Terps could exploit a weakness in Ohio State's secondary
By By Matt Zenitz and
Baltimore Sun Media Group|
Oct 01, 2014 at 7:04 PM
COLLEGE PARK — Three times last week, Ohio State defensive backs were left looking at the back of Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Moore's jersey as Moore crossed the goal line at the end of a long touchdown catch-and-run.
Ohio State (3-1) is great in the front seven. The Buckeyes have experienced players at linebacker, and their defensive line may be as good as any in the country.
The pass defense is Ohio State's "Achilles' heel," said Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer during a teleconference Tuesday.
How much Maryland can exploit that Achilles' heel with wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Marcus Leak could go a long way in determining whether the Terps (4-1) can beat the 20th-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday in College Park.
"That's the main matchup for me," said Chris Spielman, a former Ohio State and NFL linebacker and current ESPN college football analyst who will be providing color commentary for Saturday's game on ABC.
Diggs and Long are two of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten and combined to catch 16 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown during the Terps' 37-15 win over Indiana last week.
Leak had four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown during Maryland's victory over Syracuse on Sept. 20, and he had three catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns against South Florida on Sept. 6.
The Terps could be without starting quarterback C.J. Brown, who suffered a sprained left wrist against Indiana. However, backup quarterback Caleb Rowe has started games for Maryland in the past and threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns during the second half last week after Brown got hurt.
"I'm very proud of Caleb for fulfilling the role of being the backup quarterback and being ready and coming in and being productive when his number is called," Terps coach Randy Edsall said.
Maryland will be facing an Ohio State pass defense that allowed 352 yards and four passing touchdowns last week against Cincinnati, including the three long touchdowns to Moore.
The Buckeyes' pass defense had seemingly done well prior to that.
Virginia Tech's Michael Brewer threw for just 199 yards and was intercepted twice in Columbus on Sept. 6. Kent State's Colin Reardon was just 14 of 27 for only 76 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions against the Buckeyes on Sept. 13.
Even last week, Meyer said his pass defense was good aside from the four touchdown passes.
But those four big plays accounted for 240 yards and 28 points, and Meyer said he is looking for better play from redshirt freshmen cornerbacks Eli Apple and Gareon Conley.
Apple and Conley are listed as co-starters at the cornerback spot opposite senior Doran Grant. Apple was beaten for one of the long touchdowns last week, as Moore got behind him in a one-on-one matchup before hauling in a deep pass from Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel and outrunning Apple the rest of the way to the end zone.
"I don't think we have a talent problem," Meyer said. "I think we have some young corners that need to play better, and hopefully they do settle in and play better."
Sophomore safety Vonn Bell, another first-year starter, was also beaten for a touchdown Saturday.
One of the keys for Maryland will be protecting Brown or Rowe so that whoever plays has time to throw.
Ohio State has one of the better defensive ends in the Big Ten in Joey Bosa. The Buckeyes also have a potential top-15 pick at defensive tackle (Michael Bennett) and a former five-star recruit in Adolphus Washington at the other defensive tackle spot.
Weather could also make things difficult for the Terps in terms of throwing the football. According to weather.com, there is a 90 percent chance of rain in College Park on Saturday.
But Maryland may be able to make some plays against that Buckeyes secondary if its offensive line can hold up, which the Terps will likely need to do considering Ohio State is allowing less than three yards per rush in its last three games.
"As I told the offense, as we start getting into Week 5, Week 6, the halfway point," Terps offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said, "this is where we need to start to make our run, and start to peak on offense."