As the football season glides into Week 2, more showdowns between top ranked teams are on the slate this Saturday. The big one: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma.
With the Urban Meyer Monday press conference in the books, let’s break down the four biggest points the Buckeye coach made as his squad prepares for the primetime meeting with the Sooners.
1. “[J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber] will both play. We haven't figured the exact rotation. Mike had a good practice today. He went full speed today.”
After the first game of the season—or more specifically, first game of his OSU career— J.K. Dobbins has bursted onto the college football scene. Dobbins shattered the freshman debut rushing record for a Buckeye by amassing 181 yards in the Thursday night win against the Indiana Hoosiers.
While Dobbins was the sensation of the night, he was in the starting running back role due to Mike Weber recovering from a hamstring injury. In the press conference, Meyer said that Weber is ready to play in the Saturday meeting against OU.
This is good news if you are a fan of the Buckeye rushing game.
Last season, Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and started in 13 games for the Buckeyes. A powerful redshirt-freshman campaign made Weber the No. 1 guy in the RB department entering the 2017 season. However, with the emergence of Dobbins, a dilemma now must find a solution as the Scarlet and Gray take on the Crimson and Cream.
For opposing defenses, the suggestion of a rotation at RB would be a nightmare scenario. Dobbins proved that he can wear down defenses with his speed and carries. Against IU, Dobbins was handed the rock an impressive 29 times and averaged 6.2 yards per pop.
If Dobbins is used as the main guy for the Oklahoma game, then having Weber as the bruising, smash-right-into-you rusher will wear down the Sooner defense by the fourth quarter. Some programs are lucky to have one rusher that can make plays; Ohio State has two—and that’s not counting the playmaking ability of J.T. Barrett on the ground, when it’s needed.
Another primetime contest may bring out another prime performance from the Buckeye backfield.
2. “The obvious is we have to knock some balls down. The one thing about IU, that quarterback is extremely accurate. I said after the game, that's one of the most accurate games I've ever seen a quarterback play.”
The Buckeye pass defense got tested against Hoosier quarterback Richard Lagow. While Ohio State got the win, Lagow was still able to pick apart the OSU secondary. The final stats from Lagow: 410 yards on 40-of-65 passing, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Granted, Lagow threw an absurd amount of passes. On the other hand, that meant the passing game was working. Oklahoma has a QB that, arguably, is one of the best in the country. In the Sooners first game of the season against UTEP, Baker Mayfield completed his first 16 passes (an OU record), and ended the first half going 19-of-20 for 329 yards and three scores.
The deep ball also worked, as Mayfield connected on a 51-yard pass, and had nine other passes go for chunk yardage—a play that picks up more than 15 yards. From an accuracy standpoint, Mayfield has completed 74.4 percent of his throws over the last 11 games. To get that kind of completion percentage, it helps when you have receivers that can make plays, and against UTEP, they did just that.
OSU’s secondary will need to get some pass breakups against Mayfield and his receiving corps. The skill is there in the Buckeye defense, and flashes of it were shown last week. A goal line interception by Jordan Fuller and a late game pick by Denzel Ward shows that Defensive Back University still has a campus in Columbus, Ohio. However, giving up 400+ yard pass performances is not a good way to ensure wins in big games.
3. “Receiver's got to make plays for [Barrett], as well.”
Dropped passes and miscues on the receiving side of OSU’s offense popped up in the Week 1 win in Bloomington, Ind. The most notable of the drops was by Parris Campbell in the endzone. All teams face some kind of problem in the early stages of the season. For the elite programs, wrinkles tend to be ironed out as the season progresses, but these problems get amplified for the Buckeyes because they were problems that creeped up last season.
While Barrett shoulders some of the blame, you start to wonder that maybe he isn’t the one that should be deserving of the blame. Just this past week, Barrett took home one of the Big Ten Weekly Awards for his performance against the Hoosiers, and has constantly put up big numbers in big games. In last season’s meeting with Oklahoma, the Buckeye QB electrified the statbox with a four touchdown night, including a contender for catch of the year by Noah Brown.
The quarterback can only do so much. Barrett is an immensely talented college QB—and his trophy case proves that. But, for good passing performances, you need receivers that can catch the ball and make some plays. Against Indiana, that was on display as Johnnie Dixon and Parris Campbell broke off huge chunk plays for touchdowns in the third quarter. Both of them courtesy of Barrett’s arm.
This week, the Zone 6 rotation needs to keep mistakes to a minimum. Equally important, someone will have to make a big play. If both don’t happen, then the reliance to move the ball comes down on the rushing game. That’s not a bad thing, but the uneven approach (having a rushing attack with an ineffective passing attack) makes the Buckeyes too predictable.
4. “I know Coach Bob Stoops very well.. Yeah, it's going to be the same Oklahoma team.”
Bob Stoops is no longer on the sidelines for Oklahoma. While the visor may be in retirement, the spirit is still there. Lincoln Riley, the new OU coach, was promoted from within the Sooners’ coaching staff. Even though there’s a new coach, the culture and mechanics of operation stays the same.
In Monday’s presser, Meyer was asked if the preparation becomes harder because the coaching situation changed. His response was that it doesn’t. The coordinators are the same (Mike Stoops on defense, Bill Bedenbaugh on offense) for the Sooners, so don’t expect the game plan to change drastically.
The more things change, the more they stay same. That seems to be what’s happening with Oklahoma. If that statement does ring true, then expect the Buckeyes to rack up points on the scoreboard this Saturday night.