The 2018 Maryland team, which put a holy scare into Ohio State last season before the Buckeyes won in overtime, bears little resemblance to this season’s Terrapins. At least on offense.
Running back Anthony McFarland, who torched OSU for 298 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns last season, has been banged up and only has one 100-yard rushing game this season, 132 yards on Sept. 14 against Temple. Since then he has just 213 total rushing yards on 44 carries. Injuries have cropped up elsewhere for Maryland (3-6 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) including quarterback Tyrell Pigrome, which helps explain why the Terrapins are 86th in the country in total offense at 384.4 yards per game.
Even worse, when the offense gets within striking distance the Terps are 129th, second to last in FBS, in red zone offense at a 65.6% conversion rate. That’s especially bad news against an OSU team that leads the nation in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score inside the 20-yard line at just a 56.3% clip.
But Ohio State (8-0, 5-0) does need to be wary in one area, and in particular one Terrains player. That’s on special teams, and that means Javon Leake.
That’s the matchup for OSU fans to watch on Saturday (noon ET, Fox TV) as the top-ranked Buckeyes host the Terrapins.
Maryland vs. Ohio State special teams
Javon Leake leads Maryland in rushing with 581 yards despite having fewer carries than McFarland. Both players have 7 rushing touchdowns.
But what really separates Leake is his ability on special teams.
Check out his touchdown return on a kickoff against Michigan last week. That was one of two TD returns on kickoffs for Leake this season, tied for most in the nation.
Ohio State kicker Blake Haubeil has handled all but 2 kickoffs this season. He’s averaging 52.4 yards per kick with 16 touchbacks on 65 kickoffs.
Translation: Opponents have an opportunity to return the kick much more often than not against the Buckeyes. Leake has the explosiveness to exploit that and, perhaps, give the Terrapins good field position or even a very long touchdown that could spark the whole team.
The versatile Leake is 12th in the country in all-purpose yards at 136.8 per game. He’s sixth in the country and tops in the conference in average kickoff returns at 29.8 yards per attempt.
As for punting, Maryland leads the B1G at 13.5 yards per return. DJ Turner is one of 38 players in FBS with a punt return touchdown this season. OSU’s Drue Chrisman (pictured) is one of the best punters around and OSU is 12th in the nation in punt return defense. So, as infrequently as it might pop up, when OSU punts it could get exciting for either team.
All in all there are no areas on offense or defense where Maryland seems to be much of a threat to gain an edge against OSU. The Terps have been blown out in most of their B1G games this season; they have been outscored by an average of 20 points a game in conference play and that even factors in a 48-7 victory over Rutgers. Maryland has lost its other five B1G games by an average score of 45-12.
In other words, it seems very unlikely that Maryland will duplicate its excellent 2018 effort against OSU and turn Saturday’s game into a squeaker.
But if the Terrapins pull of something special in Columbus, most likely it will be sparked by their special teams.