COLLEGE PARK, Md. – After Ohio State’s 43-30 win over Maryland on Saturday, OSU coach Ryan Day talked about all the hard work and blood, sweat and tears that went into winning 11 straight games to set up the much anticipated showdown of unbeaten football teams when Michigan comes to Ohio Stadium this Saturday.
At times Saturday’s game, which was widely viewed as just a warm-up for the Michigan game, unexpectedly included all those challenges and maybe a few more.
C.J. Stroud threw a 29-yard pass to Marvin Harrison Jr. on OSU’s first play of the game and the Buckeyes took a 7-0 lead on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to TreVeyon Henderson five plays later.
It looked like it was going to be easy. But not much came that easily for the Buckeyes the rest of the game.
No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) found itself down by a 13-10 score at halftime against a team it had never lost to in seven meetings, a team which had been dominated by Penn State and Wisconsin in its last two games.
OSU’s offense struggled in the first half, especially in the running game. It had only 28 yards total and Henderson – in his first appearance after missing two games with a foot injury – had 11 carries for
Something had to change. And that change was inserting freshman running back Dallan Hayden into the game and giving him the ball repeatedly.
Hayden finished with 146 yards rushing on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. It was the third game of more than 100 yards rushing for him this season and his second in a row.
“We didn’t quite get the running game going in the first half and made the change to Dallan and he really got us into a rhythm. I thought he was really hitting the holes hard. He almost broke a couple. For him to get this game until his belt will build some confidence in him,” Day said in his postgame press conference.
Henderson, who clearly was still struggling with the foot injury, did not play in the second half.
“The No. 1 goal is to win and move on. There are going to be games where you don’t jump out as fast as you would like. I think what was the most important thing was that at halftime we came together and said this was going to be a four-quarter battle. We really buckled down in the third quarter and then finished out the game the way we should,” Day said.
It was a defensive play that might have turned the game around.
Maryland (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) won the coin toss and deferred taking the ball until the second half.
On the Terrapins first possession of the second half, Lathan Ransom blocked a punt for the second week in a row and Denzel Burke recovered it on Maryland’s 14-yard line. Two plays later, Hayden scored the first of his three touchdowns on an 8-yard run for a 17-13 Ohio State lead.
A 47-yard field goal by Noah Ruggles and an 11-play, 88-yard scoring drive that ended with Hayden scoring his second touchdown put OSU ahead 27-13 after three quarters.
But it still wasn’t easy. Ohio State never trailed once it got the lead, but Maryland was still within three points, at 33-30 with less than a minute to play before Ruggles’ 46-yard field goal made it 36-30.
OSU’s final score came when Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (26 of 36 for 293 yards, 2 touchdowns) fumbled while being sacked by Zach Harrison and Steele Chambers recovered it for a touchdown with nine seconds to play.
Now the Buckeyes can focus all their attention on playing Michigan on Saturday to try to get some payback for last year’s 42-27 loss in Ann Arbor, which ended an 8-game Ohio State winning streak over the Wolverines.
“Our guys have been focused on it all offseason. During the season it’s always been in the backs of our minds and now it’s here. I think we’re more experienced, we’ve been scarred even though we’re on a 12-0 run. Coming off that game we were highly motivated to get back to the point where we are right now,” Day said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.