COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The wind seemed to be at the back of No. 3 Ohio State. Everything was chill. Not even a sniff of an off-the-field problem and hardly any adversity through the first eight games.
How quickly things can change in college football.
On Friday, Ohio State said it would be without preseason All-American defensive end Chase Young for Saturday’s game against Maryland because of “a possible NCAA issue from 2018” that the school is investigating. The standout junior, a likely top pick in the NFL draft next spring, tweeted he made a mistake by taking a loan from a “family friend” that has since been paid back.
The suspension isn’t expected to hurt the third-ranked Buckeyes much against Maryland or Rutgers next weekend, should Young still be out. Both are heavy underdogs against Ohio State.
But Young’s status is unknown with much bigger games and goals ahead, and the issue underscores the task Day spoke of this week: trying to keep his team focused, motivated and consistent throughout a season laden with ruthless expectations.
The Buckeyes enter the game against skidding Maryland at 8-0 (6-0 Big Ten) ranked No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings that dropped this week.
Day knows all too well that the Buckeyes are just one slip away from crashing off the tracks. Inexplicable late losses marred each of Urban Meyer’s final two campaigns.
“I think at this time of the season, you’re into November, crazy things can happen,” Day said a few days before the Young suspension was announced. “We have to continue to stay focused on the things that have got us to this point: the discipline, the toughness, taking care of the football, tackling.
“Kids are impressionable nowadays,” he said. “Everybody wants instant gratification. At this point of the year the only thing that works is continuing to go back to the things that have worked. We just can’t get bored with that.”
Day raves about team chemistry. The Buckeyes make few mistakes. Even though Maryland came within one play of an overtime upset last season, Ohio State’s defense — which has given up just two touchdowns in the last 12 quarters — isn’t likely to let that happen again, with or without Young on the field.
“They play at a consistent high level,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “Again, on both sides of the ball, explosive offensive playmakers, outstanding defense, probably the best defensive player in the country at this point. Very efficient, very consistent.”
After Maryland (3-6, 1-5), Ohio State plays at scuffling Rutgers before facing fifth-ranked Penn State at home and then finishing the regular season at No. 14 Michigan.
NOT SO SPECIAL
Maryland’s special teams faltered badly against Michigan last week. The Terrapins allowed a 97-yard kickoff return to open the game, missed a field goal and averaged only 34.9 yards on eight punts.
“Up until Saturday I thought our special teams was the one bright spot of the three phases,” Locksley said.
There was one positive: Maryland’s lone touchdown came on a 97-yard kickoff return by Javon Leake, his second of the season and third of his career.
Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields has been terrific, throwing pinpoint completions and picking up chunks of yardage on runs. He has accounted for 33 touchdowns (24 passing, nine rushing), which is second in the nation. He has multiple TDs in all eight games this season.
“I’m really not surprised by the numbers I’m putting up,” he said. “I also think there’s room for me to grow. Coach Day was telling me and (running back J.K. Dobbins) that this offense hasn’t really hit, hasn’t come close to our potential.”
It’s homecoming week for Maryland linebacker Keandre Jones, who spent three years with the Buckeyes before transferring this past offseason. Jones, who grew up in Maryland, has 31 tackles and six sacks in his final college season. His contribution, however, can’t be measured solely in numbers.
“The leadership he’s brought to this program obviously I think is a direct reflection of what he’s learned from the experiences he’s had at a place like Ohio State,” Locksley said.