Football

Tale of the Tape: Tulsa

Even under the best of circumstances the talk and interest in this upcoming game against Tulsa was minimal at best even with the Golden Hurricane coming off of a 6-0 AAC regular season schedule in 2020.

As we know, these are not the best of circumstances with the Buckeyes coming off of a loss, a defense that seems to be leaky and a thick gray cloud hanging over BuckeyeNation, devoid of any scarlet.

Nobody wants to hear that all of the goals for the season are still on the table with a Big Ten win in the back pocket and eight more league games to go, teams still sitting with 10 more games to play and the Buckeyes sitting at either No. 9 or No. 11 in the polls, dependent upon which poll you gravitate towards.

That doesn’t matter if the Buckeyes can’t fix some of the issues that got them into this predicament in the first place, namely the defense but followed by inconsistent rushing offense and odd substitution patterns.

That road back starts against Tulsa, a team that Ohio State has played just one time in series history, a 48-3 win in 2016.

We will attempt to put all of the talk of Oregon and “woe is me” to the side and focus strictly on Tulsa as we go to the Tale of the Tape on this Tulsa game and turn the page after a major setback.

Ohio StateStatRankTulsaStatRank
Rush Offense164.5 YPG66thRush Defense114.0 YPG50th
Pass Offense389.0 YPG4thPass Eff. Defense147.67105th
Scoring Offense36.5 PPGT-37thScoring Defense23.5 PPGT-74th

Ohio State QB/WR/TE vs. Tulsa Defensive Backs

A simple glance at the numbers will show that the passing game has been working more or less, even if the numbers have been padded by an uneven performance against Oregon where the Buckeyes amassed 79-percent of their yardage via the pass. C.J. Stroud has thrown for seven touchdowns against two interceptions and 778 yards on a 63.2-percent completion rate. The trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxson Smith-Njigba all have two touchdowns and 38 of the team’s 48 completions. The numbers on the surface should be enough for Ohio State to be 2-0 on the season with any semblance of a typical Ohio State defense. But as we know, the defense has not been able to lock things down and Ohio State’s 36.5 points per game has not been enough to get across the finish line in each game. Will this be the week that the Ohio State offense will be able to rotate more players into the skill positions? For all of the complaints on the defensive side of the ball for deep rotations, the opposite can be said on offense where it has felt like a four-man game when it comes to the throw game. We are very curious to see what Stroud’s second home start will look like, with some of the big game pressure taken off of the table as Tulsa is a considerable underdog and the Buckeyes needing to look impressive in their next 10 games.

Tulsa gave up 311 yards to Division I-FCS opponent UC-Davis in week one on 28-36 passing and while the Golden Hurricane limited UC-Davis to just one passing touchdown, it still did not stop an embarrassing lost from taking place to the tune of 19-17. The numbers were a little better the following week as Oklahoma State only threw for 173 yards, but the Cowboys did score twice via the pass in another loss for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane has good size in its secondary with a pair of 6-foot corners and a strong safety that checks in at 6-foot-4 (Kendarin Ray). Ray in fact leads the team with 19 tackles. While not listed as a starter at the nickel position, keep an eye on seventh-year player Cristian Williams, who is behind Bryson Powers on the updated depth chart. Williams did not play in the Oklahoma State game however but is considered one of the better defenders on the Tulsa roster.

Ohio State Running Backs vs. Tulsa Linebackers

The Buckeyes have rushed for 329 yards and two scores combined through two games. Sure, Ohio State’s schedule was front-loaded with a pair of difficult opponents, but those numbers are something you would expect out of just a single game in September rather than through eight quarters of competitive football. We are not sure what is more surprising here, the fact that Ohio State’s leading rusher only has 23 carries or that an Ohio State quarterback only has eight credited carries through two games. Sure, Dwayne Haskins was not a running quarterback back during his day, but C.J. Stroud has the ability to run and for one reason or another, his number is not being called or Stroud himself is not calling his own number. A deeper look into the numbers will show on Ohio State’s 57 carries that 21.6 percent of that yardage came on one carry by Miyan Williams. That means if you take that one carry off the table, the buckeyes are averaging just 4.6 yards per carry, and while that doesn’t sound terrible, with the small number of carries per game, Ohio State is just averaging 129 yards per game on the ground with that one long run out of the equation. These next four games will give Ohio State a platform to really work on the run game, if the Buckeyes choose to do so. With a young quarterback there needs to be some consistent passing attempts to keep the process moving forward but a team is not going to fare well in the Big Ten in most seasons without a successful running game and through this point, Ohio State’s running game grade is an incomplete, at best.

What is one of the biggest differences between the 2020 and 2021 Tulsa teams to this point? That is pretty simple, the 2020 team had Zaven Collins, the Butkus Award winning linebacker and this 2021 team does not. That does not mean that Tulsa has nothing at the position but when you have the best linebacker in the nation, at least according to the Butkus Award voters and then you don’t, you are going to be looking at a bit of a downgrade, at least early in the season. New MLB Justin Wright is a thumper at 6-foot-2, 239-pounds while the tandem of Yohance Burnett and Jon-Michael Terry have both looked good at the WLB, both seeing ample playing time. Tulsa has managed to keep teams to an average of 114 yards per game on the ground, granted only through two games. In game two against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys rushed 43 times for just 99 yards and while this Oklahoma State team does not have its traditional top running back as in years past, it was still quite the accomplishment to go on the road and stop a team that made running the ball a priority. Even with all of that said, Oklahoma State still won the game.

Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Tulsa Defensive Line

I am not quite sure what to make of the Ohio State offensive line on one front. The pass protection has been good, only a pair of sacks yielded this season and those both happened late against Oregon when the Buckeyes were searching for something, anything to get back into that game and plays were extended a little longer than normal. The question comes down to the run blocking and if it really is an issue where the line is not getting a good punch or if there is something else going on and the line should be absolved of much of the blame on that front. One thing that we do know is the line has been dinged for a couple of back-breaking penalties, and that is even without talking about the questionable flag against Thayer Munford that erased a big gain against the Ducks in the 4th quarter of that game.

The Tulsa line is the strongest part of this defense and fans will be sick of seeing No. 90, Jaxon Player by the end of this game. Now, the stats have not been there yet with just 2.5 TFLs and a pair of quarterback hurries but Player is far and away the best player on the defensive two-deep. Lining up next to him will be one of the biggest space eaters that Ohio State will see this year with 6-foot-3, 365-pound (listed) noseguard Tyarise Stevenson. Stevenson has only played in one game so far this season and while his numbers are also somewhat limited, he can make a quick impact as the anchor of the line. Tulsa employs a three-man front with a pair of graduate seniors coming in at the “star” position with Robert Revels III and Treyvon Reeves both having similar body types at 6-foot-2, mid-220s. Cullen Wick lines up at the other traditional defensive end position and has one of the three sacks recorded by the Tulsa defense.

Ohio StateStatRankTulsaStatRank
Rush Defense236.0 YPG123rdRush Offense182.5 YPGT-51st
Pass Eff. Defense129.91 79thPass Offense212.5 YPG78th
Scoring Defense33.0 PPGT-108thScoring Offense20.0 PPGT-108th

Ohio State Defensive Backs vs. Tulsa QB/WR/TE

And now we get to the defense. Ohio State has found a tremendous player with Denzel Burke who has stepped into a cornerback role and does not appear to be letting go of the playing time. Cameron Brown is back in the rotation at one of the other corner positions and the question remains why Sevyn Banks is not playing, even if injury is not a consideration as to his absence from the field, despite being suited up, helmet on head. Ohio State’s pass defense has not been much of an issue but that may be because of the run defense being such a liability to this point. Ohio State is giving up 220.5 yards per game via the pass and has allowed three scores while opponents are just a tick above 50-percent in passing. The biggest issue is going to be who steps in the single-high safety position that has been vacated by Josh Proctor after a season-ending injury was suffered in the Oregon game. Inconsistency at that position has really led to big plays for opposing teams and we will get more into that when we talk about the run game, but this issue may be one of the biggest personnel issues for the Buckeyes in the 2021 season. A review of the tape has shown multiple errors at this position leading to big plays and all of the other changes on defense won’t mean as much if the Buckeyes don’t get this one right.

Tulsa has a new quarterback after the departure of Zach Smith. Davis Brin has stepped into that role and has not found much success as of yet with zero passing touchdowns on the year (Tulsa has zero passing touchdowns on the year as Brin is the only quarterback to play through two games). Brin has thrown for 212.5 yards per game and is at a 61.8-percent completion clip while throwing a pair of interceptions. One thing you can say about the Tulsa passing game is they spread the ball around with no receiver having more than six receptions on the year and eight players catching at least one pass. Keyion Stokes leads the receivers with 114 yards but 61 of those game on one reception. Josh Johnson and Deneric Prince (running back) also are sitting with six catches as well. Tulsa has two receivers that are 6-foot-1 or taller with Sam Crawford and Ezra Naylor II coming at 6-1 and 6-foot-4. Stokes is the player that had the biggest numbers from last year with 46 receptions and 644 yards while Johnson had six TD receptions. At this point the Golden Hurricane would settle for one.

Ohio State Linebackers vs. Tulsa Running Backs

I don’t even know what to say here, this is a big question. Who is going to see time at linebacker? Through two games the answer has been everyone. Ohio State continues to roll guys in and out of the lineup. Is it a case of nobody taking the proverbial ball and running with it, or is it something else? From what we have seen the Buckeyes look their best with Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon out there but is Simon ready to play 50-60 plays or has he been limited due to physical limitations? The Buckeyes have given up 236 yards per game on the ground this season, you have to go back to 2018 for the last time that Ohio State gave up 236 yards or more in a game (Maryland) and the Buckeyes gave up more than 236 twice the year prior. It is not fair to put all of this in the linebacker position but that is where it fits, this has been a failure on all three levels of the defense with a lack of pass rush and then with inconsistent safety play as well with a dash of poor tackling for bad measure. The Buckeyes have to shrink the rotation of linebackers playing in a game over the next four contests, and that will happen but it is going to take some guys stepping up and maybe a healthy return of Kourt Williams as well.

A look at the Tulsa running rotation would not put a lot of fear in teams but the one-two punch of Shamari Brooks and Deneric Prince have carried the mail as much as possible for Tulsa. Brooks did not play in 2020 after an ACL injury and rushed for 1,046 yards in 2019 as he enters his fifth season of on-field action. Prince rushed for 470 yards last season with four scores. Prince played for Texas A&M in 2018 before transferring to Tulsa and seeing his first action in that 2020 season. Quarterback Davis Brin can take off and run but that is not really part of his game with just 13 carries so far on the season, but he is still someone who needs to be accounted for. All of Tulsa’s offensive touchdowns have been on the ground which means that Tulsa will try and test the weakest point of the Ohio State defense.

Ohio State Defensive Line vs. Tulsa Offensive Line

As we continue our game of “What is wrong with the Ohio State defense” it is now time to focus on the defensive line and the lack of pressure that this unit is generating. Ohio State had zero sacks and one TFL against Oregon and while nobody was expecting six or eight of each in that game, the disruption that generally comes from the Ohio State defensive line has just not been there. I just don’t really have an explanation as to why the Ohio State pass rush has been a non-starter.

Tulsa returns a veteran offensive line, but it was not exactly a great offensive line in 2020. Offensive tackle Tyler Smith may be the best of the bunch as fellow tackle Chris Paul creates some formidable bookends with each checking in at 6-foot-4 or taller and both in the low 320s. Center Gerard Wheeler is a big center at 6-foot-3, 337-pounds as only guard Dylan Couch doesn’t break the 300-pound mark, just missing it by three pounds (listed). This unit has already given up five sacks and 10 TFLs, so could this be a game that the Ohio State defensive line really needs to find some confidence? Well, that will depend on how the defense is called and if the Ohio State scheme allows for the line to try and get after the quarterback or if we just see more of the same.

CategoryOhio StateRankTulsaRank
Net Punt41.40 YPP43rd35.62 YPP106th
Punt Return-1.75 YPR127th3.33 YPR89th
Kickoff Return25.00 YPRT-30th16.83 YPR98th
FG Percentage1-1 (100%)N/A2-2 (100%)N/A

Neither special teams really jump off the page when you look at the numbers. Ohio State has done a good job in the punting game but you kind of wish Ohio State had fewer attempts for obvious reasons. Neither team is setting the world on fire when it comes to the return game but few teams really seem to excel in either return discipline and this early into the season, one great return or one horrible return can really skew the numbers. Both teams are perfect in placekicking duties but at a combined three attempts, neither have really tested the range of their kickers.

God help us all if this game is played close enough where special teams decides the outcome.