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What to Watch for From the Buckeyes Saturday at Maryland
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — Before the season, Buckeye fans looked to this game at Maryland and couldn't actually see it because they were way too focused on the two games after it -- at Michigan State and Michigan in the Shoe.

Given the way Ohio State has played over the last month, no opponent can be overlooked, and as we learned against Penn State, you can't even overlook a team that was blown out by Michigan.

The Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1) come into this game ranked No. 5 in the CFP committee's Top 25 and can't afford another loss. Maryland (5-4, 2-4) comes into this game looking for a signature win, but they'll be doing it banged up and understaffed.

There is plenty to watch in this game, so let's go over a few items of interest.

The Pass Blocking
The Buckeyes have allowed just one sack over their last two weeks following the pass blocking debacle at Penn State three weeks ago. Is this a matter of lesser defenses or improved pass blocking? If you ask Urban Meyer or Greg Studrawa, they'll tell you it's all on the offensive line. Isaiah Prince bounced back fantastically well from his PSU outing and has been named a champion for his play. He is better using his arm length and quick feet, he's not just reaching. We are also seeing a more cohesive offensive line from the Buckeyes. Michael Jordan is still a freshman, but every game that passes where you don't hear his name mentioned is a good day for him. The middle continues to be strong against the pass rush. Maryland averages 2.3 sacks per game and they have some speedy edge rushers. Prince will continue to be the man to watch.

Maryland's Coverage
Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett doesn't like to throw the ball into three deep coverage for a couple of reasons. For one, the receivers aren't open deep and there may be safety help. For two, there should be shorter stuff open with that kind of coverage. Keep an eye on J.T. Barrett and the changing of the play. He knows that they have an advantage against Maryland's secondary, so if he comes to the line and sees a coverage he can take advantage of, watch for him to change the play and go deep.

Disrupting Maryland's Passing Game
Maryland has a quick passing game that utilizes a lot of wide screens to their wide receivers. Despite that fact, the Terps are still the worst team in the conference in allowing sacks. Maryland quarterbacks get sacked three times per game. If the Buckeyes can blow up a screen before it happens, that kind of timing disruption can lead to plenty of sacks. Defensive ends will also need to get their hands up on the quick wide screens. The pass rush will also be instrumental in keeping the double moves to a minimum. If the quarterback doesn't have enough time to wait for those double moves, then the defensive backs can be even more aggressive on these screens.

Mike Weber's Shoulder
Buckeye running back Mike Weber is in a lot of pain. He wasn't trying to hide it when he spoke with the media on Wednesday. He also wasn't searching for sympathy -- perhaps because he knows he wouldn't get any. At this point Weber is only dealing with shoulder pain, and as long as it's just pain then he's going to keep going. However, how much will Weber be needed in this game? Maybe this is a game where Weber gets limited carries -- or even no carries. After all, there are two big games coming up -- and possibly three, so a little rest wouldn't be a bad thing for a guy who already has an awful lot on his shoulders.

Curtis Samuel the Punt Returner
H-back Curtis Samuel will be the Buckeyes' No. 1 punt returner this week according to Urban Meyer. He has just one career punt return, which happened last week and went for a loss of a five yards. However, he's obviously a tremendously dynamic playmaker, so it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see him do something special as a punt returner. If he does do something special -- like return a punt for a touchdown -- don't be surprised if Samuel finally starts getting a little bit of Heisman buzz. After all, he plays as many positions on offense as Jabrill Peppers and he has just as many interceptions on defense.

J.T. Barrett's Command
J.T. Barrett has thrown at least 30 passes in a game for three straight games, becoming the first Ohio State quarterback to do that since Joe Germaine in 1998. Clearly, Urban Meyer and Ed Warinner have confidence in Barrett to be throwing so much, so this week we should watch how much control he has with the offense and how often he puts them in the proper play. He may not always hit the pass, but if he changes the play and misses an open receiver, then he made the right move by changing the play. Basically, if you watch J.T. Barrett for more than just the incompletions you'll begin to appreciate him a whole lot more. Don't take for granted what he does, because few do it better -- and none of them do it perfectly.

Tackling in Space
Maryland uses an offense that wants to stress a defense in as many ways as possible. They'll do it with pace and they'll do it by spreading the defense out and stretching them as far to the sidelines as they can. The Buckeye secondary is going to have to tackle well on those sideline screens and the linebackers are going to have to get over there as well. Maryland can block these plays very well, as Michigan learned a week ago. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, even if there are missed tackles, the defense tends to stiffen up in the red zone. Nobody is better than Ohio State when keeping an opponent out of the end zone once they reach the red zone. There will be some bending, but I don't expect much breaking.

Player profiles relevant to story:
4 - Samuel, Curtis | 16 - Barrett, J.T. | 59 - Prince, Isaiah
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