Ohio State will be replacing twelve 4th round or better players in 2016, including the heart of both their offense and defense in Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Defensive End Joey Bosa. How does a team meet the lofty expectations, placed on them by a needy fan base, after losing so much talent from the following year? Development is the quick answer and, lucky for Ohio State, it is something that the coaching staff is quite accomplished at doing. The talent is on the Ohio State roster, which is something that we are well aware of, after Ohio State has signed top-3 class after top-3 class. The biggest question is how will young players react in a hostile environment when they have never played a meaningful snap in a real college football game? That answer will almost certainly be evident on September 17th in Norman, Oklahoma.
The third game of the season, against the Oklahoma Sooners, is the one that everyone has circled on their calendars. The game is a great bet to be a primetime game on ABC and Ohio State will most likely be the considerable underdog going into it. Oklahoma, who brings back Heisman candidate Quarterback Baker Mayfield, will be at least a top-5 team at the time, and may even be the number 1 team, if things go their way. The reason that I believe Ohio State has a great chance to take care of business in Norman is Baker Mayfield. How can Oklahoma’s star Quarterback be the decisive key to a game in the other team’s favor? The same way that Baker Mayfield was a key for Clemson and Texas getting wins against the Sooners in 2015. Mayfield struggles against pressure in his face from a relentless pass rush. Ohio State may be replacing key figures in Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington, but Defensive Line coach Larry Johnson, has recruited like a mad man and is one of the best at developing the prospects into NFL caliber linemen. Reflecting back on the spring game, you saw the Quarterbacks being swallowed up on a consistent basis by young guys, such as Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton. Granted some of this may have been due to a depleted offensive line playing in the game, but I believe some of these young tackles will complement the returning ends of Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis, to lay feast to Baker Mayfield that night.
Oklahoma will look to also establish the run against Ohio State with their two returning backs, who have been very impressive in action previously, in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. This is the element of Oklahoma’s offense that could potentially doom the Buckeyes. Although the rushing stats against the Buckeyes defense last year was not terrible to say, there were times where teams had much success running the ball between the tackles against Ohio State (see Western Michigan and Michigan State games). The key to shutting down Samaje and Mixon again will be the physical mentality of the defensive line. Redshirt Freshman Robert Landers is a guy that could be a key factor in plugging the middle for the Buckeyes. Another guy, who you might see play some of the 3 technique, is true Freshman Nick Bosa. Does that name sound familiar? Yes, Nick Bosa, who is Joey Bosa’s little brother, will see some time at the 3 technique this season and could be key to helping shut down the run game of this dual headed attack of the Sooners. If the Buckeyes are able to successfully limit the run game of the Sooners, the Sooners could very much be in a lot of trouble in Norman.
On the offensive side of things, losing a guy like Ezekiel Elliott is never a good thing, but Ohio State brings back veteran leadership in Redshirt Junior J.T. Barrett as the signal caller. J.T. will be surrounded by youth at almost every position, except center, where Senior Pat Elflein will look to lead the offensive line. Although you have some first time starters on the offensive line, there seems to be considerable confidence in the 1st string line. Now if a guy were to go down, well let’s just say that that confidence may start to wane. J.T. will get a few guys back at Wideout in guys like Noah Brown, Corey Smith, and Curtis Samuel, while also adding new game day faces in Torrance Gibson, Austin Mack, and Binjimen Victor. The keys will be how many crucial drops will the young guys have that can really impact the game and also if J.T. Barrett will be capable of hitting the deep ball. Barrett did a great job of hitting the deep ball to Devin Smith in 2014 when they faced Michigan State in East Lansing and this was a key to a buckeye victory. Much like that 2014 game, J.T.’s ability to hit guys like Noah Brown, Torrance Gibson, and Austin Mack deep will determine how much success Ohio State has on the offensive side of things.
Replacing Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield will be a dual headed tandem, much like the one the Sooners hold, in Senior Bri’Onte Dunn and Redshirt Freshman Mike Weber. Bri’Onte will provide some leadership and game day experience, but it is Mike Weber who provides the potential to be the next wave of successful Ohio State back. Weber will not have to face one of the more dominant Defensive lineman that the Sooners had last year in Defensive End Charles Tapper, who went to the NFL. Tapper was one of the more dominant guys on the Sooner’s defense, but just like Ohio State, you can expect Oklahoma to have guys on their roster to replace the production of a guy like Tapper. If Weber can realize that he does not have to be Ezekiel Elliott, but he just has to be Mike Weber and is able to produce, the running game will be enough the compliment the pass in Norman.
Before you place your bet on a veteran Oklahoma team, who appeared in the playoffs last season, to beat a young greatly inexperienced Ohio State squad in Norman, take into account all the details that are enclosed in this article. Sometimes football is just about match-ups, and from my view, Ohio State matches up very favorably with the Sooners. The games aren’t played on paper though, so we all will just have to wait till September 17th to find out.