The Buckeyes are coming off of the most explosive offensive performance in school history, and are set to take on a Tulsa team with one of the worst defenses statistically from a season ago. The Saturday matchup will be the first ever between the two schools. With that, here are a few things to look for when the Buckeyes and Golden Hurricane line up tomorrow afternoon.
1. Replacing Tracy Sprinkle
While Sprinkle wasn't a star on this Buckeye team, he was described throughout the week as "the heart of the defensive line" by both players and coaches. Now out for the season with a patella tendon injury, it appears a pair of Buckeyes will be tasked with replacing Sprinkle. Both Dre'Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton were listed as co-starters in Sprinkle's place along the defensive front. Between the two of them, only Hamilton recorded a stat last week against Bowling Green, tallying one tackle and a half sack in the opener.
2. Can Corey Smith Bounce Back?
After missing the majority of the 2015 season, many expected Smith to explode back on the scene in 2016 as one of the most experienced players in Zach Smith's room. While Ohio State is just one game into the season, Smith has not exactly gotten off to a great start. Smith did not record a catch in the 2016 opener against Bowling Green and worse yet, he muffed a punt when given a rare chance to return on special teams. Urban Meyer made a point in his Monday press conference to say Smith "should be better than he is." Meyer followed up his comments on Wednesday saying that Smith has been dealing with a hamstring issue but should be healthy enough to play against Tulsa. Against a Tulsa defense that struggled last season, Saturday's matchup could provide Smith with a perfect opportunity to make up for a lackluster opening week.
3. Slowing Down Tulsa's Tempo
Meyer has gone as far as to compare Tulsa's offensive attack to that of Baylor, which has been one of the top offenses in the country in recent years. The Golden Hurricane likes to go up-tempo as much as possible and pulled apart the defense of San Jose State in week 1, putting up 512 yards of offense in a 45-10 win. Quarterback Dane Evans likes to get the ball out quick to negate the pass rush of the Ohio State defensive line. Defensive end Jalyn Holmes said during the week that the defensive front will have to stay patient and not get discouraged if they cannot get to the quarterback early on. “Their tempo is crazy. We have to stop them on first down to try and slow down their tempo,” Holmes said. “They have an experienced offensive line and an experienced quarterback so it is a new challenge. It is frustrating when they get the ball out fast, but we just have to keep coming and do our part. It will all fall in.”
4. Will Booker Play?
Meyer announced this week that linebacker Dante Booker suffered a sprained MCL in the win over Bowling Green and listed him as questionable for the Buckeyes matchup against Tulsa. This injury is very familiar to the Ohio State football team, especially at the quarterback position. In 2013, Braxton Miller missed two games with a sprained MCL and in 2014, J.T. Barrett played on a sprained MCL in the double overtime win over Penn State. If Booker cannot go, Meyer said walk-on and team captain Joe Burger and second year player Jerome Baker will get the fist cracks at replacing Booker. Against Bowling Green, Burger tied for the team lead in tackles with four and Baker added a pair of tackles in the win.
5. Will The Weather Hold Off?
It should only be fitting that with the Golden Hurricane coming to town, bad weather might be coming Columbus' way as well. Thunderstorms are expected to hit the central Ohio area for a large portion of the day Saturday, which could push the game back several hours. On Thursday, a local high school game between Olentangy and Reynoldsburg took five hours to complete after two lighting delays pushed the game into the early hours of the morning. Kickoff at Ohio Stadium is set for 3:30.