Ohio State puts away Tulsa but inexperience shows in sluggish first half … Defense comes through with two touchdowns on interceptions … Offense produces just six points in first half.
Let’s pump the brakes on this notion that Ohio State is primed to become another version of the 2014 Buckeyes, who started out looking as docile as something you’d find in a petting zoo but were transformed into man-eaters by the end of the year and ripped apart everything in their path on the way to a national title.
Remember, 14 players from last year’s team are suiting up for NFL clubs right now. That’s a staggering number. Even a program that’s been recruiting at such an elite level can expect to be hobbled after taking that kind of hit.
Urban Meyer is so revered among fans that many believe all he needs to turn a ridiculously raw collection of players into a championship outfit is his considerable coaching acumen.
But it doesn’t happen that easily, even if the 77-10 blowout of Bowling Green last week might suggest otherwise.
A downpour that arrived late in the first half made for a chaotic final couple of minutes going into the break against Tulsa on Saturday. But even before that, the Buckeyes had trouble generating any offense and needed two touchdowns on interceptions by Malik Hooker (26 yards) and Marshon Lattimore (40) to build a 20-3 halftime lead.
The defense produced another interception (Lattimore again) and recovered a fumble on a sack near midfield in the first two quarters — a game ball should be awarded to Hurricanes quarterback Dane Evans — but J.T. Barrett and the boys repeatedly squandered choice field position.
After a 50-minute weather delay following halftime, the Buckeyes returned to a sparsely filled stadium for the second half and finished off a 48-3 victory. But it was lackluster, uninspired, humdrum and something you’d expect to see from a team returning just three starters on both sides of the ball.
Tulsa was an upgrade in competition over BG — a bowl team last year and a 45-10 winner in its opener over San Jose State. But considering that this Oklahoma school isn’t in the same class as the other one from the state on the schedule next week, the Buckeyes probably aren’t exactly percolating with confidence after such an erratic outing.
The turbo-charged offense from the BG game was spewing exhaust fumes and grinding its gears in the first half.
The unit had 40 total yards on 13 plays with two first downs and three three-and-outs in the opening period.
The Buckeyes barely out-gained Tulsa in the first half in total yards, 158-124.
They scored TDs on 11 of their 13 possessions against BG and punted just once while gaining a school-record 776 yards and 41 first downs.
But the offensive line seemed overpowered in the first 30 minutes against the Hurricanes, failing to open holes or protect Barrett. The offense found some rhythm in the second half but still finished with only a modest 417 total yards.
The defense, though, showed promise. They fly to the ball, deliver licks and seldom miss tackles.
They played without two starters in defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle (season-ending knee surgery) and linebacker Dante Booker (sprained knee), but the backups seem capable.
Sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker scooped up a fumble. And redshirt freshman DT Robert Landers, a Wayne product, seemed active and nimble and registered a pair of tackles for loss, including one for nine years when he blew up a double-reverse.
They forced six turnovers and now have seven interceptions in two games after getting 12 all of last season.
I talked with former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce before the game and asked what he thought of the Buckeyes. His reply: “They’re going to be great. They’re fast. And they’re going to keep getting better.”
That may be true. But it would have been a 6-3 game at halftime without the pick-sixes.
They aren’t man-eaters yet.