The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the (3) Ohio State Buckeyes taking on the (14) Oklahoma Sooners. Coverage will begin at 6:30 PM CT on FOX from Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.
What’s at Stake?
Anytime two of the most historic programs in college football meet on the gridiron, it is always something truly special. When Ohio State and Oklahoma take the field Saturday it will not only draw the attention of two of the most passionate fan bases, but it will capture national recognition as well. This game has had the most hype by far all offseason and the time is finally here for the two heavy weights to duke it out. There is however more to this matchup that meets the eye. Not only is a season changing win at stake, but the entire Big 12 conference playoff hopes could stay afloat or come crashing down in Norman, Oklahoma on Saturday night.
For Ohio State, this is their toughest road game of the season and win here would provide excellent momentum before they start Big Ten play. This also would be a key victory to mark in their schedule for the playoff committee. The Buckeyes will come to Norman with their heads held high as they are undefeated in true road games under head coach Urban Meyer.
For Oklahoma, ever since the Houston loss every week will be do or die for the Sooners playoff chances. Even though this game has zero effect on their opportunity to win a Big 12 title, a loss here would end their playoff dreams and we are only in week 3. Oklahoma needs this win not only for themselves but they will be called upon to carry the Big 12 torch (along with Texas this weekend) to show the rest of the country that the conferences early struggles are just a fluke. This is a make or break game for Bob Stoop’s team and possibly the conference.
Ohio State Offense
With 17 starts and being a two-time team captain in his pocket, the Buckeyes offense is lead by a fantastic quarterback in J.T. Barrett. This isn’t Braxton’s team or Cardale’s team this is J.T. Barrett’s team. For the first time in his 3-year career, Barrett doesn’t have any questions surrounding him as to who is going to be the starter or being asked to take a back seat to someone else. Barrett has a 67% completion percentage along with a 6 to 1 TD to INT ratio on the young season. He is an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and buy time for this offense. He wont dazzle you in the stat sheet throwing the ball but he is an overall solid passer when called upon. Barrett a lot like other Urban Meyer quarterbacks, is a good runner to compliment his overall game.
In the backfield that lost a top five NFL draft pick in Ezekiel Elliot, still has some quality talent. Mike Weber will get the bulk of the workload this year as the replacement after redshirting in 2015. At the H-back position, which Meyer likes to use guys that can not only lineup in the slot but can also take handoffs or jet sweeps are Samuel Curtis and Dontre Wilson. Both of these guys are extremely dangerous anytime they touch the football. Curtis and Wilson are the two leaders in receiving yards for this football team and Ohio State will do anything to get the ball in their hands. They both possess great speed and good vision when they do have the ball.
At receiver the guys that will be starting will be Noah Brown, Johnnie Dixon and Terry Mclaurin. Now these three guys to this point and time have not been used a whole lot due to H-backs Samuel Curtis and Dontre Wilson being so outstanding. Noah Brown is the leader of the receiving corps scoring 2 TD’s and Dixon has been injury prone over the past two season while McLaurin didn’t play much last season.
Up front is where the Buckeyes have impressed me the most. The Buckeyes will roll out with starters LT Jamarco Jones, LG Michael Jordan (I know what your thinking, but no not that Michael), C Pat Elfein, RG Billy Price and RT Isiah Prince. The anchor for this unit is C Pat Elflein who has been starting for the past three seasons as well as earning 1st team Big Ten honors in 2015. Next to him on his right is RG Billy Price, who also has been a three-year starter for this team. The three newbies of this group are LT Jarmarco Jones, RT Isaiah Prince and true freshman LG Michael Jordan.
The only real concerns I have for this offense is that sometimes they start very slow in ball games and take awhile to heat up. Along with some slow starts, the outside receivers in this system do not scare me at all because they have not done much and have not been used because they prefer to use their H-backs in the passing game. As usual, Ohio State will as always use the read option as a staple in their offense. This is great but they will need to spread the ball around a little more so they will cause more problems than Oklahoma will have answers. Whenever Ohio State really clicks is when everyone gets in on the action.
After a bad first half of football in the Houston game, this defense has done an excellent job since. Charles walker is the best pass rusher at the DE position and alongside him will be DT Jordan Wade and the other DE Matt Dimon. Dimon didn’t play last week against ULM, but he will be good to go this week according to Bob Stoops. This Line had done an excellent job in stopping the run game.
The linebacker group is a positon I had some questions before the season started, but for the most part have done a fairly nice job thus far. OLB Ogbonnia Okoeonkwo is the second leading tackler on the team along with tallying two sacks in his first two games. ILB Jordan Evans was all over the field last week making plays as expected and is leading his defense in tackles. The last linebacker in this group is Tay Evans who does need to play a bit better like his other two teammates. Evans is the weak link at the linebacker spot.
The back end of this defense is where I thought Oklahoma would be pretty solid overall but as of right now they have definitely been a let down from what I expected. At CB is Jordan Thomas who is the lone corner that I trust on this roster. Opposite of him will be either true freshman CB Parrish Cobb or wide receiver turned CB Michiah Quick. Both of these guys have their ups and downs at corner but will be forced into action due to the sub par play of CB Dakota Austin. Will Johnson will be the one holding down the fort at NB and will have a tall task ahead trying to cover those speedy h-backs coming at him in all different directions. In the deep end will be FS Ahmad Thomas and SS Steven Parker which are probably the two best pieces in the secondary.
As usual Oklahoma has been very good against the run, however their pass defense is an entirely different story. This secondary has not lived up to the hype especially at the cornerback position. Ohio State is a run first team so this should help take some of the pressure off in the back end but it still must play better to win this game.
If Houston was a big obstacle for this Oklahoma defense, this Ohio State offense can be a bit scary at times. I expect Ohio State to run some read option and to get J.T. Barrett rolling around to buy time for his receivers. The Buckeyes will do anything to get the ball in the hands of H-backs Samuel Curtis and Dontre Wilson. I would not be one bit surprised if they tried to get them both on the field at the same time to create mismatches. Luckily for Oklahoma’s struggling secondary, Ohio State does not use their outside wide receivers like Houston did so this should help concentrate the focus on Curtis, Wilson and Weber. Oklahoma has a glaring weak spot at one of the corner positions, but I am not sure Ohio State has the wide receiver on the outside to take advantage in that area. Look for a lot of single coverage on the the edge from this secondary along with some 7 to 8 man fronts to stuff the read option game. The Sooners do however need to be more aggressive on defense and not let a guy like J.T. Barrett run around freely. If you let Barrett run around and buy time he will make the plays to extend drives.
As expected, the shifty and crafty Baker Mayfield is calling the signals for this Lincoln Riley air raid offense. So far Mayfield has been pretty stellar on the young season completing over 70% of his passes and not throwing a single interception in his first two outings. Baker is a mad man when it comes to escaping pressure and just when you think you have him sacked, he spins out of it and makes a big play.
The two workhorses for this offense are the dynamic duo in the backfield with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Perine will try to test the will of opposing defenses by running inside the tackles and punishing would be tacklers. He hasn’t touched the ball much this season, but he has done a good job when he does get the rock in his hands. Mixon is the exact opposite of his partner in crime, as he is the shifty speed back who does his damage on the outside. Mixon is also a valuable aspect coming out of the backfield in the passing game. This is an excellent one-two punch for the Sooners as it would be for anyone in the entire country.
The Oklahoma receiving threats are where things can get a bit rocky for this team. 6’6 TE/WR has done a great job in his first two games of leading this underperforming receiving corps. Andrews with his size and athletic ability, is a mismatch for anyone trying to defend him. He has only had 5 receptions so far, but has turned that into 154 yards and 3 touchdowns. Between receivers Dede Westbrook, Jarvis Baxter, Jeffery Mead and A.D. Miller, none of these guys have impressed me enough to make them a serious threat for this offense. These four guys have been pretty lackluster so far and Oklahoma has not truly found their go to guy out of this group. Someone besides Andrews needs to answer the bell here if the Sooners want to contend for a playoff spot.
Up front the Sooners have made a few changes since the opening weekend. As of now Oklahoma will start with LT Orlando Brown, LG Cody Ford, C Jonathan Alvarez, RG Dru Samia and RT Bobby Evans. Brown, Ford and Alvarez are still in their same positions but Dru Samia has moved from RT to RG and the new starting RT is now Bobby Evans. This unit will be facing a young but very talented defensive front.
Ohio State Defense
Even though only Ohio State returns three starters from last year that doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a major drop off. The defensive line for the Buckeyes is all about the pass rush and they most certainly can bring the heat on a quarterback. It all starts with DE Tyquan Lewis who had 8.5 sacks last year and by far is their best pass rusher on the field. Opposite of him will be former freshman All American Sam Hubbard, who will try his best to catch up to his teammate Lewis. Inside this defensive line we will see an arrangement of three guys for Ohio State. Michael Hill will start at one DT spot, while Dre’Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton will be fighting for the other. Both Jones and Hamilton redshirted last season and will be rotating throughout the game.
When you have a ball hawk like MLB Raekwon McMillan its takes the pressure off of the other two linebacker spots. McMillan was a 2nd team All American in 2015 while totaling 119 tackles. This guy is a stud at linebacker and is in a perfect spot to hunt the football at MLB. Joining him will be SLB Crhis Worley and WLB Dante Booker. We could also see some Joe Burger at the WLB position as well. Everyone besides McMillan is a new starter for this season and their tackling skills will be put to the test facing a good rushing attack.
The back end of this Buckeye defense is where I have been very surprised. At CB will be Gareon Conley who is one of three returning starts along with CBs Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward. Lattimore and Ward are new to the lineup for 2016 and both will see some playing time on Saturday. With 3 INTs at safety is Malik Hooker who has been impressive as a new starter. At the other safety spot will be Damon Webb, who like a lot of the secondary is a new face this year. Even though there are so many young inexperienced guys in this secondary, they have done an outstanding job in coverage.
If Oklahoma wants to to win this football they have to be more balanced on offense. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley can not get pass happy for this game. The Sooners are at their best when they are a physical running team. When you have a Perine and Mixon in the backfield you better utilize them. Oklahoma does not have any reliable targets except for TE/WR Mark Andrews and the Ohio State secondary has played well so far. Ohio state has two premium pass rushers on the edge and now is not the time to put the offense on Baker Mayfield’s back. The Buckeyes are more vulnerable at defensive tackle and their outside linebackers. I expect Oklahoma to keep MLB Raekwon McMillan guessing by bringing a balanced attack on Saturday. Use the ground and pound to wear this defense out and hit them with the play action to keep this defense on their heels. Also Mark Andrews needs to be involved more in this offense, but I expect that if Riley throws in some play action.
Ohio State wins if J.T. Barrett is able to run around freely and his outside receivers join the party. Barrett hasn’t been truly tested in his first two games as guys were mostly wide open due to the talent difference. Now the Buckeyes will face a team that is just as talented as them and haven’t been pushed as a team thus far. Also, if Ohio State is able to run the football it could be a long night for the Sooner defense.
Oklahoma wins if they can simply run the football on offense and stop the run on defense. Like I said earlier, Oklahoma is at its best when they use Perine and Mixon and now is the time to put them to good use. Defensively the Sooners will need to make the Ohio State offense one dimensional. Make J.T. Barrett beat you with his arm, not his legs. If Oklahoma is able to do this, their chances of winning this game increase dramatically.
Oklahoma finally wises up on offense and runs the football, as Perine is able to have some success running in the heart of the Ohio State defense. Mixon will try to be involved in as much in the passing game as he can while Mark Andrews will score his 4th touchdown of the season. Ohio State’s running game is shut down by this Sooner front and J.T. Barrett is forced to put the offense on his back. The Buckeyes will have their fair share of big plays but it will be Baker Mayfield and the Sooners getting the last laugh in front of a rocking crowd in Norman. Sooners win 35-31 and keep their playoff dreams alive.
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