Maybe the most intriguing part of Oklahoma's 31-16 win over Ohio State on Saturday night is how many mistakes the Sooners made in the process.
The Sooners drove into Ohio State territory on each of their five first-half drives and came away with just three points. They turned the ball over on downs on their first possession, then turned the ball over twice, then missed a field goal.
Teams aren't supposed to survive mistakes like that in Columbus. You take advantage of every chance you get against an Urban Meyer team, or else they take advantage of you. The Sooners and Buckeyes were tied 3-3 at halftime, and OU probably should have been up double digits. When the Buckeyes marched to a touchdown to start the second half — briefly injuring OU’s star defender Obo Okoronkwo in the process — it was easy to see the floodgates opening.
They did, but not in the way one would have imagined.
Team of the Week: Oklahoma
Down 10-3 and frustrated by first-half failures, OU went on a 28-3 run to put away a strangely easy road win. It was technically an upset, but it didn’t look like it. Instead, it was a statement of intent from Lincoln Riley’s first Sooner squad.
On this week’s Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody, I said that in the week’s three biggest games — Ohio State-Oklahoma, USC-Stanford, Clemson-Auburn — we might learn the most about Auburn and Stanford, two teams that hinted at top-five potential but had a lot to prove.
As it turned out, OU had every bit as much to prove ... and actually proved it. It is in our nature to immediately discount the vanquished, and to be sure, Ohio State’s offensive limitations look exactly like last year’s. The Buckeyes still can’t throw vertically with much effectiveness, and their offense against a great opponent was again relegated to “J.T. Barrett left” and “J.T. Barrett right.”
The Buckeyes are still an efficient rushing team, however, and they still have a dominant defensive front. Sooner backs Trey Sermon, Abdul Adams, and Rodney Anderson combined to gain just 92 yards in 26 carries, after all, and despite limitations, Ohio State has enough strengths to finish as a top-five or top-10 team.
They don’t have Baker Mayfield, though. Given extreme degree of difficulty with an iffy run game and an injured Mark Andrews, Mayfield drastically out-dueled Barrett from both an efficiency (77 percent completion rate to 54 percent) and explosiveness (14.3 yards per completion to 9.6) standpoint.
Your September Heisman favorite frequently fails to take the trophy in December, but one has to figure that Mayfield’s odds are good. For one thing, his dominance isn’t exactly an out-of-nowhere tale.
The former Texas Tech walk-on threw for 7,665 yards and 76 touchdowns as the Sooners’ starter in 2015 and 2016, finishing fourth and third, respectively, in the Heisman voting. And while you might try to discount the patently absurd numbers he’s likely to put up in Big 12 play — recent history suggests he’s not going to be taking on a host of elite defenses there — going 27-for-35 for 386 yards in the Horseshoe is quite a statement.
The defense made a lasting impression, too. The Sooners allowed J.K. Dobbins and (in a brief appearance) Mike Weber to gain 101 yards in just 16 carries, and Barrett gained a solid 81 yards in his 15 intentional rushes. But they showed brilliant speed on the perimeter, they prevented big plays, and they were disruptive enough between the tackles to make stops.
They also sacked Barrett three times in 38 pass attempts. Parris Campbell, so brilliant in the open field against Indiana, found none. He gained twice as many yards in a single kick return (56) as he did catching passes (three receptions for 27 yards). Barrett and his receivers were overmatched.
Lincoln Riley, by the way: not overmatched. Going against a Meyer team on its home field, Riley’s Sooners were mature, resilient, and confident. When you’ve got Mayfield on your side, that’s a pretty easy thing to be.
Other Teams of the Week
2. USC (def. Stanford, 42-24)
Remember back in the third quarter of a Week 1 struggle against WMU, when everybody was taking their “Oh look, USC is overrated again” jabs? Hope you got ‘em in while you could.
3. Clemson (def. Auburn, 14-6)
CU’s offense has some questions to answer. Its defense will make sure it has to answer as few as possible.
4. TCU (def. Arkansas, 28-7)
The Horned Frogs have struggled defensively over the last couple of years, but they dominated in Fayetteville, holding Arkansas to 4.9 yards per play and 9-for-23 passing. Don’t crown OU in the Big 12 race just yet. Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and TCU all might be able to land some shots on the Sooners.
5. South Carolina (def. Missouri, 31-13)
The Gamecocks are redefining football as a game in which yards don’t particularly matter. They were doubled up in yardage in a Week 1 win over NC State, then got outgained by only 64 yards by Missouri. That was enough to win by 18.
6. Penn State (def. Pitt, 33-14)
7. Wake Forest (def. Boston College, 34-10)
The last time the Demon Deacons won a conference road game by more than 20 points: the 30-0 win over Florida State in 2006. Guess that means Wake’s winning the ACC this year.
8. Purdue (def. Ohio, 44-21)
In the last four seasons, the Boilermakers scored 44 or more points against an FBS opponent one time. It took Jeff Brohm two games to match that. After nearly beating Louisville and stomping Ohio, it appears Purdue might actually be fun again?
9. Georgia (def. Notre Dame, 20-19)
We still don’t know everything we need to about the Dawgs’ ceiling, but they’ve passed two tests so far. After easily handling Appalachian State, they went on the road and beat a potentially strong Notre Dame. With a freshman QB.
10. Eastern Michigan (def. Rutgers, 16-13)
The Eagles were 0-58 all-time against power conference teams. They are now 1-58. And yes, Rutgers counts.