The Oklahoma quarterback certainly provides a test schematically, and the Buckeyes rattled off all the ways they have to stay disciplined in their coverage, their rush lanes and their assignments to slow him down.
But more important than that for Ohio State is what stopping the Sooners star might take physically, which has the Buckeyes ready to double the program’s familiar mantra of “four to six seconds” of all-out effort thanks to Mayfield’s multipurpose skills and ability to extend plays far beyond the normal standard.
“When you think you’ve got him on the ground and when you think you’ve held coverage for five, six seconds, then he breaks out and creates another four or five seconds for his offense,” Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “He creates more time on plays and more time for receivers to get open.
“It’s just hard to play defense on one play for 10 or 12 seconds.”
Each one of those extra ticks on the clock increases the strain on defenders at every level, and Ohio State has already been cramming for the test Mayfield will provide its young defense since diving into film study Sunday.
The Buckeyes have already aced two tough quizzes against opponents that ranked in the top 15 in the country in total offense a year ago, holding both Bowling Green and Tulsa without an offensive touchdown while scoring three defensive touchdowns themselves. The pass rush appears to be every bit as tenacious (thanks to Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis), McMillan is anchoring another athletic corps of linebackers, and the almost completely revamped secondary has arguably been the best in the nation through two games with seven interceptions.
But each unit is aware of what slipping even for a single second can mean against Mayfield. The linemen can’t abandon their lanes. The linebackers have to stay focused on their keys. And for as long as required, the defensive backs have to stick with their receivers or a guy drawing comparisons to one of the most prolific quarterbacks and improvisational artists in football history will make them pay.
“I liken him to when I was with the Bears going against Brett Favre,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “He’s that unpredictable. He’ll be scrambling this way and chuck it that way. How do you coach [against] that other than be disciplined and stay with your guys? That’s the kind of really fine athlete that he is.
“It’s not just what he can do at quarterback. They have a really good scheme, they have an integrated run game with their pass game, but I think what makes him most dangerous is when the play breaks down and he begins to create things.”
That’s when the work really begins for Ohio State on defense, when the requirement starts to stretch beyond the standard four-to-six-second mark.
And the Buckeyes are certainly well aware that it might take a longer shift than normal to get a road win that could prove plenty useful in their bid to get back to the College Football Playoff.
“Running the ball, he’s very shifty,” cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. “Just keep him contained. Don’t let him scramble out of the pocket and get down the field with his legs. I mean, on the back end I think we can handle him just throwing the ball. But him scrambling out of the pocket, stuff like that [is a challenge].
“We’re ready, that’s all I can say. We’re ready for anything.”
And the Buckeyes are aiming to prove it, no matter how long it takes.