After a week rife with uncertainty from who the starting quarterback will be to coach Randy Edsall's job status — Saturday could be his final game — Maryland faces its tallest challenge of the season at defending national champion Ohio State.
The Buckeyes beat the Terps by 28 points last season. They've won 18 games in a row. They've won a record 25 regular season Big Ten Conference contests. Vaunted Ohio Stadium will be packed for a noon kickoff with a homecoming crowd, and the Buckeyes are 32 1/2-point favorites. There's not much room for error for a Maryland team that has been outscored 73-6 in its past two games.
So, in the preparation for Saturday's matchup, Edsall and the Terps have turned to what has emerged as a common refrain during the past three weeks: The game is an opportunity, the latest in a season full of squandered ones.
"Me, personally, I'm excited," defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson said. "We get to play against the No. 1 team in the nation. That's a great opportunity to show what you got. I know the other guys feel the same way. It's a challenge but it's a great opportunity. It's going to really be fun."
The degree of difficulty for this latest opportunity, though, reaches far beyond what Maryland faced at West Virginia in a 45-6 loss two weeks ago or during a 28-0 defeat against Michigan at home last week.
Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott ran wild in his team's 34-27 win at Indiana last week and put up 274 yards — his fourth time rushing for 200 yards in the past eight games — including 243 in the second half and touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards.
Quarterback Cardale Jones, who emerged from third string to lead the Buckeyes to the national championship last season, has struggled at times and thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (five). But as he showed in December and January, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones can be a tough matchup for even the nation's top teams.
The Maryland defense is coming off of an improved performance against Michigan, in which the Terps were able to keep the game close before the Wolverines broke off a couple big plays that helped them pull away. Ohio State's offense ranks 121st nationally in red zone touchdown percentage, so Maryland has the opportunity to keep the Buckeyes down early.
"We got to stop the run," middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "That's the main focus every week. If we stop the run, hold them and make them pass the ball, hopefully make them one-dimensional, and then we can pin our ears back a little bit more, let our pass rushers go pass rush and do what they do best."
But no matter what the Terps defense is able to do, it will be hard to beat the Buckeyes on the road if the offense repeats its performances of the past two weeks. The quarterback decision between Perry Hills, Daxx Garman and Caleb Rowe won't be made until game time, and none of the three have particularly inspired confidence this season.
Outside of a few flashes from running back Brandon Ross and the wide receivers' performance in the win over South Florida, the offense has been tepid, and Ohio State has a talented defense.
The Ohio State defense boasts star defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington in front of linebacker corps with the talented Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, and they're set to harass Maryland's quarterback and offensive line all afternoon.
"Obviously, we haven't been playing well, so we've been out at practice just trying to get better, taking advantage of these opportunities that we have," fullback Kenneth Goins Jr. said. "The opportunities are there for us, and we just have to take them."
With uncertainty at quarterback and with its coach, the near-future looks bleak for Maryland. The "opportunities" have been out of reach for much of the season, and the Terps now have to face an Ohio State team that's looking to hit its stride for what's expected to be another deep postseason run.
But the Terps are clinging to the chance that each new opportunity brings.
"Any team can beat any team," outside linebacker Jalen Brooks said. "It's just about who's focused and who wants it more on that day."