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Ohio State vs. Oklahoma 2016: Game preview, prediction, and 6 things to know

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Ohio State hits the road for the first time this season as they take on Oklahoma in one of college football’s marquee games of the early season

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After having their way with Bowling Green and Tulsa inside Ohio Stadium to start the season, Urban Meyer’s young Ohio State team will get their first true test of the season when they travel to Norman to take on Oklahoma tomorrow night. The Buckeyes got more of a challenge from the weather on Saturday than they did from their opponent, as they took down Tulsa 48-3. The Buckeyes used two interception returns for a touchdowns in the final 3:02 of the first half to build a 20-3 halftime lead. Ohio State would continue to add to the lead in the second half, and made it two straight games in which the defense didn’t allow a touchdown.

Ohio State will be looking to extend their school record 18-game winning streak in true road games, which is also the longest active streak among FBS schools. If they have designs on adding to the streak, the Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them against a Oklahoma team that rarely loses at home. Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma is 41-2 at home against non-conference opponents, and 97-8 overall at home. The average score in the 105 games under Bob Stoops is 42-16 in favor of the Sooners.

Saturday’s meeting will be just the third all-time between two of the most prestigious schools in college football history. All three meetings between the schools have seen both teams ranked inside the top-15 of the AP Poll, and this is the first time both haven’t been ranked inside the top-10. In 1977 in Columbus, the Sooners upended the Buckeyes 29-28, while Ohio State returned the favor 24-14 in Norman six years later. The two schools have also spent the most time as the AP’s top ranked team, with Ohio State sitting atop the rankings for 105 weeks and Oklahoma being ranked number one for 101 weeks.

After starting off the season with a 33-23 loss to Houston, Oklahoma was able to rebuild a little of their confidence with a 59-17 win over Louisiana-Monroe last week. By halftime the Sooners were already up 42-0, which meant they didn’t need quarterback Baker Mayfield to play in the second half. The redshirt junior threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of the blowout. The Sooners were able to combine Mayfield’s performance with some strong work on the ground. Joe Mixon rushed for 117 yards, marking his third career 100-yard game, and Samaje Perine rushed for two touchdowns.

Ohio State advantages

Joe. Touchdowns. Barrett. Oklahoma didn’t much success earlier this year when they tried to stop Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. While Ward Jr. has the ability to beat teams with his legs, he did most of the damage to the Oklahoma defense through the air, throwing for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Now Oklahoma has the task of trying to stop J.T. Barrett, who like Ward can beat teams in a number of ways. Not only has Barrett passed for six touchdowns this year, with all of those coming in the season opening win over Bowling Green, but he has also rushed for three touchdowns.

Barrett is going to keep Oklahoma’s defense guessing since if they key on him to run, he has the ability to find receivers like Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. But if Oklahoma sits back and tries to take away the pass, not only does Ohio State have Barrett in the running game, but they also have Mike Weber, who is averaging 114 yards per game on the ground in his first two college games.

Look for Meyer and Barrett to try and replicate what Houston head coach Tom Herman and Ward Jr. were able to do in Houston’s upset of Oklahoma a couple weeks ago. The scary thing is Ohio State has more weapons on offense than Houston does, so if Bob Stoops and his coaching staff aren’t able to fix what went wrong against the Cougars on defense, it could wind up being a long night for the Sooners.

Opportunity knocks. When Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, and Tyvis Powell all declared for the NFL Draft following last season there was a thought the Ohio State secondary would face some growing pains this season. So far those fears haven’t come to fruition. For the first time in school history, the Buckeyes have intercepted seven passes in their first two games, with three of those interceptions being returned for touchdowns. The secondary is a major reason why Ohio State’s defense has yet to give up an offensive touchdown this year.

There’s no doubt Ohio State will face a tougher test through the air against Baker Mayfield and the Sooners than what Bowling Green and Tulsa threw at them, but at least the young Buckeye secondary was able to get their feet wet against a couple teams who are able to spin it through the air. It would be a lot different if Ohio State had to try to stop Mayfield if it was the opening game of the season. At least with two games under their belt, Ohio State’s defensive backfield has gotten a chance to get comfortable with their assignments, as well as playing together.

What will be the deciding factor is how the Ohio State secondary responds when heading into a hostile environment. This will be the first road test for most of the Ohio State defensive backs not named Gareon Conley. Malik Hooker is tied for the national lead with three interceptions this year, while Marshon Lattimore was just named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his two interceptions against Bowling Green. Even though they have a tough task ahead of them, the Buckeye defensive backs are well-coached by Kerry Coombs and should be ready to challenge Baker Mayfield and the Sooners.

Urban sprawl. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been more matchups between Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops over the years. The only previous matchup between the two coaches came in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game where Meyer’s Florida Gators took down Stoops’ Sooners 24-14. Both coaches have registered over 150 wins in their head coaching career, and a combined seven appearances in national title games.

Not like Meyer needed any extra help, but his former offensive coordinator just took down Oklahoma a few weeks ago. Tom Herman led Houston to a 33-23 win over the Sooners, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Meyer was calling in a few favors and picking Herman’s brain a little more than normal about what might work against the Sooners. Add the talent the Buckeyes will field, along with a strong collection of assistant coaches, and Ohio State has the perfect recipe to leave Norman with a victory.

Not like Oklahoma’s home field advantage has been quite as vaunted as in years past. While Stoops has amassed an impressive home record, there have been some slip-ups in recent years. Six of Oklahoma’s eight home losses under Stoops have come since 2011, and in 2014 the Sooners lost three games at home. On the other hand, Ohio State hasn’t lost a true road game since Meyer took over as head coach. Something will have to give on Saturday night.

Oklahoma’s biggest advantages

The Sooner schooner. Ohio State will face a bit of a different challenge on Saturday night when they have to try and corral the Oklahoma rushing attack. With all that Baker Mayfield has done the last year and change for the Sooners it is easy to forget Oklahoma has Samaje Perine to lean on in the backfield if the passing game isn’t working. With how effective Mayfield has been for Oklahoma it seems like ages ago that Perine ran for a NCAA record 427 yards against Kansas in 2014. The now-junior ran for 1,713 and 21 yards in 2014 and followed that up with 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015.

2016 hasn’t quite been the same story so far for Perine, as he was limited to just 31 yards on six carries in the loss to Houston. Perine was banged up against the Cougars, and when he did return to the game the Sooners were forced to try and do most of their work through the air because of the deficit they faced. Last week Perine rushed for just 58 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, but Oklahoma didn’t need as much from him since they jumped out to such a huge lead.

Another reason the Sooners didn’t need Perine as much against Louisiana-Monroe was because of the performance of Mixon. Last year Mixon complimented Perine with 753 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and last week the sophomore rushed for 117 yards on 14 carries. The ability of Oklahoma to rush the football means the Buckeyes can’t sell out to try and stop Baker Mayfield. Ohio State will need their young front-seven to be more alert against the run this week than they were against Bowling Green and Tulsa, two teams who like to do most of their work through the air.

The master Baker. Much like how the Buckeyes go as J.T. Barrett goes, the Sooners are the same way with Baker Mayfield. After transferring from Texas Tech, Mayfield had a season to remember as he led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. Mayfield’s 3,700 yards passing and 44 total touchdowns earned him a trip to New York where he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Even though Mayfield lost last year’s favorite target Sterling Shepard to the NFL, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have dangerous receivers to throw to. Last year Dede Westbrook provided a fine compliment to Shepard, hauling in 46 catches for 743 yards and four touchdowns. So far this year Westbrook has 12 catches for just over 100 yards.

Also, tight end Mark Andrews is somebody the Buckeyes will have to keep a close eye on, especially inside the red zone. As a redshirt freshman, Andrews caught 19 passes with seven of them going for touchdowns. This year Andrews is bettering that pace, with three of his five receptions making it to the end zone. For such a big target, Andrews can get down the field, as evidenced by his 64-yard touchdown against Houston earlier this year.

If the Buckeyes don’t get pressure in Mayfield’s face early and often they could be in trouble since it’s so hard to get Mayfield to make mistake. The junior hasn’t thrown an interception this season, and only had seven all of last year. With his ability to extend plays with his legs, Ohio State can’t afford to take a play off.

Do or die. In the first two years of the College Football Playoff both of these schools have been able to survive an early season loss to make it to the playoff. Last year the Sooners fell to Texas in the Red River Rivalry, the Sooners scored at least 30 points in each of their final seven regular season games. The only one of those games that was decided by less than double-digits was the 30-29 win over TCU in late November.

This year Oklahoma has even less room for error after losing to Houston in College Football’s opening weekend. Now any loss the rest of the year will likely eliminate the Sooners from playoff contention. Because of the threat of this, we could see Oklahoma play one of two ways. Either they come out tight, knowing that even the smallest mistake could end their season. Or they could play loose, know they have survived an early loss before to make the playoff before, so why can’t they do it again?

Since the Sooners have been in this position before and have a lot of the same talent from last year returning, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them replicate what they did last year. Then again, their remaining schedule this year is a lot more difficult than what they had in front of them last season. With the home field and the veteran leadership they have at quarterback, Ohio State will certainly get Oklahoma’s best shot on Saturday night.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Oklahoma 38, Ohio State 33

Win Probability: Oklahoma 61%

If the numbers are any indicator, anybody tuning in on Saturday night should see a tremendous football game. The quarterback battle between J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield is going to be fun to watch, and the smallest mistake by either team will likely be the deciding factor in the game.

Even though Urban Meyer’s Ohio State teams have been outstanding on the road, the numbers have Oklahoma adding to their dominant home record under Bob Stoops. The biggest difference between the two teams will likely be in the youth Ohio State has. With this being the first true road game for a lot of the starters, Oklahoma seems a little more likely to come out on top.