National aspirations at stake as OU travels to Ohio State

NORMAN – First-year Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley will take a young but talented team to No. 2 Ohio State Saturday for a national game with playoff implications.

Ohio State could be the best team the No. 7 Sooners face all year. Last season, the Buckeyes beat OU 45-24 under Coach Bob Stoops in Norman.

Riley passed his first test Saturday with an impressive 56-7 home win over over-matched UTEP.

“We were outmatched,” said UTEP coach Sean Kugler. “I knew going into the game that’s a potential national champion quality offense, that’s one of the better offensive lines that I’ve seen. They put things together, they have an outstanding quarterback, he can move on his feet and he really understands the game. He (Baker Mayfield) made some great throws, some really accurate throws, and really accurate deep throws. They have an outstanding team, we weren’t physically matching up with them, especially defensively. We had one good drive, but then had some penalties and some drops. I didn’t think our quarterbacks played inefficiently we just didn’t do much to help them out.”

“Regardless of who we play next, I think we know more about our team now,” said Riley. “We’ll know even more as we get a chance to get back and study the tape. We’ll know what we’re going to become, and seeing the start of that and starting to find out where your strengths are and where your holes are and you’ve got to get better, and that’s kind of all part of this process. Again, regardless of who we play, we definitely learned a lot in that first game and we’ll find a lot of good and find a lot of things we need to get back to work on.”

Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes struggled in the first half on the road against Big 10 rival Indiana but pulled away in the second half to win 49-21.

“The 3rd quarter was obviously the change in the game,” Meyers said. “(Quarterback) J.T. (Barrett) still misfired on some deep balls, but the crossing routes were working big for us. Our defense was exposed big time in the first half, our pass defense was awful. It was not complicated, they were just picking on the corners. The corners have got to step up, and see what’s coming in nine days against Oklahoma. If we don’t get that right, that’s a problem.”

OU’s defense will have to perform at a high level to upset the Buckeyes.

“Ohio State is a great team and very well coached,” said OU defensive back Steven Parker. “We are going to come out with a great game plan and do what we have to do to come out on top.”

“We’ve just got to be better and keep pushing forward, especially when we’re playing a better opponent like Ohio State,” said cornerback Parnell Motley.

Heisman candidate quarterback Baker Mayfield looked as sharp Saturday as he has during OU’s nation-leading 11-game winning streak.

“I am always amazed,” All-American offensive lineman Orlando Brown said of Mayfield. “He takes a lot of pride in what he does as a quarterback. He has been very consistent for us over the last three years. I’m proud of him. I’m just glad he is the quarterback.”

Mayfield, who didn’t play in the second half, hit 16 passes in a row and was 19 of 20 for the game with 329 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.

OU’s receivers are mostly new but they caught almost every pass Mayfield threw.

“You guys have heard me say it a million times in the last couple of months – that’s been a huge focus point for us, getting him settled in with those guys and you can’t get settled in if you don’t trust them,” Riley said.  “You’ve got to give them chances. Baker did that today and gave those guys chances and trusted them. Their confidence is going to grow, Baker’s confidence in them is going to grow and that’ll be, obviously, a good thing for us.”

“It’s the first game but it was a good start,” Mayfield said. “Dede (Westbrook) last year was a special breed, but I think Jeff Badet and Marquise Brown are comparable. They’re a completely different kind of receiver, they can run so you have to let the ball go early. All of our guys though, Grant (Calcaterra), CeeDee (Lamb), Mark (Andrews), I just wanted to give all of them a chance to catch the ball and make a play. Jeff Badet has some real speed, though.”

Tight end Mark Andrews, the leading returner in the receiving corps, caught seven passes for 134 yards and one score. Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet caught four passes for 91 yards.

“We felt like he was going to have a chance to be a big weapon for us,” Riley said of Andrews. “He’s grown a lot in the past few years from being an every-other-down type of guy to being out there and playing long stretches at a time. He played really well. I thought he was really good after the catch today. He’s been able to run away from some people in the past. I was excited today to see him run through some people and use not only that speed and quickness that he has and is very gifted with, but some power.”

Mayfield may have found a new favorite target to replace Dede Westbrook.

“I don’t know what the roster says but he’s almost 260 (lbs.) and he’s moving well,” Mayfield said of Andrews. “He’s a guy that you look at the stat sheet and he’s got seven catches for 134 yards so I have to get him the ball. He’s going to make competitive plays. Him and Dimitri (Flowers) are going to play a big role for us this year. He’s part of the great leadership we have here so it was great to see him come out and have a good first game. It was good for him to come out and prove that we’re not going to just talk about it but we’re going to be about it.”

Three running backs, Abdul Adams, Marcellias Sutton and Trey Sermon each gained more than 50 yards on the ground. Those three and Rodney Anderson are looking for playing time.

No running back emerged as a star Saturday but several looked pretty good.

“I thought they were steady, we had some big runs,” Riley said. “I think those guys will grow to pop more big ones. When you get those first ones in the game, it takes some time. All of a sudden you come out on the second level where you run through a couple of tackles and now the next step is hitting some of those big ones and I think you even saw the growth of that even in the previous years from Joe [Mixon] and Samaje [Perine].”

Adams was the starting running back.

“I was not nervous at all,” Adams said. “I was ready from last year from traveling with the guys and I was encouraged. I was used to the setting and the environment. Coming from high school, I never really played in front of 90,000 people. It was always like 400 or 500-plus. I just felt ready from experience.”