COLUMBUS, Ohio — It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective.
Ohio State dispatched Tulsa by a score of 48-3, shaking off a slow start to take down the Golden Hurricane in a downpour. Once the Buckeyes finally switched into gear they looked unstoppable, and Tulsa’s high-powered offense never got anything going against the Silver Bullets.
Next up for Ohio State is a trip to Oklahoma, but first, here are five things we learned during the Buckeyes’ rout of Tulsa.
What we learned
1. Curtis Samuel is indispensable
For all the rightful praise of quarterback J.T. Barrett, junior H-back Curtis Samuel might be Ohio State’s biggest offensive weapon. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native shined once again both as a rusher and a receiver and showed he’s Ohio State’s most versatile weapon.
In addition to his steady dose of big gains, Samuel showed off his playmaking ability with an amazing sideline catch that set up running back Mike Weber’s third-quarter touchdown.
2. Throw at your own risk
Ohio State’s secondary lost three starters and somehow got better. Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans only threw eight interceptions in 2015 but the Buckeyes picked him off four times on Saturday. Safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Marshon Lattimore each returned an interception for a touchdown in the first half.
Both plays were a huge jolt for Ohio State early on given the Buckeyes’ offensive struggles in the first half.
3. There might be a kicking competition
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said would-be starting kicker Sean Nuernberger will have to beat out walk-on Tyler Durbin when Nuernberger returns from a nagging groin injury.
After being called upon exclusively for PATs against Bowling Green, Durbin gave a glimpse of what he could do in his second game as Ohio State’s kicker. Although neither was particularly lengthy, Durbin’s field goals of 22 and 29 yards showed he won’t be stopped by nerves. Ohio State passed up the chance at a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Whether Durbin can make a 40-yarder remains to be seen, but the same could be said for Nuernberger after a shaky 2015 campaign.
4. The offensive line still needs work
Growing pains are to be expected, but the truth of the matter is that Ohio State’s offensive line will have to improve in a hurry. Oklahoma’s defensive line — and front seven — is better than what Ohio State faced against Tulsa, and the Golden Hurricane still gave the Buckeyes fits throughout the game, especially early.
The biggest thing for the offensive line is to not make things harder than they need to be. That means cleaning up the false starts, holdings and personal fouls to avoid putting Ohio State’s offense in low-percentage situations.
5. The defense can flat-out play
There were plenty of reasonable questions about Ohio State’s ability to replace its departed stars on defense, including a trio of first-round picks in defensive end Joey Bosa, cornerback Eli Apple and linebacker Darron Lee. That’s to say nothing of other draft picks such as defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, linebacker Joshua Perry and safety Vonn Bell.
The early returns are certainly encouraging. Although the defense looked a little too much bend-but-don’t-break at times, there’s no denying its overall effectiveness. Bowling Green and Tulsa are both regarded for their offensive schemes, and Ohio State held them to a combined 13 points — and no offensive touchdowns — over 120 minutes.
It will be interesting to see if Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery explains his decision to throw the ball in the final minute of the first half, because there’s no logical defense of it.
In the midst of a downpour that would have halted the game if there weren’t just 45 seconds left in the half, Montgomery called a pair of throws with Tulsa trailing 13-3. The first one was nearly picked off; the second one was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Lattimore.
The play gave Ohio State a 20-3 lead and Tulsa never recovered.
For future reference, Tulsa pic.twitter.com/eTryroXtck
— Ryan Ginn (@rmginn) September 10, 2016
Can the defense handle Tulsa’s pace? The Buckeyes answered that with a resounding “yes,” and even the defensive line made its mark against an offense designed to get the ball out as quickly as possible. The biggest key for a defense focusing on forcing quick throws is the play of the defensive backs, and the Buckeyes walked away with four interceptions.
As mentioned above, can this offense line hold up against better teams? The Buckeyes improved throughout the games against Bowling Green and Tulsa, but waiting until the second half to round into form probably isn’t going to cut it against Oklahoma.
Six. That’s how many turnovers the Ohio State defense forced between four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. It was impossible for Tulsa to put a scare into Ohio State because every time it got something going on offense, one of the Silver Bullets snatched it from them.
What it means
The romp in the rain means Ohio State is capable of imposing its will on lesser teams. Can that continue against Oklahoma? That’s something we’ll learn next week. For now, however, Ohio State has played like a top-five team in the country and its ranking will once again reflect that. The defense is downright formidable, and the offense has shown an ability to work itself out of a rut.