Ohio State defense hoping to slow down Maryland, test Taulia Tagovailoa’s efficiency

No quarterback posted a higher completion percentage against the Buckeyes last season than Taulia Tagovailoa (72.2%) as he threw for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Maryland battled Ohio State until the final minute. A scoop-and-score with nine seconds remaining would seal the game in a 43-30 loss for the Terps, but Taulia has carried his momentum into 2023

Since last season’s loss against Ohio State, Taulia has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing over 63% of his passes as Maryland has picked up seven consecutive wins for the first time in 20 years. The fourth-year starter has shown off his improved efficiency through the first month and change of his final season in College Park, moving around the pocket with ease in last weekend’s win vs. Indiana en route to his second 300-yard passing game of the season.

“He’s done a great job of using his escape techniques and being able to extend the play and make plays off of it. Obviously, we’d love to see them be able to sit back there when we’ve had the opportunity where he sits back there, we’ve got a firm A and A gap with those edge rushes up the field that the perfect pocket is where he’s most dangerous,” Locksley said on Thursday. “But I also think that what we did last week with using his legs a little bit more in the passing game as well as the run game is something that can help us.”

The elusiveness that Tagovailoa has shown through five games is exactly what the Buckeyes are looking to limit as defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said his defense will need a “coordinated rush” to limit the veteran quarterback.

“It’s got to be a coordinated rush, because you see multiple instances of guys coming free and then he makes them miss,” Knowles added. “So, really, there’s a lot of coordination involved in trying to contain him. It’s got to be a big part of the game plan.”

“It puts a lot of strain [on us], we gotta make sure we have our eyes in the right place because one wrong move and a big play or a touchdown. We can’t let that up,” safety Josh Proctor said of Taulia.

A portion part of Maryland’s success has been the deep ball as they Terps sit tenth nationally in yards per play this season, along with 14th nationally in plays 20 yards or more downfield (30). No Big Ten team has more plays of 40 yards or more than Maryland (7) through five weeks, but against a Buckeye defense that hasn’t allowed one play over 40 yards through four games, Taulia’s efficiency will be the key on offense.

“He’ll do a good job moving the ball around, getting it out fast, giving the defense different looks,” senior safety Lathan Ransom said. “I think that’s a lot of what we’ve been focused on, just making sure we’re all doing our job, being on the same page, communication and just making sure we’re doing the little things right when it comes to games like this.”

Whether that means Taulia can connect with guys like Tai Felton or Kaden Prather over the top, or if its Jeshaun Jones, Corey Dyches or Octavian Smith over the middle, efficiency in the passing attack will be critical to Saturday’s game.

“We have to do a good job in recognizing how they’re trying to attack us,” Day said. “Ultimately it comes down to winning the game up front.”

Maryland’s offensive line has been a hot topic over the last two months, with Aric Harris opening as the starting center before Mike Purcell took over the starting position once again. Gottlieb Ayedze was able to make his debut in the week three win over Virginia and has since slid in at the starting right tackle with Kyle Long replacing Amelio Moran at left guard.

Still, the Terps sit tied for the third-fewest sacks allowed in the Big Ten (3) as pass protection has been a strength in the Terps’ undefeated starts. Maryland ranks sixth in sack rate (1.6%) and 29th nationally in pressure rate allowed, but while the Buckeyes enter Saturday with just five sacks through four games, Ohio State’s consistent pressure will be the focus as the Buckeyes are generating a 34.7% pressure rate, good for 40th nationally.

“We can’t be undisciplined with our rush lanes,” defensive tackle Tyleik Williams said. “We know he likes to scramble and make plays with his legs.”

That could include more tempo in Maryland’s offense, something Locksley has noticed from first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.

“Our goal is to, we have a multi-tempo offense where, in a perfect world, when we’re in our base tempo, we want the ball snapped, you know, anywhere between 34 and 25 seconds. When we’re going fast, we want it above 34. And then if we’re in the check-with-me mode, we don’t necessarily have a time frame and Josh has done a really good job of mixing the tempos. You saw that coming to play in the Michigan State game where we had to check with me stuff. You see us when we go fast and we are able to get lined up fast and get it snapped. We just think that Lia operates better when he’s in rhythm and the best way to get him in rhythm is to let him get to the line and get the next play and get the next play off. The more he stays in rhythm, the better we seem to operate our system.”

Kickoff is set for 12 PM EST.

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