7:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Ohio State -7.5, Over/Under: 63.5
For those of you who were left disappointed by last week’s Top-Five matchup, an opportunity to rectify matters has presented itself as the Second-Seeded Ohio State Buckeyes host the Fifth-Ranked Oklahoma Sooners in a pivotal nonconference battle form Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio. Tonight’s contest is a rematch of one of last year’s more heralded matchups, even if that particular meeting didn’t quite live up to the expectations; The visiting Buckeyes trounced the Sooners in a 45-24 thrashing in Norman, outscoring them 35-17 in the First Half alone, while racking up a staggering 291 Rushing Yards. However, things have changed a good bit since then, particularly for Oklahoma (1-0, 0-0 in Big XII), who haven’t tasted defeat since that fateful day, riding an eleven-game win streak into Columbus, including an easy 56-7 victory over Texas El-Paso in last weekend’s Season Opener. Gone are prolific Tailbacks Samaje Perine (1,060 YDS, 12 TD) and Joe Mixon (1,812 Total YDS, 15 TD), along with Wideout Dede Westbrook (1,524 YDS, 17 TD), along with long-time Head Coach Bob Stoops, who surprisingly stepped down during the Offseason. Say what you will about Stoops, but the man was incredibly successful at Oklahoma, going 190-48 in eighteen seasons, including fourteen ten-win campaigns, ten Big XII Championships, and a National Championship in 2000, while competing in three more BCS National Title Games. Taking his place is Lincoln Riley, who had served as the Sooners’ Offensive Coordinator for each of the past two years before being handpicked by Stoops to be his successor. The 34-year old may be young, but his ascension practically guarantees that the team’s high-octane Offense will continue to light up scoreboards, at least in the short term. One guy who had to love Riley getting the job is Senior Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who under the Coach’s guidance has become a Heisman Finalist in both 2015 and 2016, and in all likelihood will be making another trip this December. A program that is certainly no stranger to prolific Quarterbacks, Mayfield, a former transfer from Texas Tech, has completed a highly efficient 70.1% of his Attempts for a whopping 7,994 Yards (10.3 Y/A), seventy-nine Touchdowns and fifteen Interceptions, while rushing for another 574 Yards and thirteen scores. There’s no doubt that the fiery gunslinger will be chomping at the bit for another shot at the Buckeyes, who definitely got the best of him in last year’s meeting in Norman; Mayfield was less than stellar that night, completing just 17-of-32 Passes for 226 Yards, with a pair of Touchdowns and Interceptions (one of which was returned for six points), while also sustaining three Sacks. Needless to say, it wasn’t his finest hour. With that said, momentum has been definitely on his side since then, as the Senior has led the Sooners to five victories over ranked opponents during their win streak, including a 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, with Mayfield surgically vivisecting the Tigers’ Defense, completing 19-of-28 Passes for 296 Yards and two Touchdowns. Defensively, Riley’s charges are going to have to find a way to slow down a tea that burned them for over 400 Total Yards a year ago, and has exhibited an improved ability to attack downfield in their Season Opener. Keep an eye on the back end of this unit, for Cornerback Jordan Parker suffered a season-ending knee injury while serving on Special Teams in the blowout of Texas El-Paso.
Meanwhile, when last we saw Ohio State (1-0, 1-0 in Big Ten), they were busy dispatching Indiana in an early conference matchup, besting the Hoosiers 49-21 on the road. Don’t be fooled by that final score, folks, for this one was a lot closer than that tally would indicate; the home side actually led at Halftime 14-13, and only trailed by six points with just over four minutes to play in the Third Quarter. However, from that point on the visitors turned up the heat, outscoring their conference neighbors 28-0 over the final sixteen minutes of the game. Urban Meyer’s charges racked up a staggering 596 Yards of Total Offense, including 292 Rushing Yards on fifty-one Carries and another 304 Yards through the air. Now if that seems like an absurd amount of plays (Eighty-Six), you wouldn’t be wrong, as the Buckeyes capitalized on three Hoosiers Turnovers, which negated much of the damage that Indiana’s own potent Offense was inflicting. Senior Quarterback JT Barrett accounted for 365 Total Yards, completing 20-of-35 Passes for 304 Yards and three Touchdowns, while rushing for another sixty-one Yards and a score. If it seems like Barrett has been in Columbus forever, that’s because he has; the Senior was Ohio State’s Starting Quarterback back in 2014, which was the year they won the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship, yet missed the final two Playoff matchups after breaking his leg in the Season Finale against arch rival Michigan. The dual threat has been a consummate winner in his time under Meyer’s watch, going an impressive 33-4 as a Starter, which of course, included last season’s demolition of Oklahoma; Barrett tormented the Sooners’ Defense throughout the night, completing all but six of his twenty Passes for 152 Yards and a quartet of Touchdowns, while rushing for another seventy-four Yards on seventeen Carries. As we stated earlier, Ohio State enjoyed tremendous success rushing the ball in that particular game, racking up 291 yards, and would love to go back the proverbial well once more. In addition to Barrett’s success on the ground against the Hoosiers last week, True Freshman Tailback JK Dobbins made quite the debut, trampling opposing defenders en route to 181 Yards. And if that wasn’t enough, help appears to be on the way, as Mike Weber (1,096 YDS, 9 TD in 2016), who sat out that game nursing a tender Hamstring, is expected to make his return tonight. And in case you were wondering, the Redshirt Sophomore also enjoyed quite a performance against the Sooners last year, amassing a team-high 123 Rushing yards on just eighteen Carries, making Meyer’s Backfield THAT much more dangerous. The pressing question remains though (and will until proven otherwise), is just how will the Buckeye’s young Defense hold up against one of the most potent Offensive Attacks in the country? Meyer has had to replace four starters from last year’s unit, including three Defensive Backs, who all went in the First Round. That youth and inexperience was on display in the meeting with Indiana, who threw for 420 Passing Yards on 42-of-68 Attempts. Granted, they were rendered completely one-dimensional, and ultimately contributed to their own demise with three Turnovers, but one would have to think that Oklahoma will be able to pose a much more complete threat. After all, if Richard Lagow can torch you for 410 Yards and three Touchdowns, what does Baker Mayfield have in store?