Columbus, Ohio — Given Ohio State’s scheduling philosophy and the stature of the two programs, it’s a little surprising that the Buckeyes have only played Oklahoma twice previously, neither of which came in a bowl game or playoff game.
To help make sense of the rare matchup Saturday in Norman, Okla., we’ve turned to Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman to get the Oklahoma point of view. You can follow him on Twitter at @ryaber and you can read his work here.
Q: The stadium just got renovated and it’s a big opponent with a lot at stake. Are you expecting an atmosphere like Texas Tech 2008? Not close to that? Somewhere in between?
Aber: I think if OU plays like it did in that 2008 game, then the crowd could get that rowdy or even louder. This will be the first real test of how much louder the bowled in stadium will be than before the south end zone was fully bowled in for this season. This week, a former OU center, Ty Darlington, called out the students specifically. I’m sure it’ll be awfully loud early. How it performs the rest of the game depends largely on how the Sooners perform on the field.
Q: Oklahoma has been one of the most consistently successful programs of the last 15 years but hasn’t won a national championship since 2000. What’s the attitude toward Bob Stoops among Sooners fans?
Aber: Sooners fans overall are pretty content with Bob Stoops, even as his national title drought extends close to the longest for the school since it won the first of its now-seven national titles. There were a sizable group of OU fans who were getting restless with Stoops a few years ago but the win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a couple years ago and the College Football Playoff appearance last season has turned the tide significantly in Stoops favor.
Q: Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano compared Baker Mayfield’s style of play to that of Brett Favre. Why is he so successful when it comes to extending plays and making something happen?
Aber: Baker Mayfield seems to be able to sense pressure, even when it’s coming from his backside. He often waits until the last second before releasing the ball. Sometimes that leads to sacks or not completing passes but plenty of times that winds up leading to big plays down the field. Mayfield doesn’t come anywhere near the top of anybody’s quarterback chart when it comes to measurables, but he gets the job done and generally makes pretty good decisions.
Q: Urban Meyer seemed concerned about Ohio State’s ability to run inside against Oklahoma. What makes the Sooners defensive line such a formidable opponent? Is that the strength of the defense?
Aber: A lot of Oklahoma’s defensive line success starts with Matt Romar and Charles Walker. They’re both big run-stopping-type players who can make plays themselves and get their linebackers space to make plays. Walker was injured last week and his status for Saturday could be in question. But OU has built up a fair amount of depth on the defensive line the last couple seasons.
Q: Oklahoma has two outstanding running backs in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. How are both used? Does it change by week and by opponent?
Aber: Perine is the battering-ram type of runner that generally wears down defenses with his physicality. Over the last couple years, he’s had a lot of his yards in the second half as defenses get worn down. Last year, Joe Mixon was clearly the No. 2 option behind Perine. This season so far, it’s been much more 1 and 1A. Mixon has proven to be much more dangerous in open space than he was as a redshirt freshman a year ago and he’s become a big piece in the passing game as well. Last week, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley used both backs at the same time more frequently than he had in the past. Where Mixon lags is running between the tackles. Mixon seems to be the back more suited to what Riley likes to do offensively, but last season he found ways to mix in Perine’s skills in the offense. Both figure to get considerable touches Saturday.
Q: What position groups or matchups should Oklahoma feel most and least confident in against Ohio State?
Aber: I think the Sooners should be most confident in their defensive line — though the potential loss of Charles Walker certainly hurts — and at quarterback with Mayfield. They’ve been able to create pressure with their front and have been very tough against the run for the last few years. As for least confident, I would say their secondary and offensive line. The secondary had a couple notable busts even against ULM and the second cornerback spot is still unsettled. The offensive line has already been shuffled some, although OU coaches feel good about what they’ve done so far. It could wind up being a strength but right now the only clear strength on the front is in left tackle Orlando Brown.
Q: What’s the vibe around the program after the loss to Houston? Most teams don’t face a must-win game in Week 3.
Aber: It’s a back-against-the-wall mentality, pretty similar to the way the team felt after last season’s loss to Texas. That wound up turning out pretty well for the Sooners as they won out and went to the College Football Playoff. Everyone understands that a loss here ends any hope of achieving the biggest goal they set this season — getting back to the CFP and winning a national title.
Q: What’s your prediction?
Aber: Oklahoma is going to play better than it did against Houston in the season opener. I think this game goes down to the wire but the Buckeyes’ defense on the back end especially winds up making a play or two that turn the tide toward Ohio State and the Buckeyes win, 27-24.