Ranked No. 3 in the nation, the Buckeyes are heading into to hostile territory for the first time in 2016 as they are set to take on Oklahoma in Norman. The Sooners are looking to get their College Football Playoff hopes back on track after an early season loss, while Ohio State is set to prove that while it is a young team, they can compete with the best. With the stage set, we give you five things to look for once these two powers kickoff.
1. Will Ohio State's Defense Respond?
As if the Ohio State defense didn't already have enough motivation heading into the prime time showdown against Oklahoma, Sooner backup quarterback Austin Kendall decided to call the Buckeyes defense "basic" and claim that starting quarterback Baker Mayfield "will light them up." The Buckeyes have scored three touchdowns on defense in two games this season and have yet to allow an opposing offense to score, forcing seven interceptions as well. Mayfield is one of the best signal callers in the country and is going up against a young, motivated OSU secondary. This matchup could very well be the one that decides the outcome.
2. Battle In The Trenches
The loss of Tracy Sprinkle appears to be a bigger loss than expected. Early on in the Tulsa game, the Golden Hurricane was getting a push up front on the Buckeye defensive line and on the other side of the ball was giving OSU problems as well. Not until the second half did Ohio State finally figure out the Tulsa front, but against a team like Oklahoma, they might not have too much time to get things fixed. Add in the fact that three OSU offensive linemen will be making their first start in a true road game and it seems as though the Sooners could have the upper hand in that area. The team that wins the battle inside on both sides of the ball will likely be the one that comes out on top.
3. Playing In Space
As we just discussed, Oklahoma is big up front on defense and plays a 3-4, something Ohio State has not seen a lot of so far. When Houston knocked off the Sooners, the Cougars had a lot of success on the perimeter, throwing swing passes and rolling quarterback Greg Ward out of the pocket to negate the Sooner pass rush. Look for Ohio State to possibly do the same early to get some easy throws for J.T. Barrett and give some confidence to a young wide receiver group.
4. Dealing With The Noise
Like we mentioned earlier, this is going to be the first true road game for many first year starters for the Buckeyes. This game is being hyped as the biggest home game for Oklahoma since a 2008 contest against Texas Tech, so communication could be difficult for the Ohio State offense. The good news for the Buckeyes is that they have veterans at both quarterback and center, the two key players on offense that make the checks and calls at the line. While a raucous crowd could very well fluster a young QB or center, I don't think the noise will give the Buckeyes too many problems.
5. Gameplan Curveballs
While Oklahoma might have shown a bit more on film in order to try and beat Houston, it is unlikely the Buckeyes have opened up to the back of the playbook in wins over Bowling Green and Tulsa. The likelihood that Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson get more touches from both H-back and running back positions is high, and we have yet to see senior Corey Smith record a catch this season. I think Ohio State dives deep into their playbook to get the win in Norman, and we might see some new wrinkles from both teams offensively early and often.