This matchup lost a little bit of its luster when former Ohio State assistant and Houston head coach knocked off Oklahoma week one. However, the Sooners likely need to win this game to stay in the playoff hunt. On the other hand, the Buckeyes are out to prove that they belong in the early playoff discussion with a statement win. With the stage set, it is time to go inside the film room and see how OSU might prepare for the Sooners.
Looking Back At 2015
Last year, the Sooners were where Ohio State wanted to be. Oklahoma was in the College Football Playoff after putting together an 11-1 record, their only loss coming to Texas week five. Baker Mayfield exploded onto the college football scene, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting after a year in which he threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions. Mayfield is also a threat to run with the football, as he added 405 yards on the ground and an additional seven scores. Mayfield is joined in the backfield by a pair of star tailbacks as Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for more than 2,000 yards rushing a season ago. Perine owns the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a game, putting up 427 yards as a freshman in 2014 against Kansas. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,349 yards and 16 scores in 2015 but has only put up 85 yards this season after suffering a shoulder injury against Houston.
At receiver, the Sooners lost their leading receiver from 2015 as Sterling Shepard was selected in the NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Dede Westbrook was Oklahoma's second leading receiver a season ago and is now appears to be Mayfield's go to receiver. Westbrook leads the Sooners in receptions this season with 12 through two games. Tight end/wide receiver Mark Andrews has been the big play man however for the Sooners in 2016. After catching 19 passes a season ago, Andrews has five catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns already in 2016, and at 6-foot-5, 250 could be a red zone threat that the Sooners go to.
Defensively, the Sooners return six starters from 2015, but have struggled thus far to stop the big play through the air. Already this season, Oklahoma has given up plays of 73, 44 and 43 through the air two of which went for touchdowns. The Sooners run a 3-4 defense up front with nose guard Jordan Wade weighs in at 310 pounds, as he will try to clog up the middle of the Ohio State offense.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
Like last week, we will be using Houston as the measuring stick here. The Cougars and Herman run a very similar style offense to the Buckeyes, so most of what we looked at here is the opener between Houston and Oklahoma. While Ohio State likes to run the ball early and often, the Sooners front seven makes it very hard to do so. The Cougars were only able to muster 89 rushing yards against the Sooners front, 88 of which came from running back Duke Catalon. Dynamic quarterback Greg Ward managed just one rushing yard on 18 carries, with his longest run netting him 11 yards.
Because running up the middle was a struggle against such a stout Oklahoma front, the Cougars opened up the game by moving the pocket and getting Ward out on the edge. They did it more than once on the opening drive, and started out the game that way. We saw OSU do the same thing on the first play against BG. With a young offensive line in a hostile environment, look for the Buckeyes to move the pocket early in passing situations and get the ball out quick.
Houston's biggest target, Steven Dunbar had a field day against the Sooner corners, breaking tackles and getting leverage by using his wide frame. His skillset is similar to that of Ohio State's Noah Brown, who could use his big frame for a big day against the Oklahoma corners.
In the run game, Houston had their success by getting to the edge. I expect Ohio State to run plenty of jet sweeps and flares out to the running back, particularly with Curtis Samuel to keep him away from the big interior of the Sooner front.
When the Buckeyes get into the red zone, we could see them go to a play that both the Cougars had success with, and that we have seen Ohio State run before on the biggest stage. Remember this play from the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship Game?
It is the exact same play (commonly called a Snag, Spot or Rub concept) that Houston ran against the Sooners inside the five on first and goal to score their second touchdown of the game.
When Oklahoma Has The Ball
The Sooners stuck early against the Cougars with a simple counter play that sprung Mixon for a 32 yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. They tried to come back to this later, but the Houston defense adjusted, allowing Oklahoma just 70 yards rushing. The Sooners have a young but big offensive front. Three sophomores, a junior and a redshirt freshman make up the Sooner offensive line, which is much better in run blocking than pass protection. As you will see below, they move well and are fast enough to pull around often to spring the Sooner backs for big plays.
You will notice No. 91 for Houston comes up field too quickly on this play, which allows Mixon to break loose. It will be key for the Ohio State defensive ends to stay home in the run game and not get too far upfield and get washed out of a play. This could be hard for them to do, because the Oklahoma tackles have struggled with a good pass rush so far this season.
Against the Cougars, the Oklahoma offensive line allowed five sacks, and it likely could have been more had it not been for Mayfield's exceptional escapeability. I would not be shocked to see the Buckeyes put a spy on Mayfield early on to try and keep him contained. Last week against Tulsa, you might have noticed Ohio State's willingness to walk the linebackers out of the box to cover slot wide receivers. I expect much less of that this week with Mayfield's ability to run.
One of the Sooners big plays against Houston came when the Cougars brought pressure and Oklahoma caught the deep safety napping. Running just a three man route, the Sooners kept a slot receiver in to set the edge to give Mayfield time and a play action rollout caught the deep safety and then it was just pitch and catch.
I am willing to bet that Greg Schiano has shown this play multiple times in film to his safeties this week, in an effort to tell them to stay home on any play action fakes.
The Buckeyes must also be aware of Perine out of the backfield. He already has five catches in two games this season, as the Sooners will call designed flare routes to him or get him the ball as a check down read in the pass game.