Welcome to I Got Five on it, where last week I wondered how J.K. Dobbins would do in his first collegiate game (pretty well, it turns out), waxed poetic about the depth of the defensive line (they are the truth), proclaimed that Robert Landers is on the verge on stardom (IT SHOULD HAVE COUNTED), and other fun things.
This week, I’m back with five more things to watch for, as the Oklahoma Sooners come to Columbus for a top-five showdown with Ohio State, this time with significantly less quotable material from their backup quarterback:
As fate would have it, OU hasn’t lost since then —their 11-game win streak is the nation’s longest— and they’re looking to avenge the loss that ultimately cost them a shot at last year’s College Football Playoff.
All-World quarterback Baker Mayfield is back in Norman, and if his opening line versus UTEP last week is any indication —19-20 passing, 329 yards and three touchdowns— OU’s offense will be as explosive as ever, despite the loss of Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, and Dede Westbrook.
The biggest news for OU this offseason was legendary Head Coach Bob Stoops’ decision to retire, seemingly out of nowhere. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley takes over, and if you ask Urban Meyer, not much is going to change. Riley passed his first test in the Sooners 56-7 win over the Miners, but facing a No. 2 ranked Meyer team on the road is a hell of a task in your second game as a Head Coach.
With all that in mind, here are five things to watch for as Ohio State takes on Oklahoma:
Noah Brown’s four touchdowns got all the headlines last year, but where Ohio State really torched OU was on the ground. The Buckeyes rolled up 291 yards rushing, using a inside-outside attack with Curtis Samuel, Mike Weber, and J.T. Barrett all getting in on the fun:
Samuel’s no longer a Buckeye, but J.K. Dobbins already looks like That Dude™, and with Weber’s return from injury, plus Barrett’s ability to bludgeon when needed, Ohio State might have the most devastating three-headed ground attack since Dugtrio:
Dobbins will start, but it will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson divies up carries early on. How often will Dobbins and Weber be on the field at the same time? Will Weber be used more in short yardage situations? Either way, their contrasting running styles give Ohio State the ability to attack OU on the ground in different ways. If the Buckeyes build a lead into the second half, expect them to wear down the Sooners’ defense just like they did last year.
Success running the ball will be key because duh, obviously, but also because it looks like #Zone6 still enjoys feeling defensive backs attached to their hips way too much. Buckeye receivers had a tough time shaking coverage in the first half last week, which was a story we saw far too often last season.
Things opened up in the second half as the Buckeyes worked the middle of the field to create mismatches, and give their top-notch athletes needed room to use their speed.
Generating deep passing plays is still an issue, but a ‘throw the ball to the really fast dude and let him run’ strategy isn’t the worst fallback option.
OU has some nice pieces in its secondary, but it shouldn’t be impossible for Ohio State receivers to find adequate room, especially if the run game is working well. If they’re able to do so, this offense can reach the next level its been grasping at for the past two seasons.
In case you weren’t aware, J.T. Barrett is three touchdowns away from breaking Drew Brees’ conference record for career touchdowns responsible for. Disregarding how Big Ten it is to have a touchdown record from the 1990’s still standing, it’s going to be a great moment for the Barrett, and the program.
Weber’s return probably means less of Barrett’s running the ball (praying hands emoji), but if the run game opens up enough for the receivers, he has a good chance at breaking the record through the air against an OU defense he threw four touchdowns on last year.
Barring injury, Barrett is going to end up responsible for 135 or so touchdowns in his career by the end of the season, and there isn’t anyone in the Big Ten at the moment who will make a run at that new mark. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing with Barrett, but he’s undoubtedly had a hell of a career in Columbus, with possibly the best yet to come.
In the middle
Indiana’s decision to throw the ball almost exclusively outside the numbers and disregard the run, left Ohio State’s linebackers and safeties without the opportunity to make a lot of plays. That won’t be the case against OU.
The Sooners thrive in the middle of the field, and the biggest matchup of the game might be how Ohio State defends tight end/wide receiver/cyborg Mark Andrews:
Andrews is every talking head’s NFL Draft cliche about modern tight ends come to life. He’s too big for defensive backs, too fast for linebackers, and has plenty of athleticism. It’s not like Ohio State is at a lack for athletes at either position, but limiting Andrews’ production is probably priority number one, at least through the air.
Yeah, I know that you’re sick of seeing it. Ohio State’s goose egg in last year’s playoff semifinal became a running meme that continued last week when Clemson’s marching band threw down this vicious tomahawk dunk on the Buckeyes, and got a good laugh from us in the process. Despite dropping 49 points against Indiana, a primetime matchup with OU is the perfect setting to put what happened against Clemson to rest.
(Also, controversial take: If you’re still upset at people making fun of Ohio State getting pantsed on a national stage, maybe college football isn’t for you ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Based off the IU game, passing the ball is still a work in progress. There are options at receiver, but is there a deep threat? Has Barrett’s accuracy downfield improved? Do we really know about the offensive line yet? What will happen when they play a top-flight defense?
We’ve seen this before. Once upon a time, Ohio State couldn’t win big games, until they did. They couldn’t hang with SEC Speed™ until they could. Until Ohio State’s offense shows up against a top-tier opponent, the memory of their dud against Clemson will stick in the public’s eye. A good performance tomorrow from Barrett and co. won’t change what happened against the Tigers, but it’s a great opportunity to put it in the rear view for good.