When the Buckeyes boarded their flight from Columbus to Norman, Oklahoma, for a Saturday showdown with the Oklahoma Sooners, coach Urban Meyer was taken back a bit by his team’s youth. As if he hadn’t realized it since the summer, Meyer noticed the quantity of players that lacked road experience.
Following OSU’s 45-24 beatdown of coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners, the Buckeyes instilled confidence in Meyer concerning their ability to perform in the spotlight.
“They’re no longer inexperienced,” Meyer said. “I saw (Oklahoma’s) record, and it is one of the top 5 hardest places to play. This was the coming-of-age game.”
Meyer added that he was impressed with his team, specifically mentioning the running game. Oklahoma’s defensive line was touted as one of the top units in the country leading up to the matchup. Houston defeated the Sooners through the air, but Meyer stuck with his gut and ran the ball, trying to overpower the opposition.
The Buckeyes ran for 291 yards on the ground, by far the most allowed by Oklahoma this season (89 yards to Houston). Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber totaled 123 yards on 18 carries, junior H-back Curtis Samuel had 98 yards on 11 rushes and redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett added 74 yards to the total. The Buckeyes averaged 6.1 yards on the ground as a team.
“I feel like we had a lot of confidence coming into this game. I don’t think a lot of people would call us young anymore,” Weber said. “We’re playing really well.”
Oklahoma was supposed to be the test before Big Ten play that would define OSU’s place along the college football landscape. It was meant to serve as a statement game for coach Meyer’s team to be ranked among the elite. For many players like Weber, it was their first true road game as a prominent contributor for the Scarlet and Gray.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown planted his flag through the heart of the Oklahoma defense in his first action on the road. The 6-foot-2 Brown tied a school record for four receiving touchdowns in one game. Meyer said that he has his captains to thank for the leadership in a hostile environment.
“The maturity of the old guys is outstanding right now,” Meyer said. “J.T. Barrett, (redshirt senior center) Pat Elflein, (redshirt junior right guard) Billy Price up front, and then (junior linebacker) Raekwon McMillan and (redshirt junior cornerback) Gareon Conley … really good leaders on this team right now.”
On the defensive side, younger players continue to make game-changing plays as well.
Redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore added another interception to his stat line on Saturday, nearly having another in the second half. Sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker took a pass from Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to the endzone in the first quarter, putting OSU up by double digits.
Redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker, who is tied for the NCAA interceptions lead with Lattimore at three, said that continuing to turn the ball over – make “money plays” – solidifies the no-longer inexperienced defense, despite them still having room to grow.
“It definitely makes us feel like we’re some type of good. We don’t want to get too big-headed,” Hooker said. “We got to get in there in the bye week and correct the things we messed up on, and once we get that, I feel like we’re going to be 20 times better.”
As OSU is now on its bye week, sitting at 3-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama, Meyer has to be pleased with his team proving its talent when their numbers are called.
“We’ve always been loaded,” Weber said. “Last year, we were good enough to play. We just had to wait our turn this year. We’re developing and getting better.”