On Saturday night, the Oklahoma Sooners will travel to Columbus, Ohio hoping to avenge the 45-24 beatdown the Buckeyes handed them on their own home field last season. This showdown will certainly hold major implications for the College Football Playoff, both in terms of how these teams and their respective conferences are perceived.
Perhaps the most glaring mismatch in this game is at head coach. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley has never been defeated as a head coach. Ohio State’s head coach has been defeated 29 times. This is because Lincoln Riley has coached only one game, last week against the mighty Miners of the University of Texas at El Paso. In addition to his 29 losses, Urban Meyer has amassed 166 wins, 5 conference titles, and 3 undisputed National Championships. Lincoln Riley is a gifted playcaller, but journeying up to Columbus to play Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes under the lights on a Saturday Night, is a daunting task for any new head coach in his second career game.
The most intriguing on field matchups in this game will come when Oklahoma has the football. Oklahoma returns star quarterback Baker Mayfield and their whole offensive line from a year ago. However, they lose many of their skill position starters including Heisman Finalist wide receiver Dede Westbrook and star tailbacks Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. This parallels Ohio State’s defense, where the Buckeyes return their entire defensive line and two of their three starting linebackers, but lose three of their four starters in the secondary. Oklahoma’s offensive line is strong enough to keep a solid running game going as long as one or two of the Sooners’ young tailbacks makes good decisions. Preseason first team AP All-American Left Tackle Orlando Brown Jr. will anchor the running game and should be able to keep Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa from Mayfield on first and second down. The biggest challenge for the Oklahoma offense will be keeping Ohio State DE Tyquan Lewis out of the backfield. The job belongs to Oklahoma RT Bobby Evans, who played very well in 12 starts last season and was selected to the preseason All-Big 12 2nd Team. Overall Oklahoma’s line should be able to limit the damage from Ohio State’s loaded front seven as long as Oklahoma’s young wideouts get open quickly against Ohio State’s young defensive backs. If they struggle, it will be a very long night for Baker Mayfield. One advantage for Ohio State is that their secondary played against a very good passing team last week. They struggled early, but they made adjustments and grew up as the game went on. Oklahoma’s young wideouts had no such challenge in week one.
On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma faces a stiff test. Their defense was terrible at times last season. Now they’re back with a new 4-3 scheme and better depth in the secondary, hoping to slow down a retooled Ohio State offense that managed to score 38 points in Norman last year despite struggling to move the ball in other big games. Ohio State was one of the best rushing teams in the country last season. They return four starters on the offensive line, their starting halfback, and their starting quarterback from last year’s team that rushed for 291 yards against Oklahoma. They also add explosive true freshman J.K. Dobbins, who ran all over Indiana last week in Mike Weber’s absence, and should make some big runs on early downs for the Buckeyes in this one. Nothing I’ve seen or heard makes me question Ohio State’s ability to run down Oklahoma’s throats again. They’re too loaded on the line and in the backfield. Ohio State, like last year, will march deep into Oklahoma territory with relative ease. J.T. Barrett threw four touchdown passes against Oklahoma last year, three of which were thrown in the redzone. When Ohio State gets deep into Oklahoma territory, they need to be able to stop the Ohio State passing game and hold Ohio State to field goals. Oklahoma should have a better secondary this season, anchored by three year starter at corner and first team All-Big 12 Preseason Selection, Jordan Thomas. Additionally, star defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo may have some success getting to Barrett against a first-time starter at Right Guard in Branden Bowen and a Right Tackle that struggled mightily in pass blocking last season in Isaiah Prince. The flipside of this is that Ohio State brought in Kevin Wilson to emphasize serious improvement in the passing game, and that was certainly on display in the second half of the Indiana game last week. Based on that performance and Wilson’s track record at Indiana, I expect Ohio State to get the passing game going in the red zone if Oklahoma wants to stack the box against Barrett, Weber, and Dobbins.
The bottom line is that Ohio State returned six starters from 2015 to 2016 and crushed Oklahoma 45-24 on the road in Norman. This year, Ohio State returns fifteen starters, including their quarterback and eight of their nine starting linemen. Urban Meyer has more national championships (3) than Lincoln Riley has wins (1), and has only lost two games at home in five years at Ohio State. A lot did go wrong for Oklahoma in last year’s game. They were 0-3 on 4th down, lost the turnover battle 2-0, and gave up a long touchdown on a truly unbelievable catch. Nevertheless, this game is still a mismatch. Baker Mayfield’s brilliance might keep it interesting, but with a new supporting cast at the skill positions and the best defensive line in college football barrelling down at him, it won’t be enough. I predict the Buckeyes move to 2-0 by a score of 35-24.
Categories: College Football