Indiana fans reveled in their team’s third-quarter lead over Ohio State last Thursday, sending chants of “overrated!” toward the field.
For two-and-a-half quarters of football, the Hoosiers seemed to expose the second-ranked Buckeyes, even though Ohio State’s 29 unanswered points and 49-21 win suggested otherwise.
Seventh-ranked Oklahoma travels to Columbus for a primetime Saturday showdown with Ohio State, facing a team that will try to make a larger statement than the one it produced in Week 1.
“I think Ohio State knows what they have to prove, and we know what we have to prove,” OU tight end Mark Andrews said, following a 56-7 win Saturday over UTEP.
Two teams that won their openers by a combined 77 points have something to prove?
It would appear so. OU’s win over the Miners was never in question. The Sooners compiled over 400 yards of offense by halftime and built a four-touchdown lead, but still have an axe to grind this week.
OU rides the nation’s longest winning streak at 11 games, the previous setback a humbling 45-24 loss to Ohio State in Norman last September.
That night has hung like an albatross over the Barry Switzer Center for nearly a year. The Buckeyes rushed for 291 yards, the second-highest total OU surrendered all season, and sent the Sooners limping into a bye week with a 1-2 record.
Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called it a “poorly played game on our part and poorly coached, in a lot of different ways.”
OU offensive tackle Orlando Brown acknowledged the game had a profound effect on the team.
“We probably have changed a lot since then,” he said.
The coaching staff constructed a more physical preseason largely to prepare for this second go-round against Ohio State. The Sooners spent several extra days of post-fall camp practice scheming for the Buckeyes.
“I don’t think we were urgent at that point in time last year,” Brown said.
Are things different now?
After the disposal of UTEP — a pristine performance that served as a momentum-builder in its own way — it was difficult to find an OU player who, two days earlier, didn’t have his eyes fixated on the Ohio State-Indiana game.
“I was locked-in,” OU receiver Jeff Badet said. “That’s something I was really watching. I really wanted to see how the DBs were playing for Ohio State, kind of like me watching film.”
Said Andrews: “I think most people probably watched it.”
The Buckeyes were without leading rusher Mike Weber (hamstring) against Indiana, and their offense produced only two field goals with just over five minutes remaining in the first half.
None of that mattered once young running back J.K. Dobbins got rolling. The freshman's long runs near the end of the half helped dislodge the offense, and he eventually snapped the school’s 15-year-old school record, rushing for 181 yards in his collegiate debut. Maurice Clarett set the previous mark in 2002.
If Weber returns OU will face a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield, a supreme test for the Sooners’ revamped 4-3 defense that UTEP couldn’t provide.
Every aspect of the game environment will differ from Saturday's blowout at Owen Field, from the College Football Playoff implications, to the challenges of playing on the road in Ohio Stadium, to dealing with the massive spotlight. ESPN’s GameDay studio will be entrenched in Columbus, helping project the game nationally.
OU couldn’t have asked for more than a dominant win to start the year, but it will need an even more impressive performance to outlast the Buckeyes.
“We’re gonna have to drastically improve against a physical, fast, explosive football team,” Stoops said. “Every facet of your team is gonna get put on display. We’re gonna have to play a helluva lot better than we played a year ago.”