Inside Slant: Five Questions with Oklahoma Beat Writer Eric Bailey

Ohio State at Oklahoma 2016

This is the biggest game of the week, and one of the biggest games of the college football season. Oklahoma comes into Columbus ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the Coaches Poll, while the Ohio State Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in both polls.

In order to give you more insight than I am possibly capable of, I reached out to Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW), who covers the Sooners for the Tulsa World. Actually, he reached out to me for this Q & A, which then made him morally obligated to return the favor.

As always, the Inside Slant adheres to the international rules of Q & A pieces. I am the Q and Eric is the A.

1. Ohio State was able to handle Indiana’s tempo because of defensive line depth. What does Oklahoma’s depth up front look like? How many players will rotate in and who are a couple of names to know?
Oklahoma installed a four-man front during spring drills and, while they continue to maintain that they remain multiple, expect to see that look often on Saturday night. While they don’t have the numbers on the interior as Ohio State, they do have much more depth this season compared to seasons past. Senior Matt Romar and sophomore Neville Gallimore are the strength inside, while seniors Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and D.J. Ward will be ones to watch on the ends. True freshman Tyreece Lott received playing time against UTEP, while sophomore Marquise Overton joins him providing depth on the inside. Also on the ends are Mark Jackson (sophomore) and Kenneth Mann (sophomore). Tally up the experience and there are three seniors and five underclassmen among the top eight players. It’ll be interesting to see how the youth plays at the Horseshoe.

2. A lot of people are saying the Sooners have the best offensive line in the nation. What makes them so good?
Bill Bedenbaugh, Oklahoma’s fifth-year offensive line coach, changed the look of the offensive line through recruiting. Instead of athletic, modest-sized players (which was the focus before his arrival), Bedenbaugh has focused on size and his teaching has helped the unit become successful. All five starters return from last season and two other reserves started games last season. The average weight of each starter is 315. The offensive line is anchored by preseason first-team All-American Orlando Brown at left tackle. He is the son of Orlando “Zeus” Brown, the former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman. Ohio State definitely will test the Sooners at the line of scrimmage, and this game probably will be won or lost at the point of attack.

3. We know Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are gone. How are they being replaced and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the new running game?
Oklahoma got an idea of who the replacements would be in the 56-7 victory over UTEP, but a leader did not emerge from the opening game. Sophomore Abdul Adams backed up Perine and Mixon last season and probably will be the featured back against Ohio State. He had a team-high 53 yards rushing and added a catch for 34 yards. Rodney Anderson, who has had an injury-plagued first two years, is healthy and coaches are high on him. While those two are physical backs, junior college transfer Marcelias Sutton brings a different style of game built around his speed. The strength of the position is the depth, but inexperience could play a factor. None of the players have played in this big of a game and, again, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond.

4. Watching a 24-minute version of UTEP-OU on YouTube, the Buckeyes are just going to have to accept giving up 150 yards receiving to a couple different tight ends, but what have the outside receivers shown in spring/fall camp and the opener?
Junior Mark Andrews (7 catches, 134 yards) and freshman Grant Calcaterra (2 catches, 29 yards) both had touchdown receptions as tight ends but you are right. Who will be the go-to person on the outside? Jeff Badet is a graduate transfer from Kentucky and had a good debut (4 catches, 91 yards) in the opener. He led the SEC in yard per catch last season (21.6 ypc) and showed some of his strengths on Saturday, including an acrobatic competitive reception. Coaches are high on CeeDee Lamb, who became only the third true freshman wide receiver to start a season opener at Oklahoma. Look for those four to be Baker Mayfield’s top targets on Saturday night.

5. I expect J.T. Barrett to go deep a handful of times in this game. What kind of secondary will he be throwing against in terms of skill set, production, and experience?
This will be the biggest question about the defense, not only in the Ohio State game but all season. Oklahoma’s secondary has been apt to give up big plays in recent years. Jordan Thomas, before the 2016 season, was projected the nation’s top NFL prospect at cornerback in the preseason. After an average season, he chose to return for his senior season. Parnell Motley, a sophomore, won the second cornerback job in fall camp. Depth took a hit in the opener as Jordan Parker (who started eight games at corner last season) tore his ACL. The primary backups to Thomas and Motley are true freshmen Tre Norwood and Tre Brown. Strong safety Steven Parker, a four-year starter, is the leader of the secondary. Will Johnson, who played nickel against Ohio State last season, will start his second game at free safety. For OU to have success on Saturday, it cannot allow Barrett to have another four-touchdown game or throw over the top.

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