In case you haven’t heard, “Big Game Bob” is no longer the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. For all intents and purposes, this is good news for Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Bob Stoops won 10 or more games in 14 of his 18 seasons as the Sooners’ head coach and oversaw some of the best offenses the nation had to offer.
Similar to the Tom Herman - Urban Meyer dynamic, Stoops wasn’t always the sole mastermind behind the Sooners’ offensive plans. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel worked as Oklahoma’s playcaller from 2011 to 2014 before Lincoln Riley replaced him following a disappointing 8-5 season that saw Oklahoma score just six points against Clemson in an embarrassing 34-point blowout in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Man, getting blown out by Clemson after a poor offensive performance seems terrible. Could you even imagine? I can’t.
Riley has been nothing short of remarkable since seizing control of the Sooners’ offense: He’s spearheaded consecutive top-five scoring offenses and scored at least 30 points in 22 of his 26 games.
Of course, one of those poor offensive performances came at the hands of the Silver Bullets. In case you forgot, here are some of the takeaways from that defensive performance:
- Ohio State allowed their first offensive touchdown of the season. BUT, thanks to a Jerome Baker pick-six, the Silver Bullets were still up 24 to 23 against the offenses from Bowling Green, Tulsa and Oklahoma.
- Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine (the all-time single game rushing leader) had averaged 112 yards on 18 carries with 1.4 touchdowns per game in his career. Against Ohio State he had 60 yards on 17 carries and zero touchdowns, an average of just 3.5 yards per carry.
- Baker Mayfield had a historic performance on Saturday. He set several single-game career lows including: third-lowest completion percentage, most interceptions, second-lowest quarterback rating and the second-lowest yards per attempt average.
As Mayfield said himself, “We got our asses kicked.”
Of course, plenty has changed since these two teams met in Norman last fall. Let’s take a look at some of the early questions for this likely top-10 matchup.
Can Ohio State make life hell for Baker Mayfield again?
Mayfield has had an overwhelmingly successful collegiate career that’s seen him transfer from Texas Tech and work his way to a third-place finish in the 2016 Heisman voting. Still, he struggled mightily against the Buckeyes, getting sacked three times while tossing two interceptions. It’s really hard to understate how much trouble the Sooners had throwing the football:
- Mayfield averaged 7.06 yards per pass attempt — his worst average of the season by 2.07 yards.
- It was Mayfield’s only game in which he completed less than 60 percent of his passes. In fact, his mark of 53.1 percent was the fourth-worst completion percentage of Mayfield’s 34-game career.
This isn’t to say the Sooners’ offensive woes were all Mayfield’s fault. Ohio State regularly got pressure on him all night with just three men, allowing them to spy Mayfield and still blanket Oklahoma’s receivers with seven defensive backs:
Mayfield is a great quarterback that thrives when a play breaks down, but the Buckeyes continuously made him work for every throw and managed to eliminate his scrambling ability with Jerome Baker. If Oklahoma once again struggles with (literally the identical) Ohio State defensive line, the Sooners’ offense could once again be in for a long night.
Can the Sooners get anything out of their playmakers?
I wish I could be more specific about who their playmakers are, but top-talents Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon, and Dede Westbrook have all made their way to the NFL. Of course, the Sooners will never be at a loss of offensive talent and they’ll likely have worthy replacements.
But can these replacements do more than their past teammates? Ohio State managed to completely shut down Mayfield’s top-three weapons last season:
- Mixon gained just 93 yards combined on the ground and through the air — his second-lowest mark of the season. He did have an electric 97-yard kickoff return (reminder: Oklahoma’s offense actually only scored 17 points on Ohio State’s defense).
- Perine averaged a season-low 3.5 yards per carry and broke exactly one run for longer than 10 yards.
- Westbrook's 51 receiving yards were his second fewest of the season. It would be only the third game all season he failed to score a touchdown.
A lot of these problems came from the Sooners’ receiver’s inability to break free from man coverage. Ohio State was able to focus on the run game with their front-seven and allow their defensive backs to take away all potential weapons:
It’s unclear if the Buckeyes will have the best secondary in the country again, but either way the Sooners’ playmakers will need to win more one-on-one matchups this time around to put some points on the board.
Can the Oklahoma offensive line give this offense a chance to succeed?
Ohio State’s defensive line regularly pressured Mayfield, but losing pass-rush battles was far from the only problem this unit faced. Perine couldn’t find anywhere to run, while other times the offensive line failed to properly identify where pressure was coming from:
It’d be surprising if Ohio State’s nickel defense gives the Sooners so many problems again this season, but it’d also be surprising if Greg Schiano and company don’t have a few new exotic blitzes up their sleeves. Ohio State’s defense is difficult enough to navigate with great offensive execution; the Sooners can’t expect to walk into Columbus and win making as many mental mistakes as they did last season.
I’m in the camp that thinks the Sooners won’t suffer much of a drop off from Stoops to Reilly. Oklahoma has relied on out-scoring opponents for years and that won’t change with the elevation of their offensive coordinator to head coach. Oklahoma has the talent — and most importantly the quarterback — to cause problems for the Buckeyes’ defense, but can they get better execution from both their playmakers and offensive line?
September 9th can't get here soon enough.