5 somewhat worrisome questions I have for Ohio State as it prepares for Maryland
I keep wondering: When will Ohio State face a foe that really makes Buckeyes fans nervous?
When will the team get caught up in one of those games — one where, for whatever reason, Ohio State just doesn’t play well, and the opponent takes advantage, playing above their heads to either take a game deep into the fourth quarter, or even pull off the upset?
It’s bound to happen at some point, right? And after watching a bit of Maryland over the last two weeks, I just wonder: Could this be the game? Could this be the one that has fans across Ohio biting their nails and tearing out their hair?
Why do I say this? Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is the real deal, folks. I know he didn’t look it in the first game of the season (a 43-3 whipping to what now looks to be a pretty decent Northwestern team), but Tua’s kid brother got it together in back-to-back wins over Minnesota (in overtime) and last week against Penn State, 35-19. The kid has talent, and now he has confidence. He’s not as tall or as big as his brother, but he can throw and he can run.
He will provide a test for Ohio State’s defense when the Buckeyes roll into College Park on Saturday. Does that mean Maryland can overcome the 27-point spread that Vegas has issued for this game? I think it’s going to be closer than that, for sure. I also don’t want to minimize the fact that Ohio State has a surprisingly huge game coming up Nov. 21 when it hosts No. 10 Indiana — a game that will probably be the biggest regular season B1G contest of the year. Now, I don’t think Ohio State would ever look past an opponent because Indiana was looming on the schedule …
But first up is the Terrapins. And I actually have 5 questions I’d like answers to when Ohio State visits Maryland …
1. Will the real Ohio State please stand up?
So which is the real team? Is it the one that came out, took control, and dominated the first half, essentially looking like the Buckeyes of last season, in a 35-3 first 30 minutes against Rutgers last Saturday? Or is it the team that appeared to want to be anyplace other than the football field in the second half, the one that allowed nearly 300 yards of offense and was outscored 24-14 by Greg Schiano’s team in the final 30 minutes?
I tend to think this team really has the character of the former, and that it was using those first three games to work out the kinks, especially on defense. Still, for fans looking to worry, you have plenty of ammo. Which team comes out Saturday? I’m banking on more of the First Half Buckeyes.
2. Can the Buckeyes get back to fundamentals?
Here, we’re talking about the defense. After the Rutgers game, most of the blame centered around the idea of just thinking the game was over. It’s to be expected.
“We kind of came out here — it’s not an excuse, you’re up big at half — you come out and you just kind of took the foot off the gas, and that starts with me,” linebacker Tuf Borland said after the game. “That can’t happen.”
Coach Ryan Day said it starts with getting back to practice.
“We gotta practice better,” he said afterward. “If we want to be where we need to be, if we want to be a great team, then it has to happen especially on Tuesday and Wednesday. And that’s something again that’s gonna be a focus this week.
“We should have really dominated the first 5 or 6 minutes of the second half and then allow some of our other guys to get in the game, and that didn’t happen,” he continued. “So that’s something we gotta get back and work on and look to close it out.”
And the secondary, which was already struggling to replace talent from last season, has been hit by the injury bug. Corner Cameron Brown tore his Achilles in the fourth quarter of the Penn State victory and will be out the remainder of the year. Brown is a valuable role player, a versatile athlete who played in several situations. Now, others must step up even more, such as Sevyn Banks and Tyreke Johnson.
Both had problems in coverage and communication in the second half against Rutgers. As Day said, it’s time to get back to practice.
3. Will someone pressure the opposing quarterback?
One sack. That’s all.
That’s what Ohio State’s defensive line was able to muster against Rutgers last weekend. It was especially disheartening after what was such a good showing against Penn State (5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss).
But of course, that’s not the whole story. After the game, Schiano basically said getting rid of the ball early was a major focus for the Scarlet Knights, because of the respect they had for that defensive line.
“That’s a huge number, very important,” Schiano said of giving up just one sack. “I think that was a combination of the O-line did a good job and (quarterback) Noah (Vedral) knew, ‘I’ve got to get rid of this thing,’ because that’s a high-caliber defensive front.”
So will someone be able to get pressure on Tagovailoa, who will use his feet to buy time or take off running? We shall see.
4. Can Fields maintain his Superman streak?
Can we all say now that Justin Fields is the Heisman front-runner? Due to the unfortunate COVID-19 circumstances at Clemson, Fields has hopped Trevor Lawrence for the award, and it’s really just Fields, followed by Lawrence, Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, in that order. Right?
Regardless, I’m interested to see what happens when Fields is in a game that’s really tense, just to see how he performs when the clock is winding down. I don’t expect it to be much different from what we’ve already seen, but I still think it would be great theater to watch.
In terms of decision-making and precision passes, I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen play at this level in a long, long while. I’m just glad we’re able to see it.
5. Lastly, could the kicking game be important?
It’s seemed to fly a bit under the radar in the last two weeks because it hasn’t been a huge problem, but with senior kicker Blake Haubeil nursing a groin injury, freshman Jake Seibert took over against Rutgers and nailed all 7 of his point-after tries. The former No. 2-ranked kicker in America out of Cincinnati’s La Salle High could be used again this weekend if Haubeil — who is listed as day-to-day — isn’t able to go.
And to keep with the theme we’ve been discussing, what if a close game comes down to an important kick? It looks like a true freshman may have the weight of the world on his shoulders.
One thing is for certain: It would be an exciting story to watch.
Alright. Let’s lace ’em up!