The Buckeyes’ win was not secured until Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome missed a wide-open receiver on a two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game for the Terps.
In a season full of bad Ohio State defense, that was the worst.
Maryland averaged an Ohio State opponent single-game record 8.6 yards per play, including 7.1 yards on the ground (fifth most by a team against the Buckeyes).
One week before a showdown with Michigan, Ohio State looked irreparably broken on one side of the ball. Whatever progress might have been made by the defense after a poor first half of the season was erased, leaving a sense this was who the Buckeyes were for 2018.
Largely thanks to the heroics of quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., Ohio State put that close call behind it quickly and went on to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl, but questions about the defense lingered throughout the offseason.
Coaches were changed, and so were schemes. Some players grew up while others moved into new roles, and so far the results could hardly be better.
Ohio State entered the game No. 1 in the nation in points allowed, fourth in rushing defense and second in total defense.
The Buckeyes did little to hurt those rankings despite playing reserves for the entire second half, and now there is a much different feeling on that side of the ball as head coach Ryan Day hopes to point his team not only toward a third straight Big Ten title but also the College Football Playoff.
“Last year (we were) in an absolute fighting to the fourth quarter,” Day said. “And I think our defense was tired of hearing about that for a year. So it was fresh on their minds, and I think we had a lot of respect for this team coming into this game because of that game we played last year. So we started fast and I thought we played well throughout the game.”
He praised the leadership of his veteran players and the coaching staff for being ready to go after a second bye week of the season.
“And we’re playing with an edge,” Day added. “And we have to continue to bring it each week and we have to challenge the guys to do that.
“We know what happens if you don’t. If you don’t bring it every week, you can really get yourself jammed up. So we have to make sure that we’re bringing it each week. But, again, I think it goes back to our leadership.”
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Day’s decision to run an onside kick with a 14-0 lead in a game his team was favorite to win by more than 40 points raised some eyebrows, but he had a fairly straight-forward explanation.
Special teams coordinator Matt Barnes — who was a Maryland assistant last season — noticed a hole in the Terps return formation, and the Buckeyes worked on a pop-up kick from Blake Haubeil to Chris Olave down the sideline to take advantage of it.
“It wasn’t one of those things that was a home run every time we did it,” Day said, “but you talk about competitive excellence, that couldn’t have been executed any better. That was as clean as it could be.”
He liked seeing his team steal a possession but also felt the play gave his team and the fans a shot of energy on what otherwise could have been a sleepy Saturday afternoon against an overmatched opponent with bigger games on the horizon.
“It was cool to feel the excitement in the stadium about that kick,” Day said. “It was, like, ‘Wow.’ It was executed well and there was just a feeling in the stadium.”
Maryland coach Mike Locksley acknowledged Ohio State took advantage of one of his players’ taking off early to get back into position to block.
He had no issue with the call or Day calling timeouts at the end of the second quarter to force a Maryland punt the Buckeyes attempted to block.
“Ryan’s got to coach his team and I’ve got to coach mine,” said Locksley, who also noted Ohio State was likely aware his game plan involved limiting possessions and shortening the game.
“That’s part of the game, so I take no offense to it,” the Maryland coach said. “He’s trying to develop his squad like I have to develop mine, so I had no problems with any of that.”
Ohio State at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., BTN, 1410