Noah Brown, Ohio State grow up in a hurry in win at Oklahoma

NORMAN, Okla. -- Ohio State's Noah Brown made one of the best catches of the year in college football late in the first half against Oklahoma. He pinned the ball one-handed against the back of Sooners cornerback Michiah Quick before securing it with his other hand while falling to the ground for a touchdown.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett's reaction: What a showoff.

"I was going to be mad at him," Barrett said. "He didn't have to do that. He could have leaned on the [defensive back] and just winded it back. But he wanted to make it an ESPN Top 10 play."

Barrett was joking, of course. Brown's high degree-of-difficulty catch -- which echoed Alabama's Tyrone Prothro in 2005 and Stanford's Tyrone Owusu last year -- served as the highlight of the No. 3 Buckeyes' surprisingly easy 45-24 win over the No. 14 Sooners. And Brown, like the rest of the young Ohio State roster, seemingly grew up before everyone's eyes in this early season showdown.

Few people this summer thought a team with only six returning starters could win at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, much less rout the defending Big 12 champs. Urban Meyer admitted he found this game on the schedule "alarming."

"I swallowed hard when I thought about who was getting on that plane to come out here," Meyer said.

The Buckeyes had answered some questions while romping in their first two games against Bowling Green and Tulsa, both at home. Many still remained, however, and the wide receiver position was chief among them. The team's wideouts were practically invisible in last week's win against Tulsa, and the coaching staff was still looking for a go-to player in the passing game outside of H-backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson.

Maybe it was the heavy pregame rain that caused a 90-minute kickoff delay and some brief flooding in the stadium concourses that inspired a guy named Noah to step forward.

Brown, a redshirt sophomore, came into the night with only five career catches. His first four receptions against Oklahoma all went for touchdowns, tying a school record in a single game. They all resulted from basically the same play, a fade into the end zone where Brown simply beat his man to the ball -- or, once, used his man's back to get it.

"I have a bigger frame," the 6-foot-2, 218-pounder said, "so I'm able to box out and go up and get the ball. In the red zone, I feel like that's what I was able to do today."

The Buckeyes expected this kind of production out of Brown last year when he was ticketed to begin the season as a starter. But a gruesome leg injury late in training camp kept him from ever playing.

His teammates took the injury hard because they knew how hard Brown worked to get himself in position.

"There were times when he would leave the dorms to go do drills by himself at 1 in the morning," said safety Malik Hooker, who was Brown's roommate at the time. "He put in so much work behind closed doors. I probably felt worse than he felt."

Brown had to wait his for his shot this year. That's a familiar theme on this team.

Hooker and Samuel were buried on the depth chart on the 2015 team that produced 12 NFL draft picks. They're two of this early season's budding stars. Running back Mike Weber redshirted last year after an injury and wouldn't have gotten many opportunities behind Ezekiel Elliott, anyway. He carried 18 times for 123 yards against the Sooners, leading an attack that averaged more than 7 yards per carry in the first half.

These young Buckeyes are seizing their opportunities, and now they've proved themselves on a big stage. Meyer said they can no longer be considered inexperienced and called Saturday night's win "the coming-of-age game."

It was also Brown's coming-out party, especially on the jaw-dropping touchdown catch. Brown said his only thought was "just hold on until I get to the ground." Meyer didn't have a great view of it from the sideline but said "I can't use the language I heard from the [coaches in the] press box" who celebrated it. Teammates have been watching him make those kinds of plays for a couple of years now.

"He has that mentality that, when the ball is in the air it's his," Barrett said. "It's one of those things that either you got it or you don't. And, Noah, he's got it."

The Buckeyes have a bunch of guys like that up and down the roster. They're making everything -- from ridiculous catches to beating a marquee opponent on the road -- look much easier than it should be.