It’s the biggest game of the week — No. 5 Oklahoma at your No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes. Both teams had relatively easy wins last week, though only the Buckeyes were playing an opponent where that should count for something.
The winner of this game gets a massive credit line extended to them, while the loser will go back to their paycheck-to-paycheck existence, hoping that all of their bills never come due at the same time.
What should you be watching for this week? A few things.
1. J.T. Barrett will take more deep shots.
Urban Meyer was upset that the Buckeyes didn’t hit any deep shots last week against Indiana. Off the top of my head, I recall J.T. Barrett taking three real shots downfield. One was dropped, one resulted in a pass interference, and the third was overthrown to Marcus Baugh. Something like five shots downfield might be too much to ask, but one per quarter shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish for an offense that has stressed the deep ball like this one has. The Oklahoma secondary is a question mark and with a game under Barrett’s belt, it’s time to show off what they have spent so much time working on.
2. What is Mike Weber’s role?
True freshman J.K. Dobbins will start again this week even though Mike Weber is back and allegedly 100%. Are they bringing him back slowly or will the job remain Dobbins’ to keep? If Dobbins keeps ripping off 150 yards every week, there’s no way they go away from him. This isn’t a Jordan Hall situation when Carlos Hyde was suspended to start the 2013 season. Hall had 64 carries for 302 yards in those three games, and then just 17 carries over the next 11 games once Hyde came back. Dobbins isn’t going to disappear like Hall did, but what does that mean for Mike Weber? This is the game they were saving him for, so what will his role be against Oklahoma? I have no idea. I expect he will have a complementary role in this game, but what happens moving forward? Will the roles that have been reversed eventually revert back to what they were supposed to be?
3. The OSU defensive ends against the Oklahoma tackles.
Left tackle Orlando Brown is an All-American and NFL legacy. He is big — roughly the size of an elevator in an old hotel — and just about as mobile. If the Buckeyes are going to win this game, it might just come down to this very matchup. Oklahoma’s entire starting offensive line returns from last season. Ohio State managed three sacks in that game and the defensive ends were involved in two of them. The Buckeyes can’t allow quarterback Baker Mayfield to relax, which means you’ll see constant rotation at defensive end for Ohio State. Will we see six of them like we did in the first half last week? Perhaps, though I wonder how much of that was due to the sheer number of plays and the tempo that Indiana was operating under. Oklahoma may be similar, so all six OSU defensive ends will need to be ready, including the true freshman Chase Young.
4. How will OSU handle Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews?
It won’t be flawless, but I would expect them to be physical with Mark Andrews like they were a year ago. He left that game with some serious welts. Jerome Baker shadowed Indiana tight end Ian Thomas a bit last week, and he may do the same at times with Andrews. There won’t be one solution here, as it will take the entire Buckeye village to defend him. The good news is that the Ohio State linebackers are as athletic as any group in the nation, so what would normally be a huge mismatch for Oklahoma will be diminished at least a bit. Prepare yourself for Andrews to have some success, however, because he and Baker Mayfield are too good to be shut down.
5. Can the Buckeyes contain Baker Mayfield?
Containing Baker Mayfield so well a year ago is one of the reasons the Buckeyes won so convincingly. Yeah, they only sacked him three times, but they weren’t trying to come tearing in and rip his head off. They were trying to keep him centrally-located and then defend him, which they did. Jerome Baker spied Mayfield on third downs, and also on his fourth-down interception return for a touchdown. Expect more spying this week. One interesting thing that Baker said about facing Mayfield is that he knows if he is coming in to make a tackle, he can’t do it full speed because Mayfield will make you miss. He has to come in at 80-85% and be fundamentally sound if he’s coming after the Sooner quarterback. The Buckeyes will also bring a pass rush from the middle, which could then force Mayfield into the defensive ends who are waiting for him while playing contain. Mayfield is at his best on the move, which is why the OSU defense is going to do everything they can to keep him home.
Bonus: Connecting with Marcus Baugh.
I believe J.T. Barrett was 2-for-6 on pass attempts to Marcus Baugh last week. That number obviously needs to get better and I expect that it will. Just based on the number of times that Barrett threw the ball to Baugh, they had significant plans for him. Maybe this will be one of those times when the under-the-radar Buckeye has a better game than his much-more-ballyhooed counterpart.
Bonus: Consistent playmaking from the middle of the field?
This is actually much bigger than a bonus wondering. Was last week a fluke, or are the Buckeyes now a middle-of-the-field danger to opposing defenses? Can we expect a catch-and-run every week now? I tend to think we should, but I’m also expecting Oklahoma to do some countering. So what’s the counter to that counter? I’m guessing Kevin Wilson is already ready for what’s next.
Bonus: Will J.T. Barrett run more this week?
It’s a big game, which means it’s time to run J.T. Barrett into the ground. Barrett carried the ball 13 times last week, but there weren’t really any hits, and he was cautious when the end of each run came. I expect Barrett to be used on short yardage, even with Mike Weber back. Urban Meyer loves having that extra blocker, and Barrett is exceptional at getting yardage. I’m thinking we’ll see some more misdirection this week, be it QB counters or sweeps and such.