Ohio State opens up their home schedule tonight with a dandy, as the Buckeyes will be hosting the Oklahoma Sooners. Tonight’s matchup will mark the fourth time these two schools have met, and is the return matchup from last year’s contest in Norman, which Ohio State handily won 45-24.
Early on in last year’s contest it looked like the Buckeyes might have their hands full, as the Sooners drove down to Ohio State’s 10-yard line before missing a 27-yard field goal. While Ohio State couldn’t do much on their next possession, Cam Johnston turned the tide of the game with a 68-yard punt. Ohio State not only scored on four of their next five possessions before halftime, but they also added a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jerome Baker to put Oklahoma in a hole they wouldn’t be able to dig themselves out of.
The biggest story of the win over the Sooners for Ohio State was the play of Noah Brown, who tied a school record with four receiving touchdowns, with one of those being an improbable catch in the end zone right before halftime around the back of an Oklahoma defender. Brown finished the game with 72 yards receiving, which was nearly half of the 152 yards quarterback J.T. Barrett passed for in the victory.
Starting the season not only on the road, but with a conference game could have tripped up Ohio State, and early on it was looking like the Buckeyes would be in for another tough contest in Bloomington. Luckily the Buckeyes made the correct halftime adjustments, and had a lot easier time dealing with the Hoosiers in the second half. After Indiana had taken a 21-20 lead in the third quarter, Ohio State took the lead for good on a 74-yard touchdown catch by Parris Campbell. Ohio State would finish the game with 29 unanswered points.
Oklahoma had a much easier time with their opponent last week, crushing UTEP 56-7 in Norman. Baker Mayfield completed his first 16 pass attempts, and finished the first half completing 19 of his 20 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. With the game already out of hand, Mayfield didn’t need to play in the second half, which allowed Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray to get his first snaps under center for the Sooners.
Since losing to Ohio State last year, Oklahoma has rattled off 11 straight wins, including taking down Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. If the Sooners want to keep their winning streak going they’ll need some of their new starters on offense to step up. Against UTEP, Oklahoma had three players rush for over 50 yards, but they’ll need even more production out of the backfield to replace what running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon were able to do for them last season.
Ohio State’s biggest advantages
Trench warfare. Every week we could put Ohio state’s defensive line as one of the advantages of the Buckeyes, no matter who they are playing this year. Oklahoma has one of the best offensive lines in college football, and even that might not be enough to slow down the Buckeye defensive line.
Last week the Ohio State defensive line showed why they are garnering so much praise, as what they were able to do to Richard Lagow and the Hoosiers changed the game. Tyquan Lewis led the way with two sacks, which gives him 18.5 sacks in his career, moving him into Ohio State’s top 10 all-time. Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, and Jashon Cornell also registered a sack in the victory.
Even though Oklahoma’s offensive line is highly regarded, especially with preseason All-American Orlando Brown at left tackle, the Sooners won’t see a team with as much depth on their defensive line the rest of the year. If Ohio State is able to create consistent pressure, later in the game Oklahoma’s offensive line might not only wear down, but Baker Mayfield could make some mistakes that he might not normally be accustomed to. This could end up being a breakout game for Nick Bosa, as there isn’t any place better to announce your arrival as a dominant force on the defensive line than under the lights at Ohio Stadium.
The dynamic duo. Running the football has been the bread and butter of Urban Meyer’s Ohio State teams. This year was shaping up to be no different, and that was before true freshman J.K. Dobbins burst onto the scene last week. The running back reaped the benefits of Mike Weber’s hamstring injury, and all the Texas native did in his first game was break Maurice Clarett’s freshman school record for rushing yards in a debut.
Dobbins has already been named the starter for tonight’s game, but Oklahoma will also likely see a healthy dose of redshirt sophomore Mike Weber. Last year against the Sooners, Weber finished with 123 yards on 18 carries. Weber became just the third Buckeye to run for 1,000 yards as a freshman, and you know the running back from Detroit will be eager to show what he can bring to the table to try and win back some of the carries from Dobbins.
The combination of Dobbins’ speed and agility along with Weber’s power could be a little too much for the Sooners to handle. It isn’t like Oklahoma doesn’t have veteran talent in their front seven, Ohio State’s offensive line has the experience and talent to match what the Sooners have to offer.
Indiana was supposed to pose a tough defensive threat to the Buckeyes with the amount of returning starters, but eventually Ohio State figured out how to exploit the Indiana attack and it was tough to stop the Buckeyes once they got rolling. It could be a long night for the Sooners if Dobbins, Weber, and the rest of the Ohio State running attack finds success early on.
Squaring off with the king and his court. There is no question that head coach Lincoln Riley is one of college football’s rising stars at head coach. Riley’s potential at head coach is one of the reasons Bob Stoops felt comfortable stepping down as head coach of the Sooners when he did. Had Stoops not decided to retire, Riley more than likely would have taken a job as head coach at a Power 5 school in the next year or two.
Having said all that, Riley will have to try and match wits with one of the best head coaches college football has to offer tonight. Urban Meyer is 62-6 at Ohio State, and owns college football’s best active winning percentage at .851. Not only is Riley coaching in just his second game as head coach, he also is the youngest head coach in the FBS, having just celebrated his 34th birthday on Tuesday.
As if trying to win a chess match against Urban Meyer wasn’t enough, Riley will also have to worry about what former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson might try to do. Last week Wilson was able to earn some revenge on Indiana after the Hoosiers parted ways with him following the 2016 season, but now Wilson gets to try and defeat the school who employed him before he moved on to Indiana. Wilson doesn’t harbor nearly as much ill-will towards Oklahoma as he does Indiana, but you know he has had this game circled on his calendar since he joined Ohio State.
Oklahoma’s biggest advantages
Motivated Mayfield. After losing running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to the NFL, even more pressure will be placed on the arm and legs of Baker Mayfield. Luckily for Lincoln Riley and the Sooners, Mayfield welcomes the pressure that comes with being one of the most high-profile quarterbacks in college football.
The 226 yards Mayfield threw for last year against the Buckeyes was the quarterback’s second lowest output of the season, with Mayfield only throwing for less in a blowout win over West Virginia late in the season. Now after the poor showing against Ohio State last year, Mayfield will have some revenge on his mind as the Sooners visit Columbus.
Even though Mayfield did lose his favorite target from last year, Dede Westerbrook, there are still a couple of targets Ohio State’s secondary has to keep a close eye on. Mark Andrews is one of the best tight ends in the country, and all he does is score touchdowns. Andrews has scored a touchdown on 15 of his 57 career catches, with the 26.3% TD-to-catch ratio being the best amongst FBS receivers.
The Sooners also were able to pick up Kentucky graduate transfer Jeff Badet during the offseason. Last year Badet led the SEC with a 21.6 yards per reception average. Even though they’ll on be together in Norman for a short time, if Badet and Mayfield could put up big numbers if they are able to get comfortable with each other in the passing game early.
Dare to dream. Since losing to Ohio State last year, Oklahoma hasn’t lost a game, winning all 11 of the games they have played. Along with the 11 straight wins, the Sooners have also won 11 straight true road games, with their last loss on the road coming in 2014 at TCU. Something will have to give against an Ohio State team that hasn’t lost very many games under Urban Meyer, and only have lost twice at home with Meyer at the helm.
Even though there isn’t a ton of history in this series, in all three previous meetings the road team has won, which could spell some good news for the Sooners. Oklahoma might look back to the 2014 season for a little motivation on walking out of Ohio Stadium with a win.
After the Buckeyes opened up the season on the road against Navy, Virginia Tech came to Columbus for Ohio State’s home opener and left Buckeye fans stunned following a 35-21 win by the Hokies. The situations are a little different though, as J.T. Barrett was making his first start at home for the Buckeyes, and now the quarterback is a senior. Still, if there was ever a game for Lincoln Riley to show to his squad to give them a little confidence about winning in Columbus, that might be the one to show them.
It isn’t a very wise idea to poke the Sooners though, because if you play them the following year there is a good chance they’ll get some payback. Since 2009, Oklahoma is 14-2 against teams they lost to the previous season, with the only losses coming to Baylor in 2013 and 2014 and Clemson in 2014 and 2015.
An experienced Soonerdary. Had it not been for Noah Brown last year, Oklahoma’s secondary wouldn’t have gotten so much flack for their performance against the Buckeyes. In reality, J.T. Barrett only threw for 152 yards against the Sooners, but the stats look a lot worse because four of Barrett’s 14 completions went for touchdowns to Brown.
Ohio State’s passing attack still has some questions to answer this year. While the Buckeyes ironed out some of their play in the second half against Indiana, it’s too early to officially declare the wide receivers as much improved over last year. The Buckeyes will likely have some trouble trying to find some separation against an experienced Sooner secondary this year.
Early this week Oklahoma did get some bad news when it was learned cornerback Jordan Parker would miss the rest of the year with an injury. Even with the injury, Oklahoma has three seniors in the secondary, with Jordan Thomas being the start of the group. Last year Thomas broke up 17 passes, and has hauled in seven interceptions in 29 starts during his career. If Ohio State wants to gain any momentum in the passing game, the Buckeyes might want to look to throw the football to whatever side of the field Thomas isn’t occupying.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 35, Oklahoma 30
Win Probability: Ohio State 63.3%
To the surprise of nobody the F/+ projection calls for a very close affair in Columbus. Both teams are extremely talented, and tonight’s game has the capability to go down as one of the most exciting games of the college football season.
At the end of the day, Ohio State’s depth on the defensive line and explosiveness on offense should allow them to beat Oklahoma for the second straight year. With two outstanding quarterbacks squaring off inside Ohio Stadium tonight, college football fans should be hoping we have a chance to see these two go at it again in the College Football Playoff in January.
How to watch, stream, listen to Oklahoma v. Ohio State:
Game time: Saturday September 9th, 7:30 PM ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
Know your enemy: Crimson And Cream Machine