The Ohio State defense has been under fire throughout the 2018 season.
The troubles started on opening day when Oregon State scored 31 points and totaled nearly 400 yards. That included 196 yards on the ground, touchdown runs of 78 and 80 yards plus a 49-yard score through the air.
Although some of that damage was done against reserves, the seeds for season-long struggles were sown.
Big plays continued to be a problem all the way through a humbling 49-20 loss at Purdue on Oct. 20.
With two games left in the regular season, Ohio State ranks 56th nationally in yards allowed per game (385) and tied for 58th in yards per play (5.5). The Buckeyes are 44th against the run (143.5 yards per game) and 81st against the pass (241.5) with the No. 40 pass efficiency defense.
On the bright side, the Buckeyes are ranked higher in the most important stat of all, 32nd in points per game (22.0), and highest on third downs (12th).
Advanced stats from FootballOutsiders.com paint a similar picture. There the Buckeyes are ranked 32nd overall, 42nd against the run and 74th against the pass.
The Football Outsiders numbers also reveal Ohio State is 31st in the country in success rate (how often a team gains five yards on first-and-10, half the yards to gain for a first down on second down and all of the yards necessary for a first down on third down) but 115th in IsoPPP+, which measures a team’s tendency to give up explosive gains.
Those figures are all derived from season-long stats, of course, and heading into a game at Maryland there is a sense the unit is on the rise.
Although Nebraska tallied 31 points and 450 total yards in week nine, the Cornhuskers’ average of 5.49 yards per play was the best for the Ohio State defense since they held Tulane to 4.4 on Sept. 22.
The Buckeyes allowed the Spartans six points — the first single-digit score by an OSU opponent since the Green Wave also had six — and MSU’s 4.2 yards per play and 274 total yards were both the lowest of the season for an Ohio State opponent since Rutgers (134 total yards, 2.2 per play) on Sept. 8.
“There’s a shot of confidence, which we all needed, on defense,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday. “I anticipate today will be a high-energy day of defensive practice because we’ve been practicing well. The other thing is we’re getting fairly healthy. In the back of our defense, the lineup was never the same and so you’re starting to see a little bit of consistency back there.”
The Buckeyes get one more warmup before the biggest game of every year (Michigan), and Maryland could provide a bit of a preview of the Wolverines on Saturday.
Similar to Michigan with first-year quarterback Shea Patterson, the Terrapins are a hybrid spread pro-style offense that operates both out of the shotgun and under center.
Maryland leans heavily on the run (18th nationally compared to 124th passing and 99th overall) and has redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland coming off a career-best 210-yard game.
Although starting quarterback Kasim Hill was lost to a knee injury last week, his backup, Tyrell Pigrome, has played in every game this season and has a similar skillset.
The Buckeyes might be more worried about themselves than their opponent anyway.
“I think the mindset that we have as a defense as a whole, there’s still a lot of things we could have done better at Michigan State,” said Robert Landers, a junior defensive tackle from Wayne High School. “We put together a complete game, but when you’re striving for perfection, there’s always something you could have done better or you could have changed. There are a lot of things we still need to clean up.”