For different reasons, Maryland senior linebacker Keandre Jones and graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson might have similar emotions going into their team’s game Saturday, having strong connections to the big-name opponent the Terps will be facing.
Jones played three seasons at Ohio State before transferring to Maryland last January, transforming himself from a sparingly used inside linebacker to an outside linebacker contributing just as much off the field as he has on it.
Jackson grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his father, Fred, was a longtime Michigan assistant under four different coaches. It meant that the younger Jackson not only idolized many of the Wolverines, especially their quarterbacks, but had an inbred disdain for the Buckeyes.
Asked Tuesday if that was a good assumption, Jackson smiled.
Jackson grew up as close to the rivalry as anybody.
“Obviously my dad coaching [at Michigan] for 23 years, so they played Ohio State 23 times,” Jackson said. ”Obviously he hates — they never really liked [Ohio State], that’s one of the biggest rivalries in college football. As a kid, you’re growing up in that, you experience it.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any extra [motivation] or anything less. I know what their fans are like, I know what their stadium is like. I’ve been there. I was there when they did the [ranked] 1 versus 2 game [in 2006]. Nothing extra, but I guess it’s another cool experience to play at ‘The Horseshoe’ and everything like that.”
On Saturday, Jones and Jackson will play against No. 3 Ohio State for the first time when Maryland, in the midst of a four-game losing stretch and a stretch of six losses in the past seven games, goes into Columbus as 43½-point underdogs, the biggest spread in the country this week and the largest Maryland has faced since it joined the Big Ten in 2014.
“Playing an undefeated Ohio State team at Ohio State definitely gets you motivated. You know that you have to execute because they’re a great football team,” Jackson said. “You really have to be on your ‘A’ game. That gets you excited throughout the week to be able to play a team like that.”
Said Jones: “I think this being my last year, it’s an emotional year for me because it’s my last one, it’s my last go-around for being a senior. My last chance to show what I can do as a senior and as a football player. It’s a very emotional year for me, my family and friends to be able to experience all these games like Ohio State.”
Typically one to keep his words to a minimum and his emotions in check, Jones’ reaction to what it will be like facing many of his old teammates — many of whom he still communicates with on a group chat — will probably not be used as locker room fodder for the unbeaten Buckeyes.
“Obviously I had this game marked since I transferred from Ohio State,” Jones said after practice Tuesday night. “Nothing personal. I’m still friends with a lot of those guys. The relationship is still good between all of us. I’m excited, anxious to get out there on the field in front of the Ohio State fans, too. It’s a great opportunity for me to end my career, finishing where I started.”
Asked if it will be strange to see the familiar faces and uniforms across the line of scrimmage, Jones said: “Not at all. I competed against these guys in practice when I was there, just going out there and compete is what I look forward to.”
That’s just the way first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley wants it.
“Obviously going back to Ohio State [for Jones] always drums up emotions, but one of the things we’ve talked about and we’ve tried to set as a standard for us, it’s OK to have emotions, but not be emotional,” Locksley said at his weekly news conference earlier in the day.
“I think Keandre’s done a great job of it and this week because of his maturity. He’s going back to face friends and a program that has pretty much put him in the position he’s in now. He respects that part of it. He’s such a competitor, so I know we’ll get his best as we have in all the other games.”
Jones has been one of the steadiest performers in a defense that has been inconsistent, at best, during the past month. He leads the Terps in sacks with six and is third in tackles with 45. In his three seasons at Ohio State, Jones had just 29 tackles and one sack.
Locksley said after last week’s 38-7 loss at home to Michigan that a fourth-quarter play that Jones made exemplified the heart and hustle the Terps played with for much of the game after not showing the same attributes in a 52-10 loss at then-No. 17 Minnesota the previous week.
“I saw that all the way to the end,” Locksley said. “Their last drive that they were playing, you see a senior like Keandre Jones running down from the opposite end, chasing a guy down, making the tackle. … Fighting a little bit more. To me, I think we can build with that type of fight.”
Locksley said that Jones benefited from his time in Columbus, and so has the first-year coach’s young team.
“He’s been really mature beyond his years,” Locksley said Tuesday. “The leadership he’s brought to this program is obviously a direct reflection of what he’s learned or the experiences he’s had at a place like Ohio State, and it’s been great to have that here in our locker room for our younger players to utilize him as a resource for how you approach the game, how you approach practice, how you approach school and all the areas that you to.”
Said Jones: “Like I’ve said, there’s nothing but love for that university. They took me to become the man I am today, the student and the athlete I am today. I gave them a good three years of my life and I’m looking to finish up my time at Maryland, hopefully a win on Saturday will solidify [my career].”
As for Jackson, his situation for Saturday is a little uncertain. After suffering an ankle injury in Maryland’s last win Oct. 5 at Rutgers, Jackson missed two games and returned for one series at Minnesota before starting for the first time in several weeks against the Wolverines. He finished 9-for-20 for 97 yards, throwing a first-quarter interception after he was hit.
His performance against Michigan, which also included him getting sacked three times against a heavy pass rush, as well as the return of redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome from a hyper-extended knee suffered in the Minnesota game, has made Locksley hesitant to name his starting quarterback. Locksley said it will be a “game-time” decision.
“As I’ve said, we’d love to come in here and say, ‘This guy is our starting quarterback’, but that position has just been a work in progress for us,” Locksley said Tuesday. “I think there are some things Josh brings to the table that I have a comfort level with in terms of being operate."
Jackson doesn’t think that if does get the start, he will be fazed by the crowd of over 100,000.
“I’ve played in big games before,” he said. “At Virginia Tech [where he played his first two years], not many stadiums get as loud as that one. There’s been registered earthquakes at Virginia Tech when we played. I played at Florida State, I played West Virginia here in DC. All it is is noise and you’ve just got to learn how to focus into the cadence and from there that’s all that can disrupt.”
Jackson was asked if he knew that the Terps were 43-point underdogs.
“That’s a lot,” he said. “I didn’t see that. I don’t pay too much attention to spread. That’s Vegas. That’s none of my business.”
NOTES: Locksley announced Tuesday that senior guard Terrance Davis, who reinjured his knee in practice last week that he sprained in mid-September, could wind up getting a year of eligibility after playing in just four games this season. A final decision has yet to be made.