Two teams who have endured plenty of adversity in 2018 will meet on Saturday when Ohio State plays at Maryland.
But there is a difference: Ohio State has had a difficult year; Maryland has had a tragic one.
Ohio State’s turbulent season stems from the Zach Smith saga, which resulted in coach Urban Meyer being placed on paid administrative leave and then suspended for three games. It was a disruption, and it probably cost the Buckeyes in ways that are hard to measure.
Maryland’s ordeal, however, involved the death of a player. Offensive lineman Jordan McNair died in June from heatstroke stemming from an offseason conditioning session, and the training staff was found to have made critical errors in tending to McNair.
Coach DJ Durkin was placed on leave until the school’s board of regents reinstated him on Oct. 31. That shocking move was reversed the next day by soon-to-be-exiting president Wallace Loh, who fired Durkin.
Despite their difficult circumstances, Ohio State and Maryland enter the next-to-last week of the regular season with goals in reach. The Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1) would win the Big Ten if they defeat the Terrapins, Michigan next week and Northwestern in the league title game. If that happens, Ohio State has a chance to get into the College Football Playoff, though it likely would require other contenders losing.
Maryland (5-5, 3-4) still has a chance for a bowl game, which is no small feat for a program that has to compete against the powerhouses of the Big Ten East. Interim coach Matt Canada has done a commendable job keeping his team together, starting with a season-opening upset of Texas for the second straight year.
Canada said the death of McNair is always “first and foremost” in the Terrapins’ eyes.
“We have dealt with it as a program, and our kids have done such a good job of being there for each other and leaning into each other and mourning together,” Canada said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference on Tuesday. “I think our players have done a good job of playing for each other and playing hard.
“We obviously haven’t won as many as we wanted to win. That’s always the way it is when you don’t win them all. But I’m proud of our guys.”
Maryland has had no success against Ohio State in their four meetings since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have defeated Maryland by an average of 39 points, including a 62-14 rout last year in which Ohio State outgained Maryland 466-15 before Meyer pulled his starters.
The Buckeyes have dominated Maryland with their linemen on both sides of the ball. Asked whether he believes his lineman are up to the challenge this year, Canada replied, “I don’t know if anybody has handled (the Buckeyes’ line) yet. I don’t think we’re there. But I do think we’re experienced up front on both sides of the ball.”
Ohio State has spoken highly of Maryland all week.
“This is as talented a team as we’ve seen this year and you can see that on videotape,” Meyer said.
The Terrapins are particularly loaded at the skill positions.
“This offense we’re getting ready to play is all big plays,” Meyer said. “It’s feast or famine.”
Allowing big plays has been the Buckeyes’ weakness this season, though they have shown improvement the last two weeks.
Maryland will have a new starting quarterback this week. Kasim Hill suffered a torn ACL in his left knee last week against Indiana. It’s his second straight season cut short by an ACL injury.
Tyrrell Pigrome replaces Hill. He has extensive experience, though he, like Hill, was injured for last year’s Ohio State game.
The Buckeyes’ starter, Maryland native Dwayne Haskins Jr., will be facing an improved Terrapins defense. Maryland ranks 30th nationally in yardage allowed at 343.2 per game.
“It’ll be pretty cool to go against all the kids I knew from back home and went to camps together and all the neighboring high schools,” said Haskins, who is only 50 yards shy of Joe Germaine’s OSU record of 3,330 yards passing in a season.
Throughout the week, the Buckeyes have said they will not look past Maryland toward the peaking Wolverines.
“There’s too much at stake for all that,” offensive co-coordinator Ryan Day said. “To fall into something like that would be crazy. At a place like Ohio State, you can’t afford to take a break anywhere.”