In a season of defensive lows in 2018, the Maryland game was probably the nadir for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes held Michigan State to six points the week before, so there was hope that the defense’s problems had been fixed.
Anthony McFarland of Maryland had touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards early in the first quarter. The Buckeyes surrendered 535 yards, including 298 rushing to McFarland.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
Missed tackles. Bad angles. Blown assignments. You name it, the Buckeyes did it, surviving in overtime 52-51 only because of an off-target pass on a two-point conversion.
This week, senior safety Jordan Fuller said he watched video of that game once with the team and then wanted it “flushed” from his memory.
But the Buckeyes do remember what happened against Maryland, which comes to Ohio Stadium on Saturday. In some ways, the seeds for this year’s success were planted in that game.
Coach Ryan Day wouldn’t say so, but it’s reasonable to assume that the performance that day was a major factor in his decision to overhaul the defensive staff and scheme when he succeeded Urban Meyer.
As for the players, they could flush the game only so much.
“We've got to go out and give them our best game because last year they gave us their best game,” senior defensive tackle Jashon Cornell said.
Maryland gained 337 yards in the first half alone. That’s 50 yards fewer than the Buckeyes have allowed in any game this year.
“I think there's a lot of things,” Day said when asked to explain the dramatic turnaround. “In terms of maturity, these guys are all a year older. The scheme has changed. There's a lot that goes into it.”
The scheme puts an emphasis on speed and aggressiveness, not overloading players with so much information that they are tentative. But a lot of the growth has come from players wanting redemption after playing the way they did in games like against Maryland.
“(It’s) a bunch of guys who sat around for a whole offseason, heard that they struggled,” Day said. “They came in with something to prove. They worked really hard in the offseason, got bigger, stronger, dove into the defense, created great relationships with the coaches. Now they're playing at a high level.”
Players on the Buckeyes defense do have a better rapport with the coaches this year, but their bond with one another is also stronger.
“We learned how to not be selfish,” Cornell said. “The team is playing for each other. We're not arguing with each other. We're not getting down on each other.
“If a player makes a mistake, we're pushing them up and saying, ‘We'll get 'em on the next play.’ We're not worried about anything.
"I feel like this is a brotherhood now. It's really strong. I'm not saying we haven't had a brotherhood before, but the one we have for one another is really different this year.”
The Buckeyes are huge favorites against Maryland. Ohio State is 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff standings. Maryland is 3-6 after losing six of its past seven games and has been hit hard by injuries.
But they still have talent, including McFarland. The Buckeyes believe they’ll be tested.
“Their skill set on the offensive side is really good,” Cornell said.
Day has continually preached the importance of not having a letdown. This week is no different.
“It's only as good as you played the last week,” he said. “The challenge is going to continue. Every team that comes out there is going to want to score points, prove they can move the ball against our defense.
“They're dangerous. They have athletes, are well-coached, have got a good scheme. Another challenge for us.”