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What We're Looking For if the Buckeyes Expect to Win at Oklahoma
By Patrick Murphy

COLUMBUS – This week is different for Ohio State. Early season, cookie cutter games are done as the Buckeyes travel to Norman to take on Oklahoma.

This means we must tweak what we’re looking for, as no longer is it in anticipation of how OSU will play when matched up against an equal opposition. That opponent is here.

We are still looking for certain things in this game, but it’s what the Scarlet and Gray must do to win the game, as that is no longer a foregone conclusion (and it’s unlikely if you ask OU’s backup quarterback).

Here’s what we’re looking for from Ohio State if the Buckeyes expect to win a big-time game against the Sooners.

Win the battle in the trenches

We realize this is important in every game, but in one of this magnitude winning up front is vital on both sides of the ball.

While we’ve seen a lot of good things from Ohio State in the first two games, we haven’t seen the Buckeyes be dominant on either side of the line.

Offensively, J.T. Barrett has had time to throw more often than not but he hasn’t been comfortable on every snap. Three of the five offensive linemen will make their first road start on Saturday, including true freshman Michael Jordan. How they respond to Oklahoma’s experienced 3-4 front that allowed only 89 total rushing yards against Houston will be interesting to watch, especially early.

The defensive side of the ball remains a work in progress. Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes are proven defensive ends and have combined for 2.5 sacks this year, but the rest of the D-line is a question mark. OSU’s first two opponents targeted the interior of the line and had success running the ball up the middle. With Samaje Perine in the Sooner backfield, we’ll be interested to see how Oklahoma does in this area.

In the second half against Tulsa last week, the Buckeye coaching staff made adjustments that closed up the running lanes up the middle. Michael Hill wasn’t getting blown off the ball as he was early in the game and whoever lined up next to him was not over pursuing.

Winning up front may not win the game, but it will certainly help. We’ll be watching these line battles closely.

J.T. Barrett vs. Baker Mayfield

These two quarterbacks are similar in that they both have good arms and are capable runners with their legs, but they use these weapons in different ways.

When J.T. Barrett scrambles, it’s often to move the team down the field, and his 85 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground this year are indicative of that. While Mayfield is both fast and elusive, he’s typically looking to buy time for his receivers to get open rather than pick up yards himself, shown by his negative rushing yards on the year.

Mayfield and the Sooners also love the big play, and why not? The quarterback has a cannon for an arm and likes to fire often. Barrett is known for distributing the ball, finding his receivers and letting them make the play. The Buckeyes can and will take deep shots, but it’s not a major part of the game plan this year with Barrett running the show.

Both quarterbacks need to play within themselves in this game. If either tries to do more than they are used to, it could lead to major issues and cost their team.

We’ll be watching to see how each player manages situations as the game goes on. Who is handling the pressure of the big-game atmosphere? Who is getting his team in the correct play pre-snap? Who is limiting mistakes?

It may not be the quarterback who puts up the biggest numbers that wins this game, but the one who manages it the best and we’ll keep a close eye on how that battle is going.

Start to drives

The Scarlet and Gray have been good at beginning drives this year. When the starters are in the game for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have 16 rushes and eight passes on the first play of a series. On those runs, OSU is averaging 6.63 yards per carry and has only one play that has resulted in less than one yard. When passing, J.T. Barrett is an efficient 6-of-8 to begin a drive through the first two games.

The level of competition amps up this week with Oklahoma, but the production on first down cannot fall off a cliff. Ohio State’s offense has gotten off to good starts and that has fueled an average of better than 62 points per game.

If these numbers continue against the Sooners, it will put the Buckeyes in a good position to move the ball down the field and put points on the board.

On the other side, how does OSU handle OU early in drives?

Oklahoma is more balanced to begin each series, but the Sooners like to look to take shots on these early downs. In his throws on the first play of the drive against Houston, Mayfield looked deep nearly every time, connecting on a 60-yard pass to running back Joe Mixon early. The Cougars adjusted and made Mayfield check the ball down, but the intent was clear.

In a game that will likely be a tight affair, little things like getting drives off to positive starts can be monumental. We’ll be tracking how the teams do to get things going.

The secondaries

Right now, it would be hard to find a program that wouldn’t trade its secondary for Ohio State's. The Buckeyes lead the nation in takeaways with nine and have seven interceptions, three returned for touchdowns.

Oklahoma is the opposite. The Sooners have forced no turnovers this year and the defensive backs gave up plenty of big plays in their first two games, allowing Greg Ward Jr. to pass for 321 yards on 23 completions and conceded a 73-yard pass play to Louisiana–Monroe’s Garrett Smith.

We’ll be looking to see how often OSU looks to attack the OU defensive backs and how the Sooners have adjusted following a rough start to the year in the secondary.

Conversely, are the DBs for the Scarlet and Gray worthy of the nickname Silver Bullets? This will be the first road test for three of the four (or four of the five when in nickel) members of the secondary and we certainly want to see how they respond to the big-game atmosphere.

Oklahoma loves to take shots down field. The Sooners average 337.5 passing yards per game and have scored seven of their 11 touchdowns through the air. There’s no reason to expect this to change, so we’ll be interested to see how the young defensive backs respond.

While Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore have gotten a lot of credit, we’re still not sold on Damon Webb in coverage. Can he step up in this contest? Is Gareon Conley the guy at cornerback for Ohio State or is he just a guy?

We’ll keep our eyes peeled. You do the same.

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