Ohio State wins at Oklahoma to emerge as a playoff contender … Barrett was masterful in leading young offense … Noah Brown pulls off catch of the year late in first half.
Ohio State gave up too many yards on defense, repeatedly hit their thumbs with a hammer on offense while drawing easily avoidable penalties and once looked so disoriented on special teams that players were running into each other like a slapstick troupe during a 97-yard kickoff return.
But in a resounding 45-24 victory at Oklahoma, in front of nearly 88,000 howling fans, the Buckeyes stamped themselves as legitimate playoff contenders and left you wondering how all that youth could come together so quickly in such an impressive fashion.
It was reminiscent of the 2014 win on the road at Michigan State, when that collection of newbies rose up for an unexpected 49-37 victory. The Buckeyes weren’t included in any discussion of potential postseason teams before then, but they couldn’t be left out after that.
The Sooners, who were in desperation mode after an earlier loss to Houston, couldn’t stop quarterback J.T. Barrett and his new favorite target, Noah Brown.
The third-year sophomore receiver, who missed all of last season with a leg fracture, tied a program record with four TD catches, including one that no doubt had Ohio State fans jumping out of their La-Z-Boys as if someone had pressed an ejector button.
Late in the first half — with the Buckeyes looking as if they’d squander a prime scoring chance with poor clock management — Brown hauled in a 21-yard scoring pass by pinning the ball against an Oklahoma defender’s back with both hands while falling out of bounds with six seconds left.
In a night full of highlights, that topped them all. And though I’m relying on my increasingly foggy memory, I can’t recall seeing a better reception. Jalin Marshall had a similar catch against Oregon in the national title game two years ago, but the degree of difficulty didn’t match this one.
Before his injury in training camp last year, Brown was drawing raves from his teammates, and Meyer had christened him the team’s No. 1 receiver.
Now we know why.
The unshakable Barrett was 14-of-20 passing for 152 yards, and the Buckeyes — after losing 14 players to the NFL, mind you — racked up 291 rushing yards against an outfit that reached the playoffs last season. And the Buckeyes emerged from that inhospitable environment with nary a turnover.
After the lead reached 42-17 on the first possession of the second half, Ohio State play-callers became more conservative than Ted Cruz. The Sooners, who racked up 404 total yards, scored once to cut into the cushion and were driving again.
But the defense came up with a critical stop on downs at midfield early in the fourth period, putting an end to the drama.
Other top teams haven’t dared to venture away from home in their non-conference seasons — hello, Michigan — or schedule a competitive foe — you can put Alabama on that list every year — but the Buckeyes did both and could reap some rewards from it.
Don’t think that result will escape the attention of the playoff committee. Assuming Oklahoma doesn’t go in the tank from here, that victory will have some shelf life and still look good in December.
Bulletin-board material: The night also included a little comeuppance for Oklahoma back-up QB Austin Kendall, who, you may have heard, said before the game that the Buckeyes’ defense was basic and that starter Baker Mayfield would “light them up.”
Well, Ohio State picked off two passes and hounded the 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist into a pedestrian 17-of-32 showing through the air for 226 yards and two TDs.
The Buckeyes are pretty basic on defense. They don’t do a lot of exotic blitzes. But when you have pass rushers making an impact and a skilled secondary, you don’t need them.
Know when to hold ‘em: The Buckeyes gambled on fourth-and-and-1 from the Oklahoma 36-yard line midway through the first quarter. Actually, it wasn’t much of a gamble since the 36 is kind of no-man’s land. But the payoff was huge.
Hybrid back Curtis Samuel took a handoff, bounced outside with the help of a block from running back Mike Weber and sprinted untouched to the end zone to make it 7-0.
The Sooners were in nearly the same spot on their next series, facing fourth-and-3 at the Ohio State 33. They went for it, and the results were disastrous.
Defensive end Jaylyn Holmes came off the edge unblocked and deflected a pass, which fluttered into the hands of linebacker Jerome Baker, who returned it for a TD — the Buckeyes’ fourth pick-six of the year.
Marshon Lattimore also had an interception, his third this season and the team’s ninth this year after notching 12 all of last season. The Buckeyes scored on the next play on Barrett’s 37-yard rainbow to Brown to make it 28-10.
Football follies: The Buckeyes surged to a 14-0 first quarter lead, but a 97-yard kickoff return by Joe Mixon doused the momentum. And it shouldn’t have counted.
Mixon dropped the ball after 96½ yards, just before crossing the goal line. But no one caught it.
TV replays cleared showed the gaffe, but it was too late to review and overturn.
Good start: The Buckeye defense hadn’t allowed a touchdown in its first two games, and the Sooners almost drove the length of the field on the opening possession.
Mayfield had three chunk plays along the way: a pair of completions on the perimeter and a QB keeper.
But on first down from the 11, the Buckeyes ended their retreat and forced a 27-yard field goal, which doinked off the upright. No score.
The first TD surrendered by the defense came with 4:12 left in the first half. Mayfield connected with A.D. Miller on a 35-yard scoring pass to make it 28-17.
Unsung hero: Punter Cameron Johnston “flipped the field” in the first quarter, unloading a 68-yard boot. After an Oklahoma three-and-out, the Buckeyes took over at the home team’s 45-yard line and took advantage of the short field by bulling their way to a TD.
The fifth-year senior from Australia also dropped five punts inside the 20, including a 47-yarder that was downed at the 1-yard line. Nice.