No. 3 Ohio State faces stern test in No. 14 Oklahoma
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State burst out of the gate this season at a pace that defies its youth.
With only six returning starters from last season, the Buckeyes have shown no signs of a drop-off from coach Urban Meyer's previous teams with a 2-0 start against overmatched opponents.
Ohio State climbed to No. 3 in this week's Associated Press poll after a 48-3 victory over Tulsa on Saturday at a rain-soaked Ohio Stadium after destroying Bowling Green 77-10 in its opener.
Now comes the first big test this week when the Buckeyes travel to Norman, Okla., to face No. 14 Oklahoma (1-1) in a matchup of storied college football programs on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. Fox Sports).
The young and talented Buckeyes are eager to test their mettle before going into Big Ten play against a top-shelf program at Oklahoma. This is the type of game between giants that players and college fans circle on the calendar.
This summer, the Associated Press ranked the top 100 college football teams since 1936 and Ohio State was ranked No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2. The two programs have combined to win 12 AP poll championships.
The last time the team met, Ohio State posted a 24-14 victory over Oklahoma during the 1983 season in Norman, avenging a 29-28 loss in 1977 in Columbus on a last-second field goal.
Though the Sooners stumbled in their opener two weeks ago with a loss to Houston, which is coached by former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer has consulted with Herman and knows what lies ahead.
"This one's real, real, real," Meyer said after the Buckeyes outscored its first two overmatched opponents 125-13.
Ohio State's defense was the story in the win over Tulsa. The Buckeyes forced six turnovers and completely throttled a team that finished 13th in the country in total offense a year ago.
The defense returned only three starters from last season, but playmakers are emerging all over the field for the Buckeyes, who have given up 13 points in two games and seven of those came on an interception return for a touchdown.
Safety Malik Hooker is leading FBS in interceptions with three through two games and cornerback Marshon Lattimore had two picks against Tulsa. They're looking forward to more of a challenge and for improvement this week.
"We still have to go a little bit," Lattimore said, "but we're ready. I told the guys we've got the talent. If we perfect the schemes, we can come out with the win at Oklahoma."
When it was pointed out that the defense has not given up a touchdown this season, Ohio State linebacker and leading tackler Raekwon McMillan said, "We don't like field goals, either.
"It feels good not letting anybody in the zone. Hopefully, we can do the same thing next week (against Oklahoma). They're a great team that has great athletes. We're going to try and keep it going."
Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense has more weapons than Ohio State's defense has faced so far. The Sooners rebounded from the opening loss with a 59-17 rout of Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
The Buckeyes' offense, meanwhile, got off to a slow start against Tulsa. Ohio State was leading just 6-3 late in the second quarter before Hooker and Lattimore returned interceptions for touchdowns that make it 20-3 at halftime.
After a storm delay extended halftime, the offense came out and pounded on Tulsa in the second half to pull away.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett ran for two touchdowns after halftime to lead the rejuvenated offense. In the first two games, the junior has passed four six touchdowns and run for three.
Barrett, a Texas native, now has accounted for 76 touchdowns during his three-year career, including 25 on the ground. The Buckeyes will rely on his steady veteran leadership this week playing in front of a hostile crowd.
"It'll be a great environment for college football," Barrett said. "It's going to be loud. We'll be pumping noise at our practices to work on communication this week, so that should help. I'll do my best to be really loud so next time you talk to me I probably won't have my voice."
The Buckeyes certainly won't underestimate Oklahoma this week. H-back Dontre Wilson knows the offense has to start better against the Sooners than it did against Tulsa.
"That's the plan not to start that way and I don't think we'll start that way," Wilson said. "We've got to establish the running game. Once the running game pops, we can start doing better."
The same goes for the Sooners. There might actually be more pressure on Oklahoma after its opening loss to Houston. Another stumble likely would take them out of the running for the College Football Playoff before conference play begins.
"It'll be a big challenge," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, an Ohio native. "Of course, everyone here is excited about it. The fans are. It'll be a great week to get ready for and enjoy the competition."