It was an extremely sloppy and, at times, lethargic performance by Ohio State on Saturday but the Buckeyes survived their final road test of the season outlasting Maryland, 43-30, thanks in large part to the performance of freshman running back Dallan Hayden.
But the Top 5 undefeated matchup with Michigan was preserved and now all eyes will turn toward The Game. But first, its time for 10 Instant Observations from the win…
1. The running back “rotation” in the first half was baffling. Going into the game, I thought it was prudent to get Henderson a few touches (assuming he was healthy) just to that he can feel some contact going into next weekend’s matchup with Michigan. To essentially use him as a change of pace back today, is what made the most sense. But apparently OSU had a different plan in mind, to use him like Derrick Henry in the first half. Way too much usage given the circumstances and in wanting to have as healthy of a stable of backs for next week as possible.
2. But it wasn’t just for next week’s health. As the first half played out, it became pretty clear that Henderson didn’t have it. He looked hobbled, he wasn’t finding the holes and he was bouncing everything. It turned into a situation where not only was it better to put Hayden into the game for the long term health of the running back room, but also for the short term chances of winning the game.
3. So much credit to Dallan Hayden, who should have been playing from the jump today, but came out of the pen to ignite the offense. He doesn’t have the game-changing top end speed that a healthy Henderson has, but he was just what the team needed today. He was finding the holes, he was getting north and south and he was keeping the offense on schedule.
4. Building off of all of that, I am intrigued/concerned about what the running back rotation will look like next week against Michigan. I think Hayden has to play a fair share of the snaps, regardless of the health of Henderson and Williams. He has earned playing time and, again, he gets north and south and is much more decisive when running stretch than the two vets. I would have quick hooks next Saturday for the backs and get them all in there early and then ride the hot hand. Can’t have a first half offensive performance like we saw today.
5. I have no idea why Ohio State didn’t call a timeout to allow itself to go for two up 12 early in the fourth quarter. You’re not protecting against a scenario where Maryland gets three possessions, kicks two field goals and scores a touchdown, at that point in the game. You’re protecting against two Maryland touchdowns beating you by a point. It double-backfired when the Terps blocked the PAT and ran it back for two points. You can’t let that penalty happen to take you out of that. Just another head scratcher there.
6. A really disappointing defensive effort today for the most part. I thought Maryland would get into the low 20’s today because the Terps do have some playmakers on offense and I felt the Buckeyes would play pretty vanilla on defense but the pass rush was inconsistent and too many guys in the secondary were losing one-on-one battles. Now Maryland has a better passing game than Michigan so I’m not sure if there’s even a lot of concern here on carry over to next week but definitely some teaching moments from that performance today.
7. One guy on defense who I did like today was Cameron Brown. Brown, for the second straight week, turned in a really solid effort and has become a very important veteran presence in the corners room. The Buckeyes have a lot of young and inexperienced guys at corner and while I think the future is bright for many of those guys, there hasn’t been a ton of consistency from week-to-week and today it was Jordan Hancock who struggled. Brown has been really good in coverage, has made some great plays in run support and in playing those bubble screens and jet sweeps. His healthy return is an underrated component for this defense moving forward.
8. Another week and another blocked punt for Lathan Ransom. Today’s was not only incredibly timely, but it was a work of art. He got through the line so fast that there was actually quite a bit of risk in over-running the play and either missing the block or, even worse, roughing the punter. But he was able to slow down just enough and contort his body so that he wouldn’t hit the punter and took it right off his foot. Beautiful play.
9. Despite the lack of positives from the defense today, they did get stops when it mattered most. The offense put them in a tough spot midway through the fourth quarter and the defense got a huge three and out. Then Hayden and the O-Line were able to grind out a long drive and get some points with under a minute left. Two big fourth quarter stops there for a unit that folded in those types of moments a season ago. What a sequence there at the end for Zach Harrison.
10. Survive and advance. Despite the ups and downs of this season, Ohio State is right where it wanted to be back in August. Undefeated, with a chance to get revenge against Michigan, punch a ticket to the Big Ten championship, and earn a playoff berth.