In just its second game, Ohio State is going to have its No. 2 ranking tested against another top-five team when it hosts the fifth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Lantern breaks down what you should expect on both sides of the football in that matchup.
Ohio State offense vs. Oklahoma defense
Oklahoma will come into this game returning several key contributors from last year’s defense. Defensive end D.J. Ward, linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, strong-side safety Steven Parker, free safety Will Johnson and cornerback Jordan Thomas all return.
Though a bulk of Oklahoma’s defense is coming back, the group was not overly effective last season. The Sooners allowed 432 yards per game last season and surrendered 46 total touchdowns, two more than they scored. They also picked off only 14 passes and ranked 32nd in the country with 32 sacks last season.
“They have a lot of guys returning. You know, I think that their defense has definitely improved just from last year, from when we played them,” H-back Parris Campbell said. “One thing we can’t do is base their performance of last year on this year. Because like I said, they’re going to come here with a chip on their shoulder and they’re definitely a much improved team.”
Still, the unit is young as a whole. The starting middle linebacker, strong-side linebacker and three of the team’s five listed cornerbacks — including one of the two starters — are all true sophomores or younger. The backup defensive tackle is a freshman.
The key to Ohio State beating Oklahoma last season was running the football. If the trends for Ohio State’s offense and Oklahoma’s defense from last season continue, Ohio State is likely to see an advantage on the ground.
The Sooners allowed the 55th-most rushing yards per game last season, surrendering an average of 162.6 yards on the ground. The offense they are facing was the 11th-most potent rushing attack last season as Ohio State averaged 250.9 rushing yards per game. And after Ohio State ran for 292 yards against Indiana in its season opener, the Buckeyes’ offense can again be expected to operate primarily through the ground game.
Coach Urban Meyer said both redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber and freshman J.K. Dobbins will play against the Sooners, but he did not reveal how exactly the pairing will be deployed.
Ohio State defense vs. Oklahoma offense
Just as the Buckeyes returned their entire defensive line from a season ago and have a line that’s possibly the best in the nation, the Sooners return every starter from their offensive line last season, and could make their own legitimate claim for the best line in the nation.
Every player on the line was named at least to the honorable mention All-Big 12 team a season ago, and all started at least 10 games at their respective positions. The leader of the unit is left tackle Orlando Brown, a redshirt junior who was named a second-team All-American, the 2016 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and a team captain.
Brown will match up against an equally well-recognized defensive lineman in redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Lewis remembers the matchup from a season ago and knows the difficulties of trying to get past a player of Brown’s caliber.
“Oh he’s 6-foot-8, like 360 [pounds] I think, so he’s pretty athletic. Long arms, of course that’s a challenge,” Lewis said. “But I say, the main thing is, his technique and taking advantage of small things that he does with his arm and his feet. Just watching everything on film, just preparing for it.”
The offense did lose several weapons since last season, though. Wide receiver Dede Westbrook was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round of the NFL draft, while both of Oklahoma’s starting running backs — Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine — also left a year early to go to the draft.
However, the offense will return one potent offensive weapon in junior tight end Mark Andrews, who finished the season-opener against UTEP with 134 receiving yards on seven catches, including a touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said the talent of Andrews is indicative of a team full of potential matchup problems for Ohio State.
“They have an unusually gifted tight end that I mean, he is as much a receiver as any receiver on the field,” Schiano said. “And they use him as such. So, it’s a matchup issue, all those kind of things. It’s a challenge.”
Though first-year coach Lincoln Riley will be missing several key contributors, he will return his most explosive offensive playmaker to the team: quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The redshirt senior will take the helm of the Oklahoma offense for the third straight season. He returns after a promising 2016 season in which he threw for 3,965 passing yards, completing 70.9 percent of his passes and connecting on 40 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions. He also added six more touchdowns on the ground with 177 rushing yards.
Mayfield was incredibly effective against UTEP as he completed 19-of-20 passes for 329 yards and three touchdown passes, and Meyer knows that with his level of talent, he could provide the Buckeyes with a challenge.
“[Mayfield is] one of the best players in America,” Meyer said Tuesday. “I think he’s carrying on what he does and that’s playing that position very uniquely and very aggressively. He’s a heck of a player.”
The return of Mayfield and his offensive line could prove troublesome for Ohio State. Though Ohio State proved effective against the run versus Indiana, it found less success against Richard Lagow and an Indiana passing attack that totalled more than 400 yards through the air.
The inexperienced secondary will be heavily relied on once again to step up. And against a quality opponent like Oklahoma, failure to do so could lead to the first loss of the season for the Buckeyes.
Edward Sutelan: Ohio State wins 38-35
Colin Hass-Hill: Oklahoma wins 36-33