COLUMBUS, OHIO – In the world of college football, there aren’t many things better than a top 5, national spotlight matchup in one of the hallowed cathedrals of the sport in front of 109,000 people. Unless, that is, rendering those 109,000 a non-factor, followed immediately by prompting an exercise to see how quickly 109,000 people can evacuate with 9-plus minutes to play in the game. And so it was at The Horseshoe in Columbus, as the Sooners avenged last year’s beatdown in Norman with a similar shellacking of Ohio State, 31-16.
In truth, this game was not nearly as close as the score indicated, as the Sooners left probably 24 points on the field in the first half. OU failed on fourth and four from the OSU 36 on their first drive, and a fumble from Abdul Adams at the Buckeye 24 torpedoed the second Sooner possession. Adams would not see the field the rest of the night, in a very Stoopsian move by Lincoln Riley. On the third possession, Jeff Badet couldn’t hold a Baker Mayfield pass, which was ruled a lateral after review, and gave the ball to Ohio State at the Sooner 46, leading to a field goal, their only points of the half.
On the following OU possession, they moved it to the OSU 20, but an Austin Seibert field goal attempt was wide. OU did not get on the board until 25 seconds remained in the half, when Seibert hit a field goal from 35 yards out to knot it at 3 going into the locker room.
Frustrating though it was, the Sooner offense was carving up OSU’s defense in the first half – they just couldn’t get out of their own way. Fortunately, the Sooner defense, much-maligned last year, and rightly so, showed it was a different unit in 2017, holding Ohio State to less than 100 yards of offense and three points, and keeping the turnovers from hurting like they did against Ohio State in Norman last year. Obo Okoronkwo seemed to be everywhere.
In the second half, the teams traded touchdowns on their opening possessions, and Ohio State followed with a field goal for a 13-10 lead. That’s when the Sooners and Mayfield took over the game. A four-play drive in which the Sooners never went to second down covered 92 yards for a 17-13 lead they would never relinquish. The big plays were a 42-yard pass down the sideline to Mykel Jones, which this reporter missed due to an ill-timed bathroom emergency from the 9-year-old. That was immediately followed by an 18-yard TD pass to Lee Morris.
After Ohio State turned the ball over on downs at the Sooner 36, OU made it a two-score lead. A 12-yard pass to Badet and a pass interference penalty took it to the OSU 37, then a couple of tough runs from Trey Sermon (who likely earned a starting spot next week), sandwiched around a 7 yard third-down pass to Ceedee Lamb, gave OU a first down at the OSU 23. Sermon creased the Buckeyes again for 13 yards to the 10, then Mayfield scrambled before hitting Sermon coming out of the backfield. The freshman banged into the end zone, and the Sooners were up 24-13.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Parnell Motley picked off OSU QB J.T. Barrett at the Buckeye 27, and the Sooners were ready to salt it away. A third and eight pass to Badet was ruled complete on replay, and OU had it first and goal at the Buckeye three. Jordan Smallwood swept in from there, and it was 31-13 with 9:26 to play in the game, triggering a mass exodus of scarlet and gray from The Horseshoe. Ohio State would add a field goal, but it was just window dressing.
Mayfield ended up 27 of 25 for 386 yards, three TDs, and no picks or even potential picks. His mistakes in last season’s Ohio State game were redeemed, in spades. He will head up many Heisman lists this week, which means not a thing, but is still nice. Our main concern post-game revolves around the health of Mark Andrews, who left in the first quarter with a leg injury, and Will Johnson, who may have sustained a repeat concussion. As long as these aren’t season-ending, however, they will have time to heal, with Tulane in Norman, a reeling Baylor in Waco, a bye week, and Iowa State in Norman on the docket before the trip to Dallas.
The atmosphere in Ohio Stadium was as big-time as it comes, accompanied by a notable absence of in-game programming. No hidden ball videos, and very few ads. The game experience was largely dictated by what happened on the field, which was not unwelcome. No “third down for what,” no fire up fourth quarter videos – no nothing, really. The big screen was for replays, and that was about it.
We were surprised at the low-key nature of the intro video and the lack of anything to really fire up the crowd before the game. And, honestly, Tennessee was much louder. That may have been influenced by Neyland Stadium being essentially a metal canyon, as well as our position on literally the top row of Ohio Stadium, in a seat that may well have been the furthest from the field in the entire establishment.
While Neyland Stadium retains the tightest concourses we have seen to date, Ohio Stadium wasn’t much better. A halftime bathroom break required cutting through literally every concession line along the way.
As for the locals, we literally had no negative interactions with them. At all. Like at all, period. Not in the airport, the hotel, downtown Columbus, or at the game. Not even a snarky comment walking by, which always happens at least once at every non-conference road game.
Despite their reputation, Buckeye Nation was friendly and engaging. We thank them for their hospitality, and would be pleased to have e another home and home with them anytime. We will be rooting for them the rest of the season, and not just because the more they win, the better this win looks. Although that’s reason enough.
And we will say this now. Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, this game showed that Bob Stoops made the right decision, for himself and the program. Lincoln Riley significantly outcoached Urban Meyer - a guy with three national championships and socks older than Riley – in the Pontiff’s own house.
We are not saying that Stoops couldn’t or wouldn’t have done the same, but Big Game Bob is gone, an Large Game Lincoln is here. And Stoops was there for it, in a pink shirt, yelling his head off in a suite, down on the field congratulating Riley and the players after the game, and deflecting media inquiries with an “I’m out – it’s all them.”
And so, just as the O-H-I-O chant rang through the four corners of a virtually empty Owen Field last year, Boomer Sooner echoed through a virtually empty Ohio Stadium this night, the only remaining inhabitants wearing a decidedly darker shade of red than those who vacated the premises prematurely. The crimson faithful remaining were rewarded with a Cotton Bowl-esque midfield flag planting by Mayfield that had some scarlet denizens wringing their hands over class and such.
The bottom line of that is this: you don’t want someone planting their flag in your big O? Then don’t let them come into your house and run you in front of 109,000. Simple. The rest is just noise.