COLUMBUS, Ohio — Marvin Harrison Jr. torched a depleted Maryland secondary throughout the Terps’ 37-17 loss in Columbus on Saturday. With Ohio State holding a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, quarterback Kyle McCord went back to his top option to seal the Buckeyes’ victory.
McCord found Harrison open for six to cap off an eight catch, 163-yard game, put Ohio State up three scores and silence the Terps’ upset hopes.
“We needed him because they were putting a lot of guys in the box,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. “Really left the middle of the field open at times, and we took advantage of that in the second half.”
Ohio State’s offense struggled in the first quarter as Harrison was held in check. All three of its drives ended with punts and the unit totalled just 28 yards as Harrison was held without a catch.
Maryland missed Tarheeb Still, its top corner who missed Saturday with an injury. Coach Michael Locksley instead covered Harrison with Ja’Quan Sheppard and Corey Coley Jr.
Harrison capitalized on Still’s absence after a quiet opening frame. The 6-foot-4 receiver hauled in five of McCord’s six second quarter completions, including a 58-yard strike as Harrison blew past Sheppard. The pair linked again for 19 yards on the next play, eventually setting up a 36-yard field goal for Ohio State’s first points.
“We [were] kinda going through a tough offensive stretch where we weren’t really moving the ball,” Harrison said. “The team counts on me to make big plays, especially explosive plays to help at least put the team in field goal position or a chance to score. That’s what I tried to do.”
Harrison corralled six passes on ten targets for 109 yards in the first half. The rest of the Buckeyes combined for 17 yards on two catches.
“We know how talented he was and for a guy like him to still find a way to make plays … that’s the part that shows up that we’ve got to get corrected,” Locksley said.
The Terps’ defense limited Harrison to just two catches in the second half as McCord diversified his targets. As Maryland’s coverage honed in on Harrison, the rest of Ohio State’s weapons shined.
Harrison induced a Coley pass interference penalty on the Buckeyes’ first offensive play of the third quarter, which set up 19 and 37-yard completions to Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming respectively on the Buckeyes’ game-tying touchdown drive.
A pivotal play in the game came early in the fourth quarter when Ohio State faced a second-and-33 from its own 34-yard line. McCord delivered an accurate back-shoulder toss to Harrison along the sideline. He corralled the ball and dragged his right foot in bounds for an enormous 37-yard catch and a first down.
Tight end Cade Stover roamed free past the Terps’ defenders for an easy 44-yard touchdown on the next play.
Locksley tried a mix of bracket coverage and Cover 2 to slow down Harrison, the coach said. Neither worked.
“I had one-on-one matchups in the second half that I wasn’t really getting in the first half,” Harrison said. “They played a lot of zone, in the second half they took the risk playing one-on-one with me and the rest of the receivers and we made them pay for it.”
The receiver’s first score of his impressive day punctuated Maryland’s loss, a game in which a diminished Terps secondary succumbed to one of college football’s best pass catchers.
Harrison’s eight catches and 163 yards were both season highs, and his yards total was the third best of his career and the 10th time he surpassed 100.
“The way you structure things is to take away the good players,” Locksley said. “Today, he made a bunch of plays that I would have hoped we would have been better at.”