The Maryland Terrapins (3-6) were among the biggest surprises in college football after winning their first two games by a combined score of 142-20, including a week-two thumping of a Syracuse team that was ranked 21st at the time.
Since that 63-20 win over Syracuse, Maryland has crashed back to reality fast and hard, having lost six of its past seven games with its lone win coming against Rutgers. In those six losses, Maryland has lost by an average margin of nearly 28 points.
Things will only get tougher for first-year head coach Mike Locksley and his Terrapins as they travel to Columbus to take on an Ohio State team fresh off a bye week and ready for the stretch run as they eye a Big Ten championship and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
Here is a look at who Maryland — a 44-point underdog — will throw at Ohio State in hopes of competing against the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium.
Despite totaling more than 600 yards of offense in each of its two wins to open the season, Maryland currently ranks 86th in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in total offense, averaging 384 yards per game. They ranked 64th in the FBS with an average of 29.6 points per game, although they have scored just 10 offensive points over their past two games.
Quarterback Josh Jackson, an Ann Arbor, Michigan native, came to Maryland as a graduate transfer this season after spending the prior three seasons at Virginia Tech. He beat out Tyrrell Pigrome in camp to win the starting job but has largely been ineffective, while also missing time due to injury.
Jackson suffered a sprained ankle in the first half of Maryland’s win over Rutgers on Oct. 5 and didn’t start the next three games before returning t0 the starting lineup last week against Michigan. He completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 97 yards and an interception in that game.
For the season, Jackson has thrown for 1,065 yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions while completing just 5o percent of his attempts in six starts this season.
Pigrome has started three games in place of Jackson and brings athleticism to the position, although he threw five interceptions in those three starts. He, too, has battled injuries of his own, leaving Maryland’s Oct. 26 game against Minnesota with a leg injury in the first half.
He was not available to play against Michigan last week, although he did practice in a limited capacity. His status for Saturday’s contest with Ohio State remains unclear.
Buckeye fans should be all too familiar with the Maryland running game, particularly sophomore running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who ran for 298 yards and two touchdowns in Maryland’s near upset of Ohio State last November.
However, McFarland has been unable to recapture any of the magic he ran with that day, having eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a game just once in the nine games since. This season, McFarland has run for 438 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games; he missed the Indiana game with a sprained ankle.
McFarland shares carries with junior Javon Leake, who, statistically, has been Maryland’s most effective back this season.
Leake has run for 581 yards this season while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. With McFarland out against Indiana, Leake assumed the role of featured back and made the most of it, running for 158 yards and two scores on 23 carries.
At receiver, Dontay Demus Jr. gives the Terrapins a big-play threat in the vertical passing game. Demus possesses the speed to beat corners off the line, and at 6-foot-3, he can highpoint the ball to win contested throws.
Demus has 32 catches for 491 yards and four touchdowns this season, highlighted by a 10-catch, 105-yard performance against Purdue.
Tight ends Chigoziem Okonkwo and Tyler Mabry have combined for 29 catches, 332 yards, and five touchdowns.
Up front, the Maryland offensive line has struggled, in part due to injuries but mostly because of a general lack of execution. Last week, the unit allowed four sacks to Michigan and has given up 21 sacks on the season. On top of that, right guard Terrance Davis, perhaps the best of the bunch, is likely out for the season with a knee injury.
Expect Chase Young and the Ohio State defensive front to live in the backfield on Saturday.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Ohio State and Maryland have met five times. In those five games, the Maryland defense has surrendered an average of 55 points per contest.
Saturday figures to be more of the same as Maryland is giving up an average of 30 points and 414 yards per game this season. Throughout its current four-game losing streak that includes losses to Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan, the Maryland defense has allowed at least 34 points in each game and 40 or more points in two of them.
Jon Hoke was hired by Mike Locksley in January to lead the defense after spending the past three years coaching the defensive backs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Under Hoke, Maryland has switched to a 3-4 scheme, which best utilizes the unit’s most talented position group in its linebackers.
Maryland got a pair of transfers at outside linebacker in Shaq Smith, who came from Clemson, and Keandre Jones, who Buckeye fans should be familiar with as he spent three seasons at Ohio State before transferring to Maryland ahead of this season.
Jones leads the Terrapins defense in sacks with six on the season; no other Maryland player has more than one sack this season. He is also third on the team in tackles, registering 45 total stops.
Sophomore linebacker Ayinde Eley leads the team in total tackles with 65 stops and also has an interception this year.
The defensive backfield has been a relative strength for the Maryland defense in years past, but the unit has struggled to defend the passing game this season. Teams are averaging 260 passing yards against the Terps this season, including a season-high 421 passing yards allowed to Penn State.
Maryland isn’t without talent in the secondary, however. Senior cornerback Tino Ellis has played in every game since arriving on campus in 2016, and he led the team in pass breakups last season with 11. At 6-foot-1-inch and 195 pounds, Ellis brings ideal size to the position.
Safety Antoine Brooks Jr. gives Maryland its best overall playmaker on the defense. A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches last season, Brooks leads all Terrapins with 50 solo tackles and is second in total tackles with 55 stops. He also has an interception on the season.
The defensive line has been a weakness at Maryland for years and that continues to be the case this season. While their primary responsibility in the three-man front is to occupy blockers to allow for linebackers to make plays, there just hasn’t been a lot of production from the unit this season. For Maryland to have any shot at slowing down the Ohio State offense, guys like defensive end Brett Kulka and tackle Keiron Howard will need to turn in their best performances of the season.
Don’t count on that happening.
Just about all phases of Maryland’s special teams was an unmitigated disaster last week, starting with the opening kickoff, which Michigan returned for a touchdown.
Kicker Joseph Petrino missed on his lone attempt —a 37-yarder — to continue his woes.
Petrino connected on 12 of his 14 field goal attempts last season as a freshman, but he has not been able to find that form this season, going just 1-for-4 in 2019.
Maryland utilizes two different punters in Anthony Porcella and Colton Spangler. The duo struggled mightily last week, combining to punt eight times for an average of just 35 yards. One of those punts was also blocked.
The lone bright spot was a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Leake to give Maryland its only points of the game.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.