| BY: LORI SCHMIDT |
In many ways, the Oklahoma team coming to Columbus this weekend should feel familiar to Ohio State.
Like last year when these teams met, the Sooners are highly regarded. They are riding the nation’s longest ongoing win streak, an 11-game stretch that started the week after they fell to the Buckeyes 45-24. They beat Auburn in the Sugar Bowl 35-19, and they return seven starters on defense from that squad, and another nine on offense.
That includes quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has twice finished in the top five of Heisman balloting, holds the FBS record for season pass efficiency rating (196.4 in 2016), and who is 23-4 under center for Oklahoma. It’s hard to believe he is a former walk-on.*
That means that, in many ways, this game could also feel similar to last week for the Scarlet and Gray. Indiana chose to air it out, throwing 68 times against OSU. With Mayfield back, and the Sooners looking to replace almost 80 percent of their rushing totals from 2016 having lost Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to the NFL Draft, it is likely the Buckeye secondary will be getting a lot of work again.
Another way this game will be similar to last week is that there will be a coach on the opposing sideline in his first full season of leading a college team. Lincoln Riley took over for Bob Stoops, making him the first new head coach Oklahoma has had since 1998.
Prior to his promotion to head coach, Riley was the team’s offensive coordinator. During his two-year tenure in that position, no team scored more touchdowns than the Sooners.
As you can imagine, Mayfield was a big part of that. The quarterback now has 34 starts under his belt, more than any other active Power 5 quarterback. (JT Barrett is second, with 31.)
However, Mayfield’s top targets from 2015 (Sterling Shepard) and 2016 (Biletnikoff winner Dede Westbrook) are gone. So who might his go-to guy be Saturday night? Early returns suggest it could be 6’5″ tight end Mark Andrews, who caught 7 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against UTEP, and who was second on the team a year ago in receiving TDs.
Also an option is grad transfer Jeff Badet. His senior year at Kentucky, he averaged 21.6 yards per catch, pacing the SEC and good enough for sixth nationally.
The line in front of Mayfield returns all five starters. Left tackle Orlando Brown is listed as 6’8″, 345 pounds. He’s the returning Big 12 lineman of the year, and has two years of experience as a starter under his belt.
On defense, the Sooners finished 68th nationally last year in points allowed per game, but the bulk of their struggles came in the early part of the season. In order to keep up the momentum of the second half, Oklahoma is transitioning to a 4-3 from a 3-4 defense.
They have Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who will rotate between linebacker and defensive end. He led the team with nine sacks a year ago. Jordan Thomas is returning as well. He led the team in pass break ups, and was a Big 12 First-Team corner.
Ohio State plays Oklahoma Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on 97.1 The Fan.
*at Texas Tech