NORMAN, Oklahoma — The pop they heard at Ohio State’s practice a year ago was — by all accounts — sickening.

“Non-contact,” Urban Meyer said Saturday night. “Awful. He ran a post route, went up for the ball, came down the wrong way and his leg broke right in half.”

That was the condition of wide receiver Noah Brown in late August 2015. He was well on his way to becoming a starter in his second season at Ohio State when his season-ending injury clouded a campaign that fell short of a Big Ten title, and thus, expectations.

That injury, that season, that doubt was part of a label easily slapped on these Buckeyes before 2016 — least experienced team in the country. The numbers proved it. Only six of 22 starters returned.

Brown and his grand total of five career catches was not one of them. None of that really seems to matter now after the No. 3 Buckeyes’ 45-24 win over the Sooners.

Brown is a starter finally as a redshirt sophomore. He doubled his career total with five catches against Oklahoma. The first four went for touchdowns. The third — at the end of the first half — will probably endure on some lists as the grab of the year.

Think Alabama’s Tyrone Prothro in 2006. Now up the stakes with this being one of four games Saturday between top 20-ranked teams.

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Brown pinned the ball against the back of Oklahoma corner Michiah Quick while falling to the ground to help make it 35-17 at half. The least experienced team in the country was well on its way to proving one of the biggest points of this young season.

“This was the coming of age game,” said Meyer, who still hadn’t seen Brown’s grab minutes after the game.

“That’s one of the great catches from what I heard. I can’t use the language I heard from the [coaches in the] press box upstairs.”

There really wasn’t any argument about the youth thing. The NFL Draft just about chiseled the least-experienced label in stone.

You do not lose 12 players in the first four rounds — a modern record dating to 1967 — and expect to get better. Ten of those picks in the first three rounds were an all-time draft record. Two of the first four players taken were Buckeyes: defensive Joey Bosa and tailback Ezekiel Elliott.

“We know we can hang with anyone in the country now,” sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard said after Meyer’s 19th consecutive true road win.

That outlook changed quickly.

The rebuild actually started on 2014 National Signing Day, 11 months before that year’s national championship. On that day 31 months ago, Meyer signed his third class at Ohio State.

Brown was one 11 signees from that class who started on Saturday.

Do you know how hard it is to get 11 starters from any class? This one featured Saturday’s starting tailback (Curtis Samuel), Ohio State’s leading tackler (linebacker Raekwon McMillan) and the Buckeyes’ best defensive back (safety Malik Hooker).

“I didn’t realize that, but that’s a pretty good hit rate,” Meyer said. “It’s one thing you’re starting. It’s another to go on the road on the road and beat Oklahoma, too. I’m very, very pleased with where we’re at.”

He should be. Bob Stoops lost only his ninth home games in 17 years at Oklahoma. But Meyer has still lost only four at Ohio State in four-plus seasons.

This win was arguably the most impressive of the day after Louisville’s trouncing of Florida State. The Buckeyes look the equal of any team in the country.

Meyer is either daring the football gods or adding to his genius resume. He came here with 30 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the traveling squad of 74. Just about half of the 85 scholarships (42) are held by freshmen.

Twenty-six of them saw the field in the opener against Bowling Green.

“This was alarming to me,” Meyer said. “I had to swallow hard when we were talking about who was going to get on the plane to come here. A bunch of guys who never really played on the road.”

All of them were happy for Brown, a four-star prospect from Sparta, New Jersey. With 25-plus minutes left in the game, his fourth touchdown catch tied a school record.

“When the injury first happened, I felt like a piece of him sort of broke down,” Hooker said. “There were times he’d leave from the dorms and go do drills at 1 in the morning to work out …

“The work he put in … in the darkness that people don’t know. For him to go out and play the way he did, I’m probably 30 times happier.”

Hooker himself looks NFL ready and may end up playing only one full season. The redshirt sophomore averaged less than 14 plays per game last year because of the talented secondary.

That’s what happens when half the secondary goes in the first two rounds (cornerback Eli Apple in the first; safety Vonn Bell in the second).

Defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis each had more sacks last year than the celebrated Bosa.

“I’m tired of hearing how young we are,” Hubbard said. “They act like I’m a veteran, and I’m only a sophomore.”

So is Hooker, who is now part of a defense that has scored more touchdowns — four, all on pick sixes — than it has allowed (two). After two more picks Saturday, the Buckeyes’ nine total interceptions are more than 34 teams had all of last season.

None of the Buckeyes could stop gushing Saturday about best player from the least experienced team in the country.

“He’s a grinder. We love grinders around here,” Meyer said of Brown. “There’s not a batter guy, a better family. To see him have success, that’s a good thing.”

So is getting rid of that damn label.

“They’re no longer inexperienced,” Meyer declared.

Source: CBS Sports Headlines / No growing pains for young Buckeyes as Ohio State proves it’s a legit contender