The Maryland student section clears out during the fourth quarter of the 52-24 loss to the 20th-ranked Buckeyes. The game drew the first sellout crowd to Byrd Stadium since 2008. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Reality began to set in early in the third quarter, when most of Maryland’s student section decided they had better things to do. They had arrived three hours earlier to be a part of the first sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium in six years, to witness what some were calling the biggest game in school history.

The team’s Big Ten home debut, against No. 20 Ohio State, went quickly from thrilling to humbling. For all the pageantry associated with Saturday’s affair, Maryland vowed not to lay out the red carpet for one of the league’s legacy programs. But it never contended in a 52-24 loss, a somber conclusion to a day that began with such promise.

“It’s painful,” Maryland running back Brandon Ross said. “It’s not a good loss, but we still have everything we want to do in front of us.”

In front of Maryland (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is an arduous stretch. It entered Saturday’s game with wide-eyed ambition, hoping to position itself as a contender in the Big Ten East division and create a special memory. Instead, Maryland got a sour first taste of the league’s upper crust. After a much needed bye, the Terrapins will host Iowa, followed by trips to Wisconsin and Penn State.

Then Michigan State visits in November. Where Maryland fits in with those teams is the central narrative of its first season in the league.

“We found out today that Ohio State is a very good football team,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said. “That’s the standard that we are going to have to reach here at Maryland. We are prepared to do that.”

Edsall had highlighted Ohio State’s caliber of talent earlier this week. The Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0) proved superior on both sides of the ball Saturday. Ohio State scored touchdowns on three of its first four drives, including a 25-yard pass from freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett to Michael Thomas to make it 21-3 early in the second quarter.

Ohio State received outstanding quarterback play from Barrett, a freshman who finished 18-of-23 passing for 267 yards and four touchdowns. The Buckeyes racked up 533 yards of total offense and ran circles around Maryland’s defense for much of the day.

“We’re not in this for moral victories,” Maryland cornerback Jeremiah Johnson said. “Any time you have to come to the locker room and receive a speech after a loss, it’s tough.”

There was a heightened level of suspense surrounding the team’s quarterback situation heading into the game — C.J. Brown was a game-time decision after suffering a sprained left wrist in last week’s win over Indiana — but the sixth-year senior started the game with a black wrap on his non-throwing wrist and tried to keep pace with Barrett.

It didn’t work. Brown missed open receivers early, and he was leveled several times by an Ohio State line led by 6-foot-5, 278-pound bull Joey Bosa, who had 21 / 2 tackles for loss and was a menace in the Maryland backfield.

Brown engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Wes Brown to make it 24-10 late in the second quarter. And the Terrapins had their best defensive stop of the first half on the ensuing drive, forcing Ohio State to go three and out.

That was about as animated as Byrd Stadium was going to get, though, because a moment later Brown threw a wobbly ball into coverage that was picked off deep inside Maryland territory.

Brown walked back to the sideline with his head bowed, and Barrett threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Nick Vannett on the ensuing play to make it 31-10 right before the half. Brown was benched in the second half in favor of Caleb Rowe, who finished 13 of 22 for 173 yards with three interceptions and a touchdown; one interception was returned for a score in the fourth quarter. Brown completed 11 of 18 passes for 71 yards, and was held to minus-three yards rushing on eight carries.

“It’s good to have a bye week this week, and then we can just get things going again,” Rowe said.

After Rowe’s third-quarter interception, Barrett needed just four plays to put the win on ice, culminating with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith that triggered a mass exodus of students. That play was set up with a difficult throw in traffic to tight end Jeff Heuerman, who fully extended over Maryland linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil for a 28-yard gain.

Earlier in the week, Heuerman had made some telling comments to Ohio State media about how the Buckeyes planned to greet the Terps. “We’re going to welcome them to the Big Ten.”

It turned out to be prophetic.