Maryland’s clash against No. 4 Ohio State is a midseason test of its goal to compete in a stacked Big Ten. It’s also just the Terps’ second road game — and Ohio Stadium boasts a capacity over 100,000.
Veteran Maryland safety Dante Trader Jr. knows he and his teammates will need to increase their reliance on hand signals and sideline communication to combat the wall of noise coming his team’s way. He’s also used the imposing venue as a chance to mess with some of his younger teammates.
“How you gonna do when you see 100K fans, eyes gonna get big?” the veteran safety asks. “... You get on that field, you better be ready to go.”
The young players usually laugh and reply that they’ll be ready. The Terps will need a similar spirit throughout the roster to beat the Buckeyes for the first time, a tall task against a team that once again boasts national championship aspirations.
Here are three things they will need to do in order to pull off the upset.
1. Pressure Kyle McCord
Almost every quarterback plays worse under pressure. But McCord, who’ll make just his fifth career start against the Terps, is much worse.
His drop in passer rating and yards per attempt are the highest among Big Ten quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus.
Winning the turnover battle will be key to Maryland’s upset bid. It is tied for the conference lead in interceptions. That’s not something it can rely on. The 2022 Terps ranked ninth in the Big Ten in turnovers forced — and not for a lack of trying.
“There’s not anything that you can do other than your job just to get turnovers. It just swings that way,” Trader said.
But pressure can induce mistakes. McCord’s turnover-worthy play rate nearly doubles when he faces a strong pass rush, per PFF.
Does Maryland have the talent to affect him? That’s less clear. It ranks eighth in the Big Ten in pressures, per Sports Info Solutions, but is tied for fourth in sacks.
“We’re going to have to find a way to affect the quarterback this week … as always, you want to see us get more sacks,” Locksley said. “I’d love to see us be more disruptive, but so far so good, we’ve been able to affect some of the quarterbacks we played.”
2. Be aggressive on early downs
Josh Gattis and the Terps have been a pass-heavy team. That should continue against the Buckeyes, who rank lower in EPA per play allowed against passes than they do runs, per CFB Graphs.
This doesn’t mean Gattis should abandon the run game entirely — Maryland is one of the best rushing teams in the country and has been especially lethal when running into light boxes (with six or fewer defenders).
Maryland ranks third in the Big Ten in success rate (percentage of plays that have an EPA greater than 0) on first or second down passes, per SIS. They’re also second in EPA per dropback when using play action passes on first or second down.
Establishing such plays could get Ohio State into defensive looks better equipped to defend the pass. If that happens? Hammer the trio of Roman Hemby, Antwain Littleton II and Colby McDonald.
3. Establish Corey Dyches
One game into the season, Corey Dyches looked like one of the best tight ends in college football. But over half of his total receiving yards came in the Week 1 win over Towson and he hasn’t surpassed 60 receiving yards in any of the games since.
Dyches caught just two passes for 19 yards in Maryland’s last two games. He played just 20 snaps in the win over Indiana after going out in the second half but practiced Tuesday, per reports.
Ohio State has given up the most EPA on targets to players lined up as tight ends, per SIS. Notre Dame’s Mitchell Evans caught seven passes for 75 yards in his squad’s matchup with the Buckeyes, both team-highs.
That bodes well for Dyches.