MITCH STACY, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — No. 3 Ohio State’s ball-hawking defense has given quarterbacks fits in the first two games against overmatched opponents. Part of the intrigue Saturday night will be seeing how the Buckeyes’ D matches up against No. 14 Oklahoma’s dual-threat quarterback and a cast of other elite offensive weapons.
The Buckeyes’ defense has yet to allow a touchdown and has scored three of its own on interception returns. Safety Malik Hooker leads the FBS with three interceptions, including an amazing leap, tip and grab against Bowling Green that led the highlight reels. They have seven picks in the first two games, something that hasn’t happened at Ohio State in 35 years.
“They’ve got good players at every spot and they’re coached well, which is obvious,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said this week. “And you see the athleticism, the speed everywhere.”
But it will be a different ballgame against Oklahoma. “Big boy football” is how Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano put it.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield last year threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, and rushed for 405 yards and seven scores. The effort was good enough for fourth place in Heisman Trophy voting. He’s thrown for 567 yards and five TDs through the first two games this season.
Mayfield, who sat out in 2014 after transferring from Texas Tech, has thrown passes this season to 14 different players, including 6-foot-5 wide tight end Mark Andrews, who has five catches, three of them for touchdowns. Running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon also are prolific receivers.
“It’s not just what he can do as a quarterback,” Schiano said. “What I think makes him most dangerous is when the play breaks down. He tends to create things. He scrambles, but he scrambles to throw the ball down the field. He does a very good job keeping his eyes down the field.”
“He’s very shifty,” said Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who had two interceptions last week, one returned for a 40-yard touchdown.
Mayfield said he doesn’t expect anything fancy from Ohio State, just skilled players who know their jobs.
“They’re just physical,” Mayfield said. “They’re all-around good players. Yeah, they lost a lot of people from last year, but that doesn’t matter. They do a good job recruiting and filling in the spots. They’re an all-around good defense, or else they wouldn’t be giving up only 215 yards a game and 6.5 points per game.”
FIRST TIME AWAY FROM HOME:
Ohio State coaches expressed concern this week about getting so many young players ready for the first away game in a hostile atmosphere against another top-tier team.
“That’s the only thing with a young team, the newness of what happens on the road as opposed to focusing on their assignments,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, one of just six returning starters for the Buckeyes this year, said preparations for this game have taken on a higher level of urgency.
“The most important game is the next game,” he said. “But it’s definitely more intensified this week because we’re going on the road for the first time, and we’ve got a lot of young guys. We’ve got to prepare like this is our last game.”
Meyer said receivers are performing well, but one of them has yet to emerge from the pack.
In the first two games, five different wide receivers caught passes, in addition to H-backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson and tight ends Marcus Baugh and A.J. Alexander.
“We’re still figuring out the receiver position because they’re so new,” Meyer said. “We don’t have the one guy that’s your go-to guy yet.”
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