COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said he took a deep breath when he watched his players get on the bus and then the plane to head to Oklahoma.
He’d seen the Sooners’ accomplishments — Oklahoma was 41-2 at home in nonconference games during the Bob Stoops era — and knew that it wouldn’t be easy to bring 16 new starters into Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with a record crowd on hand.
Instead of watching his team buckle, however, he saw a group that delivered just as emphatic a beating to the No. 14 team in the country as it did to Bowling Green and Tulsa. New starter Noah Brown caught four touchdown passes, one of which was an instant catch of the year contender. New starter Marshon Lattimore intercepted one pass and nearly picked off another. New starter Jerome Baker picked off a pass and ran it back for a touchdown after it was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Jalyn Holmes, who has yet to start a game in his career. The list goes on and on.
From offense to defense to special teams, Meyer saw his team develop before his very eyes.
“They are no longer inexperienced,” Meyer said. “They went on the road and played at Oklahoma. This was the coming of age game.”
That it came on the road in front of a sold-out, raucous environment was an added bonus. When the Buckeyes visit Wisconsin and Penn State for back-to-back road night games, the crowds won’t provide as big a shock as the Penn State whiteout did in 2014 for a similarly inexperienced group whose only prior road games had been noon kickoffs at Navy and Maryland.
With that being said, nobody is pretending that there isn’t work to do. On three separate occasions, Oklahoma followed up an Ohio State touchdown with a score of its own on the ensuing possession, with one of those coming on a kickoff return for a touchdown that revived the crowd from its stunned silence after a 14-0 deficit. The Buckeyes committed 11 penalties for 75 yards and gave up 400 yards of offense.
“It’s our first real test and we’re glad to have it under our belt,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “It’s a jumping off point, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
And then there’s the possibility that the win won’t hold up as a big one. The Sooners are now 1-2 — albeit with both losses coming against top-10 teams — and are unranked in the Coaches Poll and No. 25 in the AP Top 25. Upcoming Oklahoma games against TCU and Texas will determine just how highly Ohio State’s win is thought of down the road.
For now, though, the Buckeyes believe they’ve done enough to shed the youth label they grew so tired of wearing. An open date followed by home games against Rutgers and Indiana will give them more of an opportunity to refine their rough edges before traveling to Madison and State College. The youth is gone, but the work remains.
“Now that we have a hostile environment under our belt, I think we can really build on where we are,” Hubbard said.