Ohio State football reporters roundtable after Tulsa win

Ohio State football reporters roundtable after Tulsa win

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Editor’s note: Following each Ohio State football game, beat reporters Joey Kaufman and Bill Rabinowitz discuss the lasting storylines and other key developments.

Recovering from an upset loss to Oregon that marked its first regular-season defeat since 2018, Ohio State got back on track against Tulsa.

Following the 41-20 win, coach Ryan Day called it a step in the right direction.

But it didn’t feel like a momentous one

Analysis:TreVeyon Henderson saves Buckeyes from potential disaster vs. Tulsa, but concerns remain

A lot of the same issues that ailed the Buckeyes in the first couple of weeks lingered, especially on defense, where they gave up 501 total yards, continuing a glaring trend. They’ve now allowed more than 500 yards in three of their past four games, including last season’s national championship game loss to Alabama. So what’s to make of Ohio State?  

Kaufman: If I’m being generous in assessing Saturday’s unconvincing win, maybe there was an Oregon hangover. This is a group that isn’t used to losing and then having to play another game in a span of seven days. A bona fide College Football Playoff contender shouldn’t be in a one-score game in the fourth quarter at home against a winless Group of Five team. 

Rabinowitz: TreVeyon Henderson’s performance was obviously a step in the right direction. After running for 277 yards, we now know who the No. 1 running back is on this team. I still envision Master Teague and Miyan Williams having roles, though. The run defense was also better. But the passing game regressed, and the pass rush was too often invisible.

Kaufman: There’s no question Henderson has the look of a special running back. (As an aside: It seemed only a matter of time before he became the starter). Between him and a passing game that was explosive at least in earlier games, this has the makings of a prolific offense if they can gel together in the same week. But I don’t think that side of the ball is what makes the Buckeyes vulnerable in the Big Ten or in the playoff race.

Rabinowitz: Well, quarterback C.J. Stroud’s shoulder remains an issue. Tulsa’s secondary was vulnerable and yet the Buckeyes didn’t have a pass completion longer than 20 yards. Chris Olave’s 47-yarder —his only catch — was negated by a penalty. The lack of Stroud as a run threat also is an issue. I think he can run better than he has, but he’s been a reluctant scrambler.

Kaufman: How much do you think the shoulder injury is limiting Stroud? No one has gotten into specifics, but he’s acknowledged he’s not fully healthy. 

Rabinowitz: Only he, his doctors and coaches know how serious it is. It’s good enough that Day has shown no compulsion to turn to someone else.

Kaufman: Let’s dive into the defense now. The Buckeyes mixed up some stuff. Secondary coach Matt Barnes called plays instead of defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs. They used two deep safeties more often than in previous games. But the result hardly changed. They gave up a lot of yards, nearly costing them the game. Had Tulsa been more aggressive in going for it on fourth down instead of settling for field goals on its first two drives, Ohio State might have been trailing later in the game and faced even more of a scare. Plenty of weeks remain for this defense to turn things around, but tangible signs of improvement were tough to find on Saturday.

Rabinowitz: The biggest mystery to me is the lack of a consistent pass rush. I know Zach Harrison didn’t play, but the Buckeyes have enough other pass rushers to provide pressure on the quarterback. This defense needs the defensive line to dominate. OSU’s linebackers haven’t been impact players, and the secondary will be without safety Josh Proctor. I thought the cornerbacks played pretty well. True freshman Denzel Burke has been a real find. But yielding 428 passing yards to Tulsa simply isn’t acceptable.

Kaufman:Another true freshman in defensive tackle Tyleik Williams had a big effect. He sacked Tulsa quarterback Davis Brian on third down midway through the fourth quarter, helping to preserve the win. It forced the Golden Hurricane to punt from midfield instead of advancing farther into the Buckeyes’ territory and potentially tie the game. With the ball back, Ohio State added another touchdown and didn’t look back. Including the pivotal sack, Williams had five quarterback pressures while on the field for only 22 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. The class of 2021 has been very good, very soon, and might be a reason the Buckeyes look different in December.

Buckeyes football freshmen outshining seniors

Rabinowitz: The freshman class — true and redshirt — has been more impressive than the senior class, especially in terms of expected contributions. Cam Martinez had the pick-six. Growing pains for this team were expected, but we thought it’d be more for the younger players. The veterans at linebacker, for example, haven’t made anyone forget their predecessors. But this is still a very talented roster. If Ohio State can settle on its core defensive players and they develop, the offense is good enough to carry them. But the Big Ten is more imposing than we thought three weeks ago.

Kaufman:The Big Ten does look more formidable. Two teams in the conference are ahead of the Buckeyes in the AP poll, with Iowa ranked fifth and Penn State sixth. That’s an unusual sight and reflects how the top tier of college football is a little muddled. It should be noted that the Buckeyes’ early-season growing pains are far from unique. Other perennial playoff contenders like Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma have had uninspiring performances. The thing to watch is whether Ohio State can shore up its issues faster than its peers.

Rabinowitz: Even Alabama had a major scare before holding on against Florida. Funny that we haven’t even mentioned this week’s opponent, Akron. Then again, the Zips are at least a 50-point underdog. This is a week for the Buckeyes to continue development, get backups significant playing time and feel better about themselves. My hunch is that the Tulsa game didn’t make many people feel better, except maybe running backs coach Tony Alford. The key is for the Buckeyes to be a work in progress, not a work in regress.

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