The outcome of Maryland football’s game against No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday afternoon wrote itself before kickoff.
The Terps had a depleted secondary facing two of the nation’s top wide receivers, Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, while Buckeyes freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud isn’t afraid to throw the ball around the field.
Even with Maryland junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa looking solid until the fourth quarter, the Terps defense was no match for Ohio State, the nation’s best offensive team, in the 66-17 loss at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
“I felt our effort [was] there today,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “The execution was[very] poor.”
The Terps (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) are winless in their seven matchups against Ohio State, and Saturday was just another dark chapter. Maryland cornerbacks Jakorian and Kenny Bennett didn’t play due to hamstring injuries while wide receiver Jeshaun Jones was carted off the field after injuring his knee on the first drive of the game, another blow a week after wideout Dontay Demus Jr. was lost for the season.
Maryland has followed a certain trend over the past few seasons, generating hope by winning the first couple of games before crumbling against the Big Ten’s top teams. Even though there has been a culture shift within the program, players and coaches say, losses to No. 5 Iowa and Ohio State show how far the Terps have to go.
“We have a lot of work to do as a program,” Locksley said. “It’s good to see just how far we’ve come, sitting at 4-2 at the halfway point. We’ve got a lot of work to do through recruiting. Through our roster development, and all those aspects to be able to compete against those types of teams and play at that level.”
It appeared the Buckeyes, who lead the nation in yards per game (556.2) and improved that average with 598 on Saturday, were scoring on every possession. In fact, Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) scored on nine consecutive possessions before Maryland’s defense got its first stop with 1:21 remaining.
Stroud looking like a Heisman candidate against Maryland’s defense, as the former four-star recruit threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters.
“We just got to get back to the basics,” Maryland fifth-year senior defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu said. “I feel like some of us got overwhelmed. We also got to get guys healthy. We’ve had a lot of injuries in very important positions, especially going against one of the best receiving corps in the nation. You got to have some good cornerbacks and I feel we have a lot of injuries in that room, but it’s no excuse.”
No matter what coverage Maryland played, Stroud made plays. During Ohio State’s first drive of the game, he took advantage of the Terps’ zone coverage, throwing short passes to march the Buckeyes down the field. As Ohio State faced a fourth-and-goal, the Terps tried man coverage, but Buckeyes receiver Garrett Wilson, who finished the game with 84 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions, made a nice move on sophomore defensive back Tarheeb Still to create separation to make a 2-yard touchdown grab to claim a 7-3 lead.
Stroud took advantage of Maryland’s man coverage again late in the first, throwing a short pass to Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson, who broke loose for a 30-yard gain. Henderson followed by powering into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 11. Henderson finished with 102 yards on the ground — most of it coming in the second half — and two touchdowns to go with 67 receiving yards.
On the following drive, Olave, a potential first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, slipped past the entire Maryland secondary to make a 36-yard touchdown catch before finishing the day with 120 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. Buckeyes receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba added 103 yards receiving while averaging 20 yards per catch.
“We had guys looking like they fell out of airplanes they were so wide open,” Locksley said. “As a coaching staff, when we’re down in our fourth corners, we got to do a better job of calling things that we can get executed with the players we have, and we made that adjustment. After the first half, started playing a lot more cover two, which we hadn’t played a lot of, and kind of took away the deep ball, but now that opens up the run game, so now we’ve got to play the chess match.”
Maryland’s defense had a hard time getting off the field, as Ohio State went 7-for-11 on third downs.
Tagovailoa spent the entire first quarter scrambling away from pressure but the Terps’ offense settled down. Early in the second quarter, he connected with senior Darryl Jones for a 20-yard reception before finding junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo for 15 more. Tagovailoa concluded the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Carlos Carriere, but the rout was on soon after.
Stroud threw to a wide-open Henderson, who did the rest for a 26-yard touchdown. Running back Master Teague III added an 8-yard score before halftime.
Maryland trailed 56-10 by the time it found the end zone again.late in the third quarter. Jarrett, who was quiet for the majority of the day, caught a screen pass from Tagovailoa before running down the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown. That was Jarrett’s only catch on four targets.
Just when it appeared Tagovailoa was going to escape the turnover category, the Terps’ signal-caller carelessly threw an interception with 6:53 remaining, and he threw another — a pick-six — on Maryland’s next drive.Tagovailoa went 28-for-39 with 279 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He played a really strong game for three quarters,” Locksley said. “He just made some [very] poor decisions at the end, and I feel for him. He’s a guy that’s very competitive. We’ve got to do a great job of making sure that he understands, take what they give you. The last pick-six, he should have handed the ball [off], and he knew it.”
Tagovailoa said he felt he was doing too much in the fourth quarter and thought the receivers and tight ends did a good job trying to extend plays after the catch.
“Making plays every time I left the ball in their hands,” Tagovailoa said. “As a whole, we just got to continue to do better. There’s always room for improvement.”
Maryland has a much-needed bye week after allowing a combined 117 points in the last two weeks. Locksley hopes to use the week off to get players healthy for their matchup against Minnesota on Oct. 23.
As Maryland continues to struggle against ranked opponents, games against the Golden Gophers, Indiana and Rutgers become even more crucial if it wants to make a bowl appearance for the first time since 2016.
“We need to take a look at everything we’ve done the first six games,” Locksley said. “See what we need to adjust, the direction we need to go in all three phases, offensively, defensively and special teams. How you start the season doesn’t always mean that’s how you end based on the personnel you have available, and that’s what we need to take a deep dive into.”