What did we learn by watching the Buckeyes beat the Terrapins again? How Ohio State is getting better on each side of the ball as the middle of the season arrives.
In reviewing Ohio State's win over Maryland again, the ways the Buckeyes are evolving became more clear.
The continued growth of the offense was obvious as it pretty thoroughly beat down the Terrapins' attempts to mimic the defense Virginia Tech used to stymy the Buckeyes. Great planning and execution ensured Maryland couldn't produce the same results. Kent State and UC brought out the bear front a few times but didn't have their safeties screwed down so tightly, so Ohio State just ran at them with a different blocking scheme.
J.T. Barrett took the lead in combatting Maryland, however, as he took advantage of man coverage several times. I don't think the Terps have as much talent in the secondary, either, and Michael Thomas and Corey Smith at times overwhelmed their corners with size. Barrett played far from a perfect game, though, as he appeared to struggle executing the zone read at times and made four or five bad decisions or throws in the passing game, especially early. He overcame this with plenty of outstanding plays and decisions, of course. (Amazing how quickly he has raised expectations, eh?)
Defensively, Ohio State took a big step forward by mixing in more blitzes and some different coverages while continuing to master their base concepts. Combined with the sheer talent of guys like Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Darron Lee and Doran Grant this was a big problem for Maryland, which looked right at home as an overmatched Big Ten foe.
Overall, this was pretty much the perfect building block game as it involved a team with more ability to fight back than the past couple of weeks but saw Ohio State take care of business by executing its plans. That kept stress to a minimum, but it was enough of a test to learn a few things about some guys.
Observations and notes:
Ohio State continued to evolve its 12 personnel (two receivers, two tight ends) package with positive results. The Buckeyes at times aligned Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman on the same side to create an extra gap for the defense to account for, and they used that to open up some holes for Dontre Wilson on the "jet shovel pass." First going to his left, Wilson cut up the seam created and found a good bit of daylight. The run to the right was more effective as Heuerman got a better block on the flowing linebacker than the previous play. Ezekiel Elliott's lead blocking was also a bonus, and Devin Smith managed to run some decent interference down the field to extend the play. (The linebacker didn't make the tackle the first time but set the edge well enough against Heuerman to force a cutback into the pursuit.)
Spielman pointed out on the broadcast the first time Ohio State ran this Maryland's safety stayed on the weak side where there was really nothing for him to do initially, but he did get in on the tackle pursuing from the backside because Maryland played this overall fairly well on the front. On the play to the right, both safeties took bad angles and got caught up in the wash so the play worked better for Ohio State even though the numbers were less in the offense's favor. Go figure. Helps to have two very good run blocking tight ends. And they can be vertical threats if you want to punish a team for overplaying. Ohio State was in 12 again on Vannett's TD catch late in the second quarter. The Maryland safety also did next to nothing to make this a difficult play.
Speaking of Wilson, I kind of think we in the media blew him up too much when we saw him running wild in shorts in a very early preseason practice last year. I'm starting to come to the conclusion he's just not as explosive in pads. He's fast. He runs with some strength for his size and he's got some shiftiness, but he never seems to be moving at a faster pace than the play. He can make people miss in space, but he doesn't outrun angles. He can be a productive player, but I'm not sure we're going to see him become a big star. Again, this being noteworthy is pretty much a function of expectations.
Jalin Marshall has flashed more explosiveness and maybe better vision when he has gotten chances on kickoff returns and the offense. His TD catch in the first quarter was a great throw by Barrett and an example of how his quickness changes the game. He seemed to run a decent route with a subtle fake inside before going out, but more of his separation was just created by his sheer acceleration past the safety, who ended up pretty badly beaten even though he didn't look like he played it very flat-footed.
On Bosa's second sack he was working on a guard and it wasn't really fair. He was pretty much an animal all day.
Michael Thomas showed something Ohio State has really missed when he caught a hitch, threw a tackler to the ground and picked up about 20 yards on a play in the second quarter.
On Maryland's first touchdown, Ohio State got caught outnumbered inside. Two guys covered the slot, the safety and the strong side linebacker, leaving seven on seven inside. Some of the interior guys didn't play with great leverage, either.
On Darron Lee's interception, I'm reminded of Jim Tressel's command that a quarterback know where the defenders are and who can take the ball away. Lee showed off some athleticism dropping and making a good catch outside his frame, but this was not a ball that should have been thrown. I am really not sure what Brown thought he was seeing, though I'm guessing the scouting report did not tell him to look for a three-deep zone given OSU stayed in its quarters coverage (and got burned) the week before against Cincinnati.
This game certainly furthered my belief the offensive line's struggles early in the season were exaggerated. Yeah, there were a couple of miscommunications in the Navy game and guys lost a one-on-one matchup here or there, but almost all of their problems against Virginia Tech were a result of too many men to block. They broke down in the last few plays against the Hokies, but that was nearly an impossible situation, and it represents a very small sample size as well. They were facing some high-level pressure packages and problems were inevitable for any group then. The Maryland game reinforced this because again they were jamming the box so there were times the line was somewhat powerless to make anything happened but continued to perform. And Maryland has a couple of talented guys up front and won a couple of battles but lost the war.
I had Barrett down for nine plays that I thought he made a bad decision or execution and 15 where he did something exceptional -- either a read, decision, throw or run. Five of the negatives were pass plays and four were zone-read plays or inverted veer, though it's hard to know if all of those plays he actually had an option to give or keep. I tried to be conservative and disregard the ones where it is pretty obviously a predetermined handoff, so those are not counted regardless of how they turned out.
One of the plays that looked like an ill-advised give came on third-and-goal on the first drive of the second half as he handed the ball to Elliott so the running back could run directly into two unblocked players. Meanwhile Barrett walks into the end zone behind the pulling guard if he keeps it -- but, again, maybe it was predetermined and therefore that wouldn't be a fair criticism.
Fourth and goal on the same series: Heuerman broke open on an out route but by then Barrett was looking to cut up and run. He ended up being forced outside and ran out of room.
Seems as though Ohio State came in determined to take away the Maryland option game by blitzing the Sam from the field on first down frequently.
Ohio State brought pressure inside on Eli Apple's interception in the third quarter, and that appeared to prevent Rowe from stepping up and into his throw. Lazy throw on a bad decision as Apple was on top of the receiver. Receiver kind of quit on the ball, too, but it was good coverage.
The offensive line provided great protection on the deep touchdown pass to Devin Smith against the bear look with no free safety. They picked up a couple of delayed blitzers and Rod Smith stepped up and stoned a man to Barrett's right. Barrett had plenty of time, stepped up and made a great throw and Smith shielded the man away with his body. Gold stars all around.
Steve Miller didn't do much to show up in the stats but he had another solid game.
Late in the third quarter Ohio State pulled out a counter trey with the right tackle and tight end leading for Elliott, who started with a counter step to his right before following them left. I think they have run this before, but it's not a common one for the Buckeyes.
Barrett really sold the fake on his designed run in the late third quarter for 18 yards. He made a man miss and showed a stiff arm. The front side was well blocked by Baldwin and Farris. Later he showed again he is more than a serviceable runner by making Maryland's best linebacker miss on his touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Maryland's best defensive lineman, Darius Kilgo, did basically nothing until the fourth quarter. Credit the interior line, particularly Jacoby Boren.
Nice hustle by kicker kyle clinton on the rolling kick Diggs picked up and made something out of.
Bosa showed awesome quickness in getting the Rowe on an attempted screen pass in the fourth quarter, but the reason the throw wasn't there is Adolphus Washington read it immediately and covered the running back.
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