COLLEGE PARK — During the summer, Ohio State's three-way quarterback battle dominated headlines. Who would win the job? Was Braxton Miller going to switch positions? Was Cardale Jones' performance in the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff an anomaly? Would J.T. Barrett get reps?
Even with Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer riding with Jones, the questions have dogged Ohio State at the position five games into the season and entering Saturday's matchup against Maryland. But with the quarterback play shaky, the Buckeyes have instead turned to reliable workhorse running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is coming off the best game of his career last week at Indiana.
The junior rushed for 274 yards, including 243 in the second half. He broke off scoring runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards to help lift the Buckeyes to a 34-27 victory.
So how will the Terps stop a force in the running game in Saturday's matchup with the No. 1 Buckeyes?
"Tackle him," defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said with a chuckle Wednesday.
"He's a tremendous player," Dudzinski continued. "You watch the tape, he's got big runs everywhere. Tremendous talent. Runs hard. Always gets positive yards, keeps his feet moving. He's got the open field speed. Got the in the box quick. He's a really good player."
Last season, Elliott rushed for 139 yards on 24 carries against the Terps, foreshadowing his postseason when he ran for 220, 230 and 246 yards against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, respectively. He's rushed for 100 yards in 10 straight games dating back to last November.
"Ezekiel Elliott's really good," coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. "He's really good. You got to tackle him. He's fast. It gets down to our guys saw in the game Saturday that when we go out and play hard and we execute and we get 11 guys running to the football, we can be good. That's the thing that we've been coaching them to do."
Indiana kept Elliott bottled up for most of the first half, but he eventually broke free, emerging from pileups at the line of scrimmage and bursting upfield with Hoosiers defenders clutching at his wake. Outside linebacker Jalen Brooks said he thought Elliott's success stemmed from Indiana just not being able to bring him down at the line of scrimmage. The Terps will have to avoid self-inflicted mistakes on defense in order to contain him.
"As everybody knows, Ezekiel Elliott, he's up for the Heisman," inside linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "He does a decent job of keep staying balanced and he makes things happen when it's not there. His couple long runs looked like he should have been tackled for a loss or something and he just popped out. That separates him from some of the backs we've already seen."
Maryland's defensive front has been hit by injuries, with defensive tackle David Shaw lost for the season with an elbow injury. The Terps played well in the first half against Michigan last week, but they were eventually worn down in defeat.
This week, it's another tough task that demands constant solid play if Maryland wants to have a chance to contain Elliott.