Can OSU Pull Away From The Sooners?

By Colin Barringer, September 9th, 2017

The first marquee matchup of the season has arrived as the No. 5 Sooners invade Columbus to tangle with No. 2 Ohio State (7:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC). Through my own experience the past few days, I assume Oklahoma will have a decent fan turnout. The campus area has been littered with Sooner fans over the past 48 hours. The scene is set, and it has all the ability to be an all-time great game.

Let us walk through what to expect when the teams take the field.

WHEN OKLAHOMA HAS THE BALL
Everyone should know who the focal point of the Sooners offense will be: senior Quarterback Baker Mayfield. He should have revenge on his mind after an outing to forget against the Silver Bullets in 2016. While Mayfield went 17 for 32 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns, the downside was his two interceptions that contributed to a 22.8 Quarterback Rating.

He was never comfortable in the pocket due to OSU’s disruptive defensive front, and his running lanes were shut by Jerome Baker spying him on passing downs.

Baker, now a junior linebacker, spoke on the talent Buckeye fans caught glimpses of last year.

“(Mayfield) has one of those arms where he can throw it 50 yards down the field with no problem,” he said.

Baker points out what OSU is clearly preparing for. While everyone notices Mayfield’s dual-threat ability, his passing game does not always receive the respect it may deserve.

“His arm, to me, is what really makes him very good,” Baker said.

The difference this season is that majority of the skill position players have departed. The likes of Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon all have moved on to the NFL. While one game in 2017 cannot predict who will shine for the Sooners in this game, there are a few players to keep an eye on.

Sophomore Abdul Adams leads a very crowded running back committee for the Sooners. Against UTEP, Adams averaged 7.6 yards per carry and finding the end zone one time. While he will be listed as the starter, the carries are could possibly be expected to be evenly distributed between three players.

As for the receivers, the lineup is full of deep threats that tore through the Miners last weekend. The key to the system comes from junior tight end Mark Andrews. Andrews reeled in seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown last weekend, and he looks ready to be Mayfield’s go-to receiver.

WHEN OHIO STATE HAS THE BALL
We know what Ohio State wants to do: pound the running game, and the stretch the defense with the vertical passing game. The return of the intermediate passing game from last week should prove vital in stimulating the deep passing success this season, and it must to make another playoff run.

Mike Weber is confirmed to be full-go, and how a rotation with J.K. Dobbins works remains to be seen. Getting a solid 15 carries out of each should be a plan to keep each fresh throughout the game.

As for the Sooner defense, redshirt junior Johnnie Dixon indicates that the receivers have taken notice of their skills.

“They’re pretty decent in coverage,,” Dixon said. “They put (Jordan Thomas) in good positions to make plays. I think they’re a good defense.”

Thomas is an anchor for a unit that just lost sophomore corner Jordan Parker to a season-ending knee injury. It is a blow to the Sooner secondary, but guys like Thomas can make up for that loss. He played well against OSU in 2016 and tallied a pass break-up in a lesser role with the defense, but he is ready to take the next step in his career.

To neutralize the secondary, the Buckeyes will need to establish the run and make the Sooners commit heavy numbers in the box. Once that happens, OSU can see a repeat of last year with man-to-man Cover 0 formations that will allow for their talented receivers to put on a show.

If the Buckeyes can make Oklahoma switch out of their comfortable coverages, it could be a long night for the away team.

PREDICTION
Last week, I came close with my prediction. I really undershot the Buckeyes’ offense against Indiana, but I think the lower score call is safe this week with a better Oklahoma team. Ohio State should pull away late due to better players at the offensive skill positions, and I believe they cover the -7.5 spread.

A tone-setting win against the Sooners could go a long way in defining the season for the Buckeyes.

No. 2 Ohio State 38, No. 5 Oklahoma 24