No. 1 Ohio State struggles then shakes off Maryland

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Still unbeaten, still underwhelming. Ohio State didn’t do much to quiet the critics who argue it shouldn’t be No. 1.

Cardale Jones threw two touchdown passes, J.T. Barrett scored three times and the top-ranked Buckeyes, who haven’t met enormous expectations this season, pulled away in the second half for a 49-28 win over Maryland on Saturday.

Ezekiel Elliott had two touchdowns for the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten), who were tied 21-21 in the third quarter before shaking free of the Terrapins (2-4, 0-2) and extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 19. Ohio State has won 26 straight regular-season conference games, but again struggled against a huge underdog.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer juggled his quarterbacks, using Jones to start drives and Barrett to finish them. Jones threw a 19-yard TD pass to Braxton Miller and connected on a 48-yarder to Jalin Marshall.

Outscored 73-6 the past two weeks, the Terrapins put up a fight amid speculation about coach Randy Edsall’s future.

Maryland quarterback Perry Hills ran for 170 yards and two TDs.

After needing a last-second defensive stop to survive a scare in their conference opener at Indiana last week, the Buckeyes figured to get themselves straightened out against the Terrapins, who were coming off a shutout at home against Michigan and were having to address Edsall’s job security.

But Ohio State showed some familiar flaws: a defense susceptible to big plays, an inconsistent offensive line and a two-QB system that grows more complicated as the season progresses. For three quarters, the Buckeyes didn’t look like the nation’s best team before a homecoming crowd expecting better.

The defending national champions began the season as a unanimous No. 1 in the AP poll, but the Buckeyes have steadily lost first-place votes and could drop a few more.

This wasn’t supposed to be so difficult against a reeling Maryland team, but Ohio State found itself tied 21-all through the third quarter. However, after the Buckeyes’ defense forced a punt, Jones connected with a wide-open Marshall and the Buckeyes scored 28 unanswered points before the Terps got a TD in the final minute.

If Edsall wanted to impress upon his bosses that he should stay, Maryland’s players provided a pretty good argument.

The Terrapins jumped to a 7-0 lead and were within 21-14 at halftime, a stunning performance that had to please Edsall, who got a lukewarm statement of support from the school earlier in the week.

But any thoughts of an upset were ended by Ohio State’s flurry, helped by two interceptions thrown by Hills.

With Ohio State having red-zone issues, Meyer hinted he might use both his quarterbacks on drives with Barrett replacing Jones when the Buckeyes drove inside the opponent’s 20. It’s a scheme Meyer used with great success when he was at Florida.

Meyer didn’t wait long to rotate his QBs, pulling Jones on Ohio State’s second possession. Barrett, who accounted for 45 TDs last season before breaking his leg, completed a 20-yard pass to Michael Thomas before scoring on a 3-yard run to tie it 7-7.

Jones didn’t look happy as he stood on the sideline with his hands on his hips. He was back behind center to start the next drive, but Meyer again turned things over to Barrett and Elliott scored on a 2-yard run to give the Buckeyes a 14-7 lead, allowing Ohio State’s usual crowd in excess of 100,000 to relax for a moment.

Jones then threw his TD pass to Miller to make it 21-7, and it appeared Ohio State would roll. But the Terps weren’t going into their shells and Hills, who started Maryland’s first two games before being benched broke loose on a 75-yard run and scored from 3 to make it 21-14 at half.

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