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New faces are no cause for concern for Ohio State

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Yeah, they are that good.

Ohio State v Oklahoma Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

“A 45-24 victory against Oklahoma served mostly as an introduction: Meet the new Buckeyes, same as the old Buckeyes--unless maybe they’re better.”

-George Schroeder, USA TODAY Sports

Any doubts about the unproven talent on the Ohio State Buckeyes squad have been officially nullified after an electric performance by many of the Buckeyes’ young stars on both sides of the ball, but perhaps none more so than sophomore receiver Noah Brown, who was expected to be a standout receiver last season prior to breaking his leg in fall camp. Brown’s four touchdown passes tie him for first all-time at Ohio State for receiving touchdowns in a single game, along with Dane Sanzenbacher, Terry Glenn and Bob Grimes, and his over-the-back touchdown catch Saturday is almost assuredly going to be one of the best catches of the 2016 season.

Alongside Brown, junior H back Curtis Samuel continued to deliver on what we saw in the first two games of the season, adding 98 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 20 yards receiving to his total.

But Brown and Samuel at least had seen the field prior to this season. Samuel backed Ezekiel Elliott for the last two seasons, and Brown caught a single pass in 2014 for nine yards against Illinois. However, the same cannot be said for all of the players in the roster. Of the 74 players who traveled to Norman for Saturday’s matchup, 30 were either redshirt or true freshmen last season. And while the team’s victories over Bowling Green and Tulsa were decisive, questions remained about how the group would react when faced with a quality opponent.

Now, however, the Buckeyes have defeated an Oklahoma team which was no doubt overrated prior to the start of the season, but still returns many of the key pieces of its playoff-contending squad from 2015. The disparity in talent was readily apparent Saturday, and evidence of Urban Meyer’s legendary recruiting prowess, enabling the Buckeyes to reload each season rather than rebuild on off-years.

“The Punter from Down Under averaged 50.6 yards per punt and allowed zero return yards on the night.”

-D.J. Byrnes, Eleven Warriors

Several Buckeyes have earned weekly honors following Ohio State’s decimation of Oklahoma Saturday, including Australian senior punter Cameron Johnston, who was named the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week. Johnston averaged 50.6 yards on five punts on the night, including a 68-yard effort following Ohio State’s first possession, which pinned the Sooners down at their own 11-yard line. All of Johnston’s punts landed inside of Oklahoma’s 20, providing a critical field position advantage for the Buckeyes as the Sooners started their drives at their own 11, 14, 12 10 and 1 yard lines following an Ohio State punt. Johnston, who has already graduated from Ohio State, currently leads the Big Ten in punting and is second in the NCAA. Last season, Johnston finished second in the conference with a 43.9 yard average on his way to being named a Ray Guy Award semifinalist for the second consecutive year. Johnston was also listed on this year’s preseason watch list for the award.

Alongside Johnston, junior quarterback J.T. Barrett was named to the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award Great 8 list following his four-touchdown performance Saturday (Noah Brown earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, having caught all four of Barrett’s touchdown passes). Barrett had 152 yards through the air on 14 completions and 74 yards on the ground as he led the Buckeyes to 3-0 in Norman. Barrett now has 10 passing touchdowns on the season, which is just one score shy of last year’s mark, with just one interception. He has also rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns so far this year.

“We want to take the approach that we want to get better every week. Once we get rolling, I feel like we’re going to be pretty damn good.”

-Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, via Brian Bennett, ESPN

As impressive as Ohio State has been thus far this year, the even more impressive thing is that they still have a lot of room to grow and improve throughout the remainder of the 2016 season. While some expected the matchup against Oklahoma to be a wake up call for the young team, many of whom were playing away from home for the first time in one of the toughest venues in college football, the Buckeyes showed few signs of weakness, earning one of the most impressive road wins this season in Norman.

The Buckeyes did not allow a single offensive touchdown this season until well into the first quarter Saturday. Already, Ohio State has outscored its opponents a whopping 170-37, including four touchdowns on defense on nine total interceptions--all against teams ranking in the top 25 FBS for total offense in 2015. The defensive secondary has been especially surprising. After losing Eli Apple, Darron Lee and Tyvis Powell to the NFL, Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and Damon Webb have been outstanding against the pass. And it turns out that this group is deeper than expected. After the loss of cornerback Gareon Conley--the only returning starter from 2015 in the unit--Denzel Ward proved he was more than up to the task.

And they are still learning.

The few errors noted on offense, including receivers lining up in the wrong formation, false starts and delay of game penalties, are sure to improve as the season goes on and the inexperienced units continue to gel, especially with the upcoming bye week.

With the win over Oklahoma, Ohio State now has a 20.6 percent probability of winning out the season, behind only Alabama. Despite tough tests against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan at the tail end of the season, the Buckeyes can continue to build on their impressive start and improve even more throughout conference play.

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