Hickey: Guts? That appears to be the very thing these Buckeyes are made of
There was no need for Ryan Day to spout off about Ohio State’s toughness after Saturday’s win over Maryland. It was clear to anyone watching that toughness — of the mental variety, anyway — is the strongest attribute of this imperfect but still unbeaten Buckeyes team.
Even though they are blessed by the grace of wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. — a hybrid of cheetah and gazelle — these Buckeyes do very little the pretty way. If anything at all.
The final score was a deceptively comfortable looking 37-17 over the Terps, who still haven’t finished within 3 scores of the Bucks at Ohio Stadium in 5 attempts. But Ohio State had to get there in a gritty, grimy fashion before its treasure trove of talent turned a close game into a blowout in seemingly a heartbeat.
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If the Buckeyes are going to win the Big Ten this year, it looks like it will be the defense dragging them to that finish line.
That may seem an odd thing to say about a team that just scored 37 points. But much like in its last game against Notre Dame, Ohio State spent the better part of 3 quarters puttering around in 1st gear before switching straight to the afterburners in the fourth.
And thanks to Ohio State’s defense, that meant the Buckeyes were pulling away in a close game rather than mounting a furious comeback.
Ohio State’s offense was kept out of the end zone for the entire first half — an unheard-of feat in the age of Urban Meyer and Ryan Day. It was the defense that allowed the Bucks to head to the locker room with a tie, courtesy of Josh Proctor’s 24-yard pick-6 in the second quarter.
Ohio State’s bend-but-don’t break defense isn’t especially disruptive. Proctor’s INT was just the 6th takeaway this season. But the Buckeyes are making the most of these forced miscues.
Ohio State now has 3 defensive touchdowns this season — a trait more commonly observed in Hawkeyes than Buckeyes.
Unfortunately, a knack for defensive touchdowns isn’t the only thing Ohio State is sharing with Iowa these days.
Ohio State’s inability to get any push against Maryland’s defensive front is concerning — especially with far more formidable foes like Penn State and Michigan looming.
Maryland finished with 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks, limited Ohio State to 62 rushing yards on 33 attempts. Even with the sack yardage removed, the Buckeyes averaged a skimpy 2.8 yards per carry.
That inability to stay ahead of the chains explains how Ohio State was just 3 of 12 on third down in this game. The Buckeyes faced an average distance of third-and-7.1. Even an offense loaded with this much talent will struggle at times when that’s the case.
True, the Buckeyes surely could have used running back TreVeyon Henderson, who missed the game for what Day described as precautionary reasons due to a minor injury. But that’s only because of Henderson’s ability to turn nothing into something. The holes weren’t there for much of the game.
Run blocking is obviously a measurement of physical strength. So in that regard, maybe Ohio State does need a little more “toughness.”
But this team’s refusal to panic when nothing is clicking is a different measure of toughness. And in that regard, Ohio State is excelling.
Quarterback Kyle McCord is not an effortless superstar in the vein of Justin Fields or CJ Stroud. But he is proving to be every bit as unflappable as those who came before him.
As was the case at Notre Dame, McCord didn’t really make any big-time throws early in the game. But he also avoided making any mistakes that could have turned the tide. That was saved for Maryland counterpart Taulia Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa has more talent than McCord, but his second interception in Maryland territory set up the Buckeyes for a field goal that gave Ohio State a lead it would never relinquish.
McCord, who was just 8 of 15 passing in the first half, saved his good stuff for late. Again.
With the Buckeyes facing a seemingly impossible second-and-33 early in the fourth quarter, McCord calmly chucked it downfield to Marvin Harrison Jr. for a 37-yard pickup. On the next play, he hit Cade Stover for a 44-yard touchdown that put Ohio State up by 10.
And in those 2 plays, the game swung from Maryland thinking, “Hey, we might have these guys on the ropes” to Ohio State responding, “Nope.”
That kind of killer instinct requires a certain level of poise and confidence. And it’s the type of trait that separates championship teams from the rest of the crop.
Ohio State’s previous offenses under Ryan Day have been the American football version of “the beautiful game” — very nearly an artform.
This offense is not that. But thanks to what the Buckeyes have in terms of defensive and mental toughness, perhaps this year’s version will net a better outcome.