COLUMBUS, Ohio — Who’ll stop the rain?
That’s the burning question for Ohio State as the Buckeyes prepare to face the high-powered Tulsa Golden Hurricane with thunderstorms forecast for the entirety of Saturday afternoon.
Ohio State has been slowed by the rain in recent years, and arguably its two worst performances of 2015 came during a game played in storms. The Buckeyes barely got past Northern Illinois, 20-13, and then lost a 17-14 heartbreaker to Michigan State thanks to one of the worst offensive performances (132 total yards) in program history.
The good news for Ohio State is that the rain might be so bad that the game won’t be played in it. When the teams do take the field, however, the Buckeyes might have their hands full with second-year Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery’s spread offense. Montgomery coordinated Baylor’s renowned offenses before leaving for Tulsa, and the Golden Hurricane looked the part in a 45-10 win against San Jose State to open the season.
Ohio State had an even more impressive debut with a 77-10 romp over Bowling Green that featured 10 offensive touchdowns involving six different players. The Buckeyes shouldn’t have a problem with Tulsa in clear skies, but a downpour could make them work harder to win big.
When Ohio State has the ball
It might seem as though the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge would simply be following up on last week’s masterpiece, but you’d never know that from talking to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Whether there were motivational purposes behind it, Meyer declared himself not overly impressed with his offensive unit in Monday’s press conference.
“I think it was good. It wasn’t great. It was good,” he said. “I don’t think that the technique of our wideouts was where it needs to be, even though they did make some very good plays. I thought our tailback played good. Offensive line, obviously when you only have one guy grade as a champion, they didn’t play very good. So they have to get much better.”
With that being said, Ohio State’s “good” is still better than most teams’ “great.” As long as quarterback J.T. Barrett can keep up his accuracy and the offensive line holds its ground, there’s no reason why the Buckeyes can’t dictate the play on the offensive side of the ball.
Edge: Ohio State
When Tulsa has the ball
I was suspicious of how this might play out last week given Bowling Green’s history as an offensive-minded program combined with the pedigree of Mike Jinks, but the Ohio State defense was up to the task.
They’ll have to prove themselves to me once again this week, however, because Tulsa offers even more of a bona fide threat on offense. The Golden Hurricane have started to come together under Montgomery and ranked No. 13 nationally in total offense by the end of last season. This year they picked up where they left off in the rout of San Jose State.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Dane Evans is an efficient passer who has demonstrated an ability to make defenses pay for coverage lapses, and it will be critical for him to exploit any opportunity that Ohio State allows.
Ohio State looked very good against Bowling Green, and Tulsa presents a similar — although likely better executed — offense. It’s shaping up to be another frustrating day for the defensive line from a sacks perspective, as Tulsa also likes to get the ball out quickly. The Golden Hurricane also like to spread the field to run the ball, so it will be crucial for Ohio State’s defensive tackles to step up in that regard, especially with starter Tracy Sprinkle out for the season.
Ohio State will need disciplined tackling up the middle and a strong performance from the secondary to make sure those quick throws don’t lead to big gains. Expect a much better gauge for where Ohio State is at defensively.
Ohio State has the edge at punter with All-America candidate Cam Johnston and might also at kicker, although walk-on Tyler Durbin remains a bit of an unknown after not attempting a field goal against Bowling Green. Tulsa kicker Redford Jones has a great name but a less stellar record, as he made 17 of 25 field goals in 2015 and missed two extra points.
The wild card once again will be the weather. If kicking is a struggle, that might favor Ohio State given the Buckeyes’ inclination to go for it on fourth down if it’s close regardless of the conditions.
Edge: Ohio State
Once again, it’s Urban Meyer against a second-year coach. Montgomery has already shown progress at Tulsa, but he’s going up against one of the two best coaches in the sport.
Edge: Ohio State
There are a lot of variables here (have you heard it might rain?) but at the end of the day Ohio State has more talent than Tulsa and a better coach, and those things will win a lot of football games. It’s fair to expect a better test than Bowling Green provided and unreasonable to think Ohio State can hang 70-plus points on another team, but it’s hard to envision Tulsa keeping this one competitive for longer than the first half unless something crazy happens.
Ryan Ginn’s prediction: Ohio State 49, Tulsa 26
Jeremy Birmingham’s prediction: Ohio State 40, Tulsa 21