By Max Marcilla
Maryland football has been a double-digit underdog on the road twice so far in the 2017 season; both times, the Terrapins have not only covered the spread, but they have won the game.
That’s what a solid running game and dominant performances in the trenches can do.
In Maryland’s 31-24 road victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers — head coach DJ Durkin’s first career Big Ten road win — the Terps ran wild. The Gophers, who entered the game with the best run defense in the conference, allowed 262 rushing yards on 47 attempts, an average of 5.6 yards per carry.
“We tried to spread that thing as wide as possible and really at the end, turn it into an inside drill,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “Our backs probably did their best job since I’ve been here… not looking for the home run [and] being okay with a three-and-a-half-, four-yard run.”
Maryland will need every bit of that production from its backs in its next matchup, a road trip to Columbus, Ohio to face 10th-ranked Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are 16th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 16 points per game, and are one week removed from a dominant shutout victory over Rutgers, 56-0.
“They’re a great defense,” Maryland running back Ty Johnson said. “They have a lot of guys that swarm to the ball, they have a lot of guys that just play hard in general.”
Not only do they play hard, but they defend the run extraordinarily well.
The numbers don’t tell the entire story — the Buckeyes are ninth in the Big Ten in rushing defense, but opponents have averaged a ridiculous 40.8 rushing attempts per game.
Despite the constant pressure it faces, Ohio State’s run defense has been strong through the first month of the season. Excluding their game against Army, which runs a unique triple option-heavy scheme, the Buckeyes have given up 2.8 yards per carry.
Three big reasons for that are Dre’Mont Jones (who will miss Saturday’s game with an injury), Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis, a trio of defensive linemen who are all expected to hear their names called in the upcoming NFL Draft. A recent Walter Football mock draft has all three being picked in the first 38 picks.
“As much as we try to turn this into a space game, they do a great job of eating up that space,” Bell said. “They’ve got a couple waves of D-linemen that are all really good players and really good in the back end.”
That unit will have its own tough task on Saturday: a Maryland offensive line that has been stellar through its first four games. Against Minnesota, the big guys kept quarterback Max Bortenschlager upright for the entire game and paved the way for many explosive plays, including Johnson’s game-winning 31-yard scamper.
“When you see [the offensive line] in practice and you see them on film, they’re just destroying guys,” Johnson said. “I was watching film the other day of Derwin Gray and Damian Prince just finishing guys and Brendan Moore just destroying guys, pushing them off the ball.”
The offensive line has taken pride in its performance and has been one of the Terps’ best positional groups through the first month of the season.
“That’s what’s been going on really,” Johnson continued, “That’s what’s been working is our line just willing to go out there and smack someone in the mouth.”