Ohio State put together the most impressive offensive performance in school history against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 and moved up to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll in doing so. However, the Buckeyes face a stiffer test Sept. 10 when Tulsa comes to town. Below, we take a closer look at the Golden Hurricane and what OSU should expect on both sides of the ball.
Looking Back At 2015
A season ago, the Golden Hurricane finished with a 6-7, 3-5 record, falling in its bowl game to Virginia Tech, 55-52. Tulsa boasted one of the top passing offenses in the country a season ago, passing for 333.2 yards per game throwing 25 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions on the season. Fifth year senior Dane Evans returns in 2016 after putting together the best single passing season in school history in 2015. Against Oklahoma a season ago, Evans threw for 427 yards and four scores against the Sooners in a 52-38 loss.
Despite being a pass first offense, the Golden Hurricane still managed to average 174.15 yards on the ground per game in 2015. Tulsa returns its leading rusher from a season ago in D'Angelo Brewer. Brewer rushed for 837 yards on 162 carries and six scores a season ago, while also catching 15 passes out of the backfield. The Golden Hurricane is without its leading receiver from a year ago, Keyarris Garrett, who caught 96 passes for 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago.
While the Tulsa offense ranked 13th nationally in average yards per game a season ago, its defense struggled mightily. In fact, the Golden Hurricane ranked 126th out of 128 teams last year in total defense, giving up an average of 536.6 yards per game in 2015. Tulsa did however, hold San Jose State to just 10 points and 53 rushing yards in their 45-10 win over the Spartans.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
Many of the Buckeyes scores against Bowling Green came on big plays. In fact, just one of Ohio State's 11 touchdowns came from inside of 10 yards. I expect the Tulsa defense will do a slightly better job of limiting the big plays, and while I still expect plenty of points from OSU, they might need to work a little harder for them. Quarterback J.T. Barrett carried the ball just six times for 30 yards and a score against the Falcons, some of which were not designed. When Ohio State gets in the red zone, the Buckeyes tend to use more designed QB runs, as we saw last year when Barrett spelled Cardale Jones inside the 20 yard line.
Against former OSU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman and Houston last season, the Golden Hurricane struggled mightily to stop the quarterback in the run game. Greg Ward Jr. ran for 182 yards on 20 carries and three scores against Tulsa in a 38-24 win for the Cougars in 2015. One of those runs came on a play we have seen the Buckeyes run plenty of in Urban Meyer's time at Ohio State, the QB sweep.
While I would not expect Barrett to carry the ball 20 times, Meyer said he would like to see Barrett carry the ball around eight times per game, and if the Buckeyes get inside the 20, I would look for Barrett keeping the ball more often.
Ohio State's zone read game also has a chance to be successful. Against the Cougars last season, Tulsa brought a variety of blitzes, but would sometimes over pursue. When that happened, Houston was able to hit on some big plays in the run game, as you will see below.
In the passing game, Houston had a lot of success with play action early in their game against the Golden Hurricane, going to it multiple times on their first drive. They showed play action off of jet hand offs, out of the pistol, and rolled Ward early to make easy, short quick completions, something we saw Barrett do on his first throw against BG before his interception. Tulsa likes to bring pressure off the edge, and will likely test Ohio State's young tackles Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince. Tulsa had plenty of success when blitzing the Spartans a week ago, causing a pick six off a deflection.
When Tulsa Has The Ball
Much like the Buckeyes, Tulsa likes to play with tempo on offense. The Golden Hurricane ran 83 plays against the Spartans in their week 1 win, just 11 less than Ohio State ran against Bowling Green. Unlike a year ago, Tulsa ran the ball more against San Jose State and had plenty of success. Brewer ran for 164 yards and three scores on 22 carries.
Most of Tulsa's success came on their inside zone run plays. One of which, they hit on a 40 yard burst for a score against the Spartans. In an effort to take an extra safety out of the play, notice how the Golden Hurricane uses a bunch set to the boundary to remove a defender from the play. With the extra player walked out, Tulsa has six players to block six in the box (leaving the end unblocked as the read defender) and hits on a big play.
In the pass game, Tulsa hit most of their big plays on play action vertical routes. While their top receiver from a year ago is gone, I would not be shocked to see them test the likes of Marshon Lattimore early to see if they can get the young corner peaking in the backfield.
While Tulsa's offense is much like Bowling Green's, the Golden Hurricane boast a veteran quarterback who has played in tough environments before (Oklahoma). For Ohio State to shut down Tulsa's high powered offense, limiting big plays on first and second down will be crucial. If Tulsa cannot get into their up tempo style of play, the Buckeyes will be in good shape for a 2-0 start on the season.