Coach Urban Meyer and the No. 3 Ohio State football team head to Norman, Oklahoma for Saturday’s battle with the No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners. The last two opponents, Bowling Green and Tulsa, provided few challenges for the Buckeyes, but this game is a little different.
“I think the two (teams) we’ve faced, they’re both going to win games. This one’s real, real real,” Meyer said.
Oklahoma will be the most potent offense OSU has faced to date in 2016, possibly all season. Redshirt junior quarterback Baker Mayfield is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate who has an elite arm and the ability to scramble and avoid tacklers to extend plays. He has completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 567 yards and five touchdowns.
Along with Mayfield, the Sooners’ backfield has NFL-like talent in both of their running backs. OSU associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said he believes junior Samaje Perine and sophomore Joe Mixon are two of the top five running backs in college football.
For OSU to slow down coach Bob Stoops’ offense, the defensive line will have to put pressure on Mayfield and contain the run game, something OSU has struggled with at times thus far.
“They have a big offensive line and we got to stop the run first,” said redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard.
For some perspective on the size of the Oklahoma offensive line, its five starters average height is 6-foot-6 and average almost 315 pounds in weight. Left tackle Orlando Brown boosts most of those stats, standing at 6-foot-8, 340 pounds.
Hubbard registered his first sack on Saturday against Tulsa for an 11 yard loss on a third down in the first quarter. He finished the day with three tackles, all of which came in the backfield.
The Buckeyes have totaled four sacks so far this year, compared to last year’s six sacks through two games. Replacing former defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington was never going to be an easy task, but the team’s two sack leaders from 2015 in Hubbard and redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis returned this year and lead a D-line that has underperformed statistically.
On Saturday, this is an opportunity for the unit to establish itself in the national picture.
“We want to make that statement because we believe we are one of the best units in the country,” Hubbard said. “It’s going to put us on the national stage for everyone else to think that, so it’s a big opportunity for us.”
For Hubbard, Lewis and junior defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes will be tested going up against the physically intimidating Brown on the Sooner offensive line. He added that he hasn’t ever tried to move someone that big, but it’s important for him to be violent with his hands, if he and the D-line hope to get to Mayfield in the backfield.
More than ever, this week’s preparation is critical for the defense. Hubbard said that going up against redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett has improved the play of the defense because Barrett is just as elusive as Mayfield.
Saturday also serves as the first statement game for the young defensive lineman like redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones, redshirt freshman Robert Landers and freshman Nick Bosa. Schiano said he’s excited to see how his young guys respond to the environment awaiting the Buckeyes at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
“This is big-boy football. Do we know how they are going to respond? No. A lot of these guys have never been in this situation,” Schiano said. “As a coach, you just try to prepare them the best they can. I believe we have the right people here, but that gap between knowing and doing is the biggest gap there is.”
For someone who has played in games against Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame, Sam Hubbard said a game like this is the reason he plays at OSU.
“I want to get there and make a big play,” he said. “I know Tyquan does, and everyone on the line does.”