COLUMBUS, Ohio – The deeper a coach must go on his roster, usually the deeper the trouble. It's best not to venture too many fathoms on the team depth chart.
What Oklahoma achieved Saturday night using a slew of inexperienced personnel at No. 2-ranked Ohio State was, well, unfathomable (sorry).
Several new faces already have proven themselves as key contributors. Doesn't matter if the Sooners are at home in a season-opener against UTEP, or playing college football's game of the week on the road against the mighty Buckeyes.
Playing in front of 109,088 fans at famed Ohio Stadium – the largest gathering ever to witness an OU game and the largest crowd ever for an Ohio State home opener – the No. 5-ranked Sooners posted an authoritative 31-16 victory over the Buckeyes.
Consider it payback for OU's 45-24 loss to Ohio State last year in Norman. Do unto others? The Sooners certainly undid the Buckeyes, and did so with both the known and lesser-known.
The familiar face of senior quarterback Baker Mayfield once again did his part, but so did lesser-knowns such as junior safety Kahlil Haughton and redshirt sophomore receiver Lee Morris, plus running back Trey Sermon and safety Robert Barnes, both true freshmen.
With multiple starters getting nicked up and unable to return throughout the game, the Sooners smashed the Buckeyes with a mish-mash lineup.
“We went through, gosh, I don't know how many players again tonight?” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops asked. “I couldn't keep track of all the guys... We probably played eight DBs (defensive backs).”
Afterward, first-year Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said the story of the night was how well his defense played.
“Well, this is a little better feeling than last year,” Stoops said as he sat down for his post-game interview session. “That was probably one of my worst coaching jobs ever a year ago, that's for sure. I was probably more embarrassed in the way we played the game than (the players were).”
While the OU defense undeniably was stout, the team's offense might have been more impressive, gaining 490 yards against a unit considered to have the nation's best defense.
“Ohio State's got some freaks up front,” Mayfield said endearingly. “Our guys (on the offensive line) played well. They rose up to the challenge and we played well. We executed and I'm very proud of those guys.”
Much like the 56-7 victory against UTEP, during which eight different Sooners scored touchdowns, Mayfield once again spread the wealth while completing 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State.
“I've told you guys before, he trusts them,” Riley said of Mayfield's ever-fluctuating supporting cast. “This isn't the NFL. We can't go sign a free agent or claim someone off waivers. This is who we have and we're good with who we have. Those guys stepped up and made some big plays.”
Mayfield connected with nine different receivers against the Buckeyes and threw scoring strikes to Sermon and Morris, who is a walk-on. “He probably won't be a walk-on much longer,” a smiling Riley said of Morris, whose two career catches the past two weeks have both been for touchdowns.
Sermon came off the bench to rush for 62 yards on 17 carries and hauled in three receptions for 23 yards. “He was fun to watch,” Riley said of the 6-foot, 220-pounder from Marietta, Ga. “He was in the moment the whole night. He's got that steady demeanor. He has the right mindset for a true freshman to come and play in a game like this. He ran physical and took care of the ball. Our trust level in him is very high right now.”
"We never got down... We just stayed with it. We competed at a high, high level. I was proud of them but we expected to win this game."
– Head Coach Lincoln Riley
The Sooners outgained Ohio State 222-92 in the first half, yet had to settle for a 3-3 tie thanks to their two fumbles, a dropped touchdown pass and a missed 37-yard field goal.
“We were moving the ball well, (but) obviously stopped ourselves,” Riley said. “We felt like we were close offensively and obviously we were playing so well defensively. The guys just played so passionate. Mike and the guys had a great plan. Our guys I thought executed really well. At halftime, the guys really believed. They felt like we had outplayed them. We felt we were right on the verge of busting it open.”
And eventually, that's exactly what the Sooners did.
The Buckeyes took a 10-3 lead to open the second half on a touchdown drive set up by a 56-yard kickoff return. OU immediately answered, marching 67 yards in five plays. The drive was capped by a 36-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to senior fullback Dimitri Flowers, who finished with seven receptions for 98 yards – both career highs.
“To come back and match them, to me, was one of the key sequences in the game,” Riley said of forging a 10-10 tie.
After Ohio State added a field goal to recapture the lead, the Sooners responded with 21 straight points in a span of just 7:51 to take a 31-13 lead with 9:26 left in the game.
“We never got down, even with the ebbs and flows of the game,” Riley said. “We just stayed with it. We competed at a high, high level. I was proud of them but we expected to win this game.”