Following blowout victories over Bowling Green and Tulsa, it’s no shock that the Ohio State football team is 2-0 heading into a pivotal showdown with one-loss Oklahoma on Saturday. Are the first two performances enough to go on the road and take down a Sooners team seeking redemption for a season-opening loss to Houston? A loss to the Buckeyes would certainly remove Oklahoma from the playoff conversation.
Offensively, the first half performance against Tulsa is not going to be the recipe for success in Norman. In fact, it won’t be anywhere close. Thanks to a couple of interceptions returned for touchdowns by Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore, the Buckeyes looked impressive on the scoreboard, but it was the offense that was limited to six points prior to halftime.
However, the lackluster performance in the first half doesn’t concern me one bit. Not that Ohio State was looking ahead, but it’s fairly common to play flat against an inferior opponent with such a significant game upcoming, especially for a young team. Although the two teams reside in the same state, the focus for a team like Tulsa was not be anywhere near the level it will be for Oklahoma. The majority of these new-look Buckeyes will receive their first taste of big-game experience, so don’t think Ohio State won’t be amped and ready to make a statement right out of the tunnel.
When I made my game-by-game predictions for Ohio State back in the spring, I didn’t see Oklahoma as a team the Buckeyes were capable of defeating this early in the season, especially on the road with a lack of experience in a setting like Norman. Unsurprisingly, I think I was wrong. The home field and “backs against the wall” mentality will certainly represent a huge advantage for Oklahoma, but the Buckeyes simply have more talent, particularly on defense.
That’s not a knock on Oklahoma as it is still one of the top teams in the nation despite the loss to Houston. There isn’t a team on Houston’s schedule that is going to knock them off. And who knows, maybe Oklahoma comes out of the gate and lays an old-fashioned whooping on Ohio State en route to a 52-10 pummeling of the Buckeyes. However, the defensive side of the ball is what separates Ohio State from Oklahoma.
Even against lesser competition, I don’t think many expected the Buckeye defense to yield zero touchdowns through the first two games of the season. Granted it was in mop-up time with the game already out of hand and mainly reserves on the field, but the Oklahoma defense allowed multiple touchdowns to the University of Louisiana-Monroe. I realize that has no meaning concerning this matchup, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Oklahoma’s defense is anything but shutdown.
The Sooners possess plenty of playmakers on offense that will put points on the board against any defense, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine, but defense wins championships right? Well, it also wins big games on the road, under the lights.
Oklahoma has more than a fair chance to squeak out a top-five victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. As a result, there shall be no couch-burning along High Street or thought that a playoff appearance is out of the question with a loss. I have previously stated that this is as close to a win-win situation as you can get for Ohio State, especially for the magnitude of this game.
Obviously, a win means the Buckeyes remain undefeated and enjoy a week off before beginning conference play. Even with a loss on Saturday night, if you were to tell me that Ohio State runs the table in the Big Ten and ultimately wins the Big Ten Championship with the only blemish on their resume being a loss at Oklahoma, I would say the Buckeyes are still going to be included in the playoff.
Regardless of how the Ohio State-Oklahoma game plays out, the Buckeyes will take to the bye week with their playoff aspirations still intact.