The Ohio State Buckeyes had some pretty valid reasons to be second guessed heading into their game-of-the-century-of-the-week vs. the then No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners.
Sure, the Sooners had been upset on the road at a “neutral” site against former OSU OC Tom Herman and the Houston Cougars just two weeks earlier, but sometimes good teams losing weeks before they’re potentially supposed to can light a fire.
From a less intangible, more football-centric vantage, Oklahoma had been a beast against the run. The Sooners’ ranked third against rushing success rate allowed after completely bottling up Houston and UL Monroe.
Sooner running backs Samaje Perin and Joe Mixon had been a bit under utilized during the first two weeks of the season. A season after looking like the future of the OU offense, we were all left to wonder how many touches they’d see on an offense that’d been heavily reliant on QB Baker Mayfield.
With OSU, despite defensive excellence overall, having been a bit touch-and-go against the pass against their first two opponents, would Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley reestablishing the run only further exasperate some of the coverage issues OSU had flashed against Bowling Green and Tulsa?
And then there was the Bucks’ lack of battle-testedness. Could the most inexperienced team in the country weather — initially figuratively and ultimately literally — the storm on the road in a hostile environment against a perennial Big 12 title contender in their toughest test to date?
Urban Meyer’s ‘Baby Buckeyes’ answered that, in a contest Urban Meyer called postgame “the coming of age game”, with an emphatic “hell yes”.
1. Noah Brown, destroyer of worlds
OSU’s redshirt sophomore Noah Brown was originally intended to be the perfect compliment to now New Orleans Saints rookie Michael Thomas.
With Thomas the deep vertical threat, the thicker former high school running back Brown was built to play in the slot. He could take damage while also dishing it out.
As seemingly the entire Buckeye coaching staff (and roster) heaped praise onto what Brown was showing at practice heading into the 2015 season, fate intervened stole Brown’s sophomore season away from him.
Back from a broken leg, there’s no doubt Noah Brown is, well, back.
There’s zero doubt we won’t see his catch-of-the-season over-and-over-and-over for the better part of the next 11 months (if not longer).
Perhaps the sneaky best part of the play was at it was building, the default facial expression on OSU’s mascot, Brutus, pretty much foretold what we were all about to witness:
Brutus knew, y’all.
If having the play of the year to your name wasn’t enough, fresh off an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show with Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz, the once-and-future greatest rapper alive, Lil Wayne, even showed Brown some love:
Noah Brown #80 youza savage slime!!!! Lawwwwd!!!!— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) September 18, 2016
2. Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel don’t give a what
During OU’s first two contests of the 2016 season, Houston’s Duke Catalon and Louisiana-Monroe’s Ben Luckett combined to rush 32 times for 137 yards (or 4.3 yards per carry). The Buckeyes’ two headed monster of sophomore running back Mike Weber and junior H-back Curtis Samuel, at OU’s place underneath the lights on national television, got 29 carries for 221 yards (7.6 per carry).
Meyer’s spoken to the desire for 250-250 balance, a mix of 250 rushing yards to 250 passing yards, in recent weeks. But the Buckeyes didn’t need it against the Sooners.
The ground game would call it a night with 291 yards to the passing offense’s 152. That works out to the Buckeyes finishing the evening about 57 yards short of that magic 500, but given how much the Buckeyes were up by early, it’s not hard to see why they got away from going to the aerial attack.
Ed Warinner, Tim Beck, and Meyer will continue to go to what the opposition is giving them. If the situation dictates a slight deviation from script, expect them to seize the opportunity.
3. J.T. Barrett’s “shadow” Heisman campaign
Lamar Jackson’s getting all the early season hype and accolades, and it’s hard to find much fault with that.
Jackson’s essentially been Madden 04 Michael Vick through the first three weeks of the season. With the degree of difficulty turned upwards with then No. 2 Florida State coming to town, Jackson’s video game statistical showings were supposed to be curbed.
Better luck next time, Noles?
While Jackson’s unquestionably college football’s player of September, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett continues to quietly go about his business, showing the same excellence that saw him finish fifth in the Heisman voting after the 2014 season.
Barrett's statline was low key brilliant against the Sooners: 14-of-20 for 152 yards with 4 TDs. Barrett threw no interceptions and even only took one sack all evening. Add another 74 yards on the ground (4.4 per carry, designed or otherwise) and you’re talking a modest 200+ yard performance against a very legit OU D that as mentioned had been particularly stout against the run in their two tune up contests for Saturday’s prime time affair.
It’s not hard to imagine J.T. continuing his efficiency, leadership, and generally strong showings well into the season as some of the early season hype recipients return back to earth’s orbit.
Of course, you’re welcome to write Barrett off now if you wish, but that’s certainly none of his business:
4. Cameron Johnston, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year
Former Pitt/Miami Dolphins/Chicago Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt was trying to make a point during Saturday’s halftime show about the value of Aussie import senior Cameron Johnston.
Johnston flips the field at the turn of a rugby kick, and in big time football games with ‘title bout’ type feels, having a specialist capable of doing that can sometimes be the difference in the margins.
Wannstedt’s turn of phrase got a little out of control and he misspoke to a degree, but the resulting rant was one we can get behind:
Johnston finished the night with five punts (one a booming 68-yarder) for 253 total yards, good for an average of 50.6 per punt. Even more impressively, he dropped all five of them within the 20 yard line.
As Wannstedt said, he’s all but certain to be a Ray Guy finalist. But why stop there?
Of course, the possible individual praise and glory isn’t going to Johnston’s head. He’s all team:
5. Bulletin board material
Austin Kendall’s incredibly public self-Crying Jordan act is assuredly one no Ohio State (or Oklahoma fan, for that matter) will forget any time soon. After mouthing off on a local cable preview show and professing the Buckeyes defense to be “basic” and certain to be lit up by Baker Mayfield, the OSU defense punished his proxy Mayfield to the tune of two interceptions, one for six.
An emphatic, acrobatic dive by corner Marshon Lattimore even very nearly made that three picks on the night:
Replay review would say a late in the process bobble would turn that into an incompletion, but you couldn’t be faulted if you were Ohio State wide receiver coach Zach Smith and thought seriously about maybe inviting Lattimore to try out for his “Zone 6” receiver corp.
As for Kendall? Well, let’s just say it may be some time before a freshman quarterback is allowed anywhere near a live mic again:
6. The best being yet to come
It’s so easy to lose sight of, especially after last night’s national coming-out party, that this was supposed to be a rebuilding season for Ohio State. And as archrival Michigan’s window was supposed to be opening, as we saw a season ago, the gulf between the Buckeyes and Wolverines may still be fairly sizable.
If UM isn’t able to catch OSU in transition for a rare-in-the-series win over their rivals now, when will they?
Weird as it is to say such things about a program that’s already been so good, Ohio State’s best days are ahead of it. Prepare to get very annoyed.
Ohio State’s two-deep has more underclassmen than most fraternity pledge classes. Eleven starters and co-starters against Oklahoma were freshmen or sophomores, and just three were seniors. Even if several declare for the NFL early, tons of experienced talent will be back next year, and then that’s only the start of it.
In fairness, UM continues to quietly put together impressive showings against have-not opposition at home, and their schedule is such that there’s a very real chance they’re 11-0 heading to Columbus Thanksgiving weekend.
Even if these heretofore impressive Buckeyes slip up between now and then, you can expect The Game to be as hotly contested as ever.