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Ohio State's Punting an Underrated Factor in Buckeyes' Rematch with Oklahoma

Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

In what was supposed to be one of the marquee matchups of the 2016 college football season, the Ohio State Buckeyes left no doubt as to the superior team in throttling the Oklahoma Sooners, 45-24.

OSU pounded the ball on the ground for nearly 300 yards, chewing up more than six yards per carry, while quarterback J.T. Barrett and wideout Noah Brown exploited OU's woebegone cornerbacks for four touchdown passes. On defense, the Buckeyes slowed down the Sooners enough to keep them from ever mounting a serious comeback threat, especially with OU quarterback Baker Mayfield forcing two ill-advised throws for interceptions in the first half.

But what turned the game from a solid Ohio State win into a rout was the Buckeyes' punting unit.

Stellar punter Cameron Johnston booted it five times to electric return man Joe Mixon, none of which were returned. All five pinned the Sooners inside their own 20.

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When needed, the Buckeyes had no trouble flipping the field on the Sooners. The Buckeyes’ punting and coverage helped them dominate the battle for field position, as the Sooners opened drives in the shadow of their own goalpost time and again.

The Sooners' best starting field position of the game? Their own 35. Of OU’s 11 possessions, six began inside the team’s own 20. On average, the Sooners started on their own 18.

In contrast, the Buckeyes began three drives on OU’s side of the 50, and only one started inside their own 20. Their average starting field position was their 37.

In other words, OSU had a head start of roughly 20 yards on OU on every possession, which works out to more than 200 total yards in the course of the entire game.

Heading into this year’s showdown in Columbus, the Sooners might take comfort in knowing that Johnston has used up all of this eligibility. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer takes a certain measure of pride in special teams, though, so assuming a drop-off in the kicking game seems foolhardy. His units will be well coached in coverage, with the consensus top-ranked punter in the 2016 recruiting class, Drue Chrisman, now handling punting chores.

Ohio State’s strength in the often-neglected third phase of the game has played a huge part in the program’s success in marquee matchups throughout Meyer’s tenure. A repeat of last year’s special teams dominance by the Buckeyes will likely snuff out any hopes of an Oklahoma upset when the two teams meet again Saturday night in Columbus.

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.