Saturday, September 9 2017, 7.30 PM ET – Last season, the Buckeyes played a significant role in keeping the Sooners out of the playoffs, and factored into being chosen over Big Ten conference champions Penn State in the top four, after dominating Oklahoma 45-24 in Week 3 of 2016. This early season rematch likely again will be crucial to the fates of both in 2017.
Week 1 Recap
Oklahoma Sooners – The Sooners had a relatively straight-forward matchup for their season opener, and Lincoln Riley’s first game since taking over from Bob Stoops as head coach. The offense dominated early and often against UTEP to open up a 35-7 half time lead, and even after starting quarterback Baker Mayfield earned an early rest, they continued to roll to a final score of 56-7 over the Miners. Heisman candidate Mayfield was in sensational form to start the season, completing all of his first 16 passes, and finishing a remarkable 19 for 20 in total, resulting in 329 yards through the air, for three touchdowns, and unsurprisingly, no picks.
No-one will have doubted Riley, promoted from offensive coordinator, to continue to have an explosive offense, but one of the primary question marks entering the season was replacing elite talent in Perine, Mixon and Westbrook. So far, so good. On the ground, the Sooners spread the touches around, but it was potential breakout star sophomore Abdul Adams who led the team in rush yards (53) and yards per carry (7.57). Big play threat Jeff Badet, a Kentucky transfer, got off to a blistering start, averaging 22.75 yards per catch on his four receptions. Junior tight end Mark Andrews (pictured below) was the star playmaker though, dominating after the catch as he piled up 134 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The defense weren’t overly challenged through the first game, but we will learn a lot more about them this time around against a higher caliber of athlete. Senior pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo had two tackles for loss with one sack in the opener, and will be looking to disrupt in the backfield again.
Ohio State Buckeyes – It was a slow start for Urban Meyer’s team against a dangerous looking Indiana Hoosiers in a Thursday night battle to open Week 1. The offense struggled to move the ball, held to a field goal after a lengthy opening drive, then limit mostly to punts after that during the first half. They found the big plays though after the break, and eventually held a comfortable late lead on route to a 49-21 victory.
They appear to have found a young star in true freshman running back JK Dobbins (pictured below), who took on a heavy workload in his debut to lead the team with 180 yards on the ground. With their expected feature back Mike Weber set to return, not to mention quarterback JT Barrett’s ability on the move, and they should only improve as a rushing attack; the Oklahoma front seven are in for a stern test.
Defensively, the Buckeyes’ secondary had some issues dealing with the big, physical receivers of the Hoosiers, who constantly challenged the coverage on jump ball passes. Statistically, corner Denzel Ward appeared to have a great game with an impressive five pass breakups and an interception, but that just doesn’t tell the full story, as he was also beaten on just as many other plays, with Simmie Cobbs Jr. getting the better of him often. That defensive line looks as good as any in the country though, with Bosa and Hubbard particularly standing out in the first game.
Keys to the Game
Mayfield or Barrett? – Who would you take? Conversely to Mayfield’s ultra-efficient opening performance, Barrett had some struggles getting into rhythm with a number of off-target throws. Both have put together highly accomplished careers so far and will be looked at to lead their respective teams to the win. Mayfield had a couple of interceptions in the matchup last year; he cannot afford to do so again.
Limiting the Ohio State pass rush – The wording here is key, as fully containing the rush seems like a near-impossible task with Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jayln Holmes off the edge, and not forgetting Dre’Mont Jones from the interior. The Sooners offensive line is very solid with at least a couple NFL prospects among the group, but this is as good a front as they will see all year. Mayfield has been dynamic over his career when forced to evade the rush and scramble outside the pocket; it seems inevitable that he will have to make a few such plays again in this contest.
The turnover battle – It’s important in every game, obviously, but it played a critical part in the meeting between the two in the 2016 game, and with two explosive offenses that can be tough to contain, turning the ball over is something that neither team can afford to do.
Matchup to Watch
Ohio State edge rusher Sam Hubbard vs Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown – The Sooners’ left tackle is a bit polarizing in draft circles. He’s a huge physical presence, with power that is tough to disengage from once contact is established, but some are concerned about keeping with explosive speed off the edge and is fairly low energy in his play. He’ll need to be fully focused every snap in this one though, and is likely to see Hubbard lined up opposite often in this one.
The intrigue here is that as impressive as Hubbard’s movement and length are as a combination, it’s his use of his hands as he rushes that is what pushes his game to the next level. That makes him a tough match for Brown to contend with, as he could be able to work off the initial blocks, as well as having the ability to vary how he attacks the pocket that could freeze the big left tackle. Brown only gave up one sack last season (obviously helped by some of the quick pass elements used, and Mayfield’s ability to escape); he could give up more than that in just this single game.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Ohio State 35
I could absolutely see an Oklahoma win. I’ll take Mayfield over Barrett independent of anything else, and the Buckeyes probably can’t afford another slow start this time around. Still, that Ohio State front seven are outstanding, and the defense as a whole is better at creating turnovers. The Sooners defense is tougher to know yet who they are this season. It could be a better contest than a season ago, but might still see a Buckeyes win, especially seeing as they are hosting, enjoying one of the best home records in the country over the last few years.
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