After an off-season that saw a mass talent exodus from Columbus to the NFL, to have the Ohio State offense open the 2016 season with 1,193 yards and over 100 points in the first two games is a bit of a surprise given their early season struggles in recent years. However, what is not a surprise, is that this success has quickly inflated Buckeye fans’ expectations for the team.
That renewed optimism was buoyed by an Oklahoma opening week loss to now-sixth ranked Houston, a team led by former OSU Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman. Coming into the year, the Sooners represented a formidable early season road challenge for the inexperienced Buckeyes, and while one loss makes them no less formidable, the level of dread among the Ohio State fandom has rescinded quite a bit.
Aiding in that calming is the closeness between Herman’s program and Urban Meyer’s. While the Cougars don’t run the exact same offense that the Buckeyes do, nor do they have the same highly-recruited talent, many of the fundamental principles are the same. Meyer also said in his Monday press conference that his former OC did give the Buckeye staff some insights into the Sooners personnel after their Week 1 win.
In analyzing the Houston-Oklahoma game film, Meyer noted that the OU offensive line dominated the trenches, and that the Cougars offense was successful not by methodically dismantling the Sooner defense, but instead by capitalizing on big passes downfield. For those reasons, wide receiver Noah Brown is this week’s offensive player to watch for the Buckeyes.
Name: Noah Brown
Position: Wide Receiver
Year: Third-year sophomore
Weight: 218 lbs.
In the Ohio State offense, Noah Brown primarily lines up at the split end position, also known as the X-wide receiver. Since this position generally lines up on the line of scrimmage, Brown must use his strength and speed to separate from a jamming cornerback to work down field.
Brown is coming off of a broken leg suffered in the last week of practice before the 2015 season, and while he might not yet be back at full speed, he is likely No. 3 Ohio State’s best option to stretch the field vertically against 14th-ranked Oklahoma.
So far this season, however, Brown has yet to make a major statistical impact. He has just four catches through two games for 62 yards and a touchdown. While that averages out to a solid 15.5 yards per catch, if the Sooners’ line is able to control the running game as it did against Houston, Brown and fellow receivers Parris Campbell, Corey Smith, Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin will need to provide enough of a down-field threat to open up lanes for the Buckeyes’ talented H-backs, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson.
In their season-opening loss to Houston, the Sooners impressively allowed only 89 rushing yards on 40 attempts, however, they conversely gave up 321 passing yards on 23 completions, including two touchdowns, to Cougars’ quarterback Greg Ward Jr. While Ohio State’s unique backfield of Mike Weber, Samuel, Wilson, et al. very well could produce more on the ground than Houston did, Meyer believes that running on the Sooners will be difficult.
Oklahoma’s gargantuan defensive line kept dual-threat QB Ward Jr. contained on the ground, forcing him to beat them through the air, which he often did. Despite stifling UH’s attempts to run the ball, Oklahoma’s defense was unable to get off the field, even when down and distance were in in their favor.
On third down, Ward Jr. completed nine of his 11 attempts for 145 yards, and eight first downs, often at the expense of senior Sooner cornerback Dakota Austin.
Austin has started on the field side in the Sooners’ first two games, and would be lined up with Brown if that continues on Saturday. However, his play has yet to engender the confidence of either fans or coaches.
This past Saturday, OU played its second team, on both sides of the ball, for nearly all of the second half against the University of Louisiana-Monroe, allowing their highly-touted young DBs to get crucial game experience, something that could come into play this weekend.
Head coach Bob Stoops said in his Monday press conference that the upcoming week of practice will determine playing time against the Buckeyes for his DBs. Whether it is upperclassmen like Austin and junior Jordan Thomas, or the more inexperienced players, they will likely need to have a far better performance against Ohio State than they’ve had the first two weeks if they want to have any chance to win.
In two games, the Sooners have allowed 593 passing yards and have yet to record their first interception of the season.
What to watch for
Given the early reliance on the H-backs in the Buckeye passing game, you shouldn’t expect that focus to change against the Sooners; Samuel leads the team with 14 receptions for 239 yards and two TDs, followed by Wilson, who has 75 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.
While Meyer and the offensive coaching staff would love to see more from the wide receivers, the production of Brown and company is about more than just statistical results. If quarterback J.T. Barrett is able to connect with his receivers, especially down field, that will create more room for Ohio State’s other skill players to operate.
However, fringe benefits aside, if the Buckeye offense is going to reach its explosive potential, they must be able to recreate some of the vertical firepower that they had in recent years with the likes of Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, and Evan Spencer.
If OU corner Dakota Austin lines up one-on-one with Brown, the OSU receiver will have a considerable size advantage, standing three inches taller and weighing 55 pounds more. That size and strength differential could play a role in jump balls down the field.
Meyer specifically noted that back-shoulder throws and isolation routes were especially successful for Houston against Oklahoma, so if Barrett sees that match up on the outside, expect the pass to go Brown’s way, where his athleticism should take over, as it did on this catch against Bowling Green.