When Maryland football defensive back Josh Woods saw Ohio State wide receiver Johnnie Dixon lined up close to the formation on a first-quarter third-and-4 Saturday, he anticipated a short route over the middle.
Sure enough, Dixon ran seven yards before turning back toward the line of scrimmage, prompting Woods to bolt forward from the secondary as Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett prepared to throw. But after stepping in front of Dixon, Woods failed to secure the interception, instead tipping the ball into the receiver's arms for what turned into a 35-yard catch and run.
On the sideline, defensive coordinator Andy Buh leapt in the air, believing for a moment his defense forced a turnover. His excitement dissipated as he watched Dixon set up a Buckeyes touchdown.
"The ball kind of got up on me quicker than I thought," Woods said. "That was something we watched in film. It was the perfect call against what they were doing. I just missed it."
While Maryland allowed 584 yards in its 62-14 defeat, Woods recovered from his misstep to set a career high in tackles (11) and force a fumble. The performance continued a series of impressive showings from the senior, who is on pace to shatter his single-season tackles mark established in 2016.
"He's someone that we've pointed out as a coaching staff for how well he's playing," coach DJ Durkin said. "He's in on a lot of plays, making a lot of tackles, and I think he's steadily, week to week, gotten a little better. And you see he's playing a lot more because of it."
Woods recorded 41 tackles in nine games on defense last year, but he failed to force a turnover. He said his inability to make big plays motivated him to improve this past offseason.
Despite a young group of emerging defensive backs on the roster, such as sophomore corner Tino Ellis and four-star freshman safety Markquese Bell, Woods has carved out a role on Maryland's defense. He's played every game this season and has forced turnovers in his past two contests.
"He's one of the most improved players on the roster," Buh said. "There was a lot of praise being given to some of the younger guys, and he fought through that, didn't flinch and kept just being consistent like a veteran guy should."
Buh didn't think Woods would've had the confidence to go for the early interception against Ohio State last year. So the coach lauded his aggressive jump on the ball despite the big Buckeyes gain.
Rather than moping after the missed opportunity, Woods said he entered a zone where he swarmed to the ball and racked up tackles. In the second quarter, with the Terps in need of a defensive stop, he jarred the ball loose from running back J.K. Dobbins to give the offense field position near the 50. Defensive lineman Chandler Burkett, who picked up the fumble, attributed the forced turnover to Woods' increased physical strength.
It was another play Woods might not have made a year ago. When the Baltimore native reviewed game film during the offseason, he lamented not capitalizing on his time on the field.
Woods' presence was unmistakable Saturday.
"He had a high amount of tackles, a high amount of production in that game … against a really good team," Buh said. "That's a feather in his cap and also something we can build on."