation and we’ve worked on those things, and the young man made a poor decision,” said Edsall. “And thing like that happen in football. You don’t like to see things like that happen, but it did. When those things happen, we just have to regroup and come out and overcome those things.”

The way Ohio State played, Maryland had to overcome things all afternoon. The Buckeyes took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in eight plays, 67 yards on the ground out of a potent option running attack. Rod Smith banged it over the final yard for a 7-0 lead just 3:01 into the game.

“They just executed well and executed the offense as a whole,” said nose tackle Darius Kilgo of Ohio State’s offensive success, including rushing 53 times for 269 yards. Elliott had 139 yards on 24 carries.

Ross was Maryland’s rushing leader with 38 yards on eight carries. The Terps amassed just 66 yards on 24 rushes.

“They were definitely fast up front,” said Ross of the OSU defense. “We did a good job of scoring and getting a couple of drives together in the second half. It caught us off guard in the first half a little.”

Ohio State smothered Diggs on the ensuing kickoff back at the Terrapin 11, but Brown, starting the game after much speculation this week over his wrist injury, hit Long for six yards and then snuck for a first down.

He had Gallo all alone on a well-designed play but just overthrew the big tight end on what could have been a huge play. Renfro came on to boom a 56-yard punt and push the Buckeyes back to their 27.

This time Ohio State went to the air, Barrett completing three passes around a 35-yard Wilson jet sweep, and the last went nine yards to Jalin Marshall for a touchdown on a crossing route. The Buckeyes went 73 yards in eight plays this time to lead 14-0 at 6:33.

Craddock’s Booming Boot

The Terrapins bounced back this time after getting the ball on the 35, when the kickoff was out of bounds. Ross broke off an 18-yard run and Brad Craddock ultimately came into to hit a school-record 57 yard field goal at 5:00, to make it 14-3.

“I wasn’t expecting coach to put me in for it,” Craddock said. “I just went out there and did my normal thing. It was a great job by (freshman snapper) Nate Adams. It was his first game and first snap he had. He did a pretty good job on keeping the target down and I hit it good, and then it was good.”

The kick broke the Maryland record of 54 yards held by Nick Novak (against Duke in 2004) and Steve Mick-Mayer (against Villanova in 1973). Entering Saturday, Craddock’s 57-yarder was the second longest in the FBS this season.

The Terrapins got a stop the next possession after Ohio State moved 44 yards but Sean Nuernberger missed a 48-yard field goal. Jarrett Ross, who had a good game in the defensive backfield, had a big pass break-up on third down.

Michael Bennett’s sack of Brown put the Terps behind the chains and necessitated another punt, and this time Ohio State didn’t waste much time. Barrett got loose for eight yards, then notched a 23-yard run. One play later hit Michael Thomas over Likely for a 25-yard score and a 21-3 lead at 12:09 of the second quarter.

“We came into this game understanding that they are a top team,” said cornerback Jeremiah Johnson. “We expected them to get the ball to their athletes and they did that today. We wanted to beat this team, just like we want to beat Iowa in the (two) weeks.”

Brown was sacked twice on the next Maryland possession, the Buckeyes dominating up front. Renfro could only get off a 26-yard punt into the wind and when Barrett hit Thomas for 26 yards, Ohio State was knocking on the door again.

But Farrand and Kilgo stopped Elliott for no gain on third down and the Buckeyes had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Nuernberger and a 24-3 advantage at 8:59.

Rowe finished 13-of-22 for 173 yards and a touchdown but had three interceptions, two on deflections off his own receivers. Brown was 11-of-18 for 71 yards and one horrible pick. Maryland had 310 yards of total offense, a season low.

The game marked Maryland’s first home sellout since November of 2008, and a game versus Florida State. Terrapin fans weren’t the only ones who thought it was a big game, a large contingent of red-clad Buckeye fans were on hand, as were 12 NFL scouts and representatives of the Rose Bowl, Florida Citrus Bowl and the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

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