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Ohio State’s lockdown secondary’s a buy after Saturday’s big win over Tulsa

The Buckeyes showed off some serious defensive firepower as they rolled the Golden Hurricane, 48-3

Malik Hooker, interception machine
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Pablo Neruda, titan of Spanish poetry, once wrote that “We the mortals touch the metals, the wind, the ocean shores, the stones, knowing they will go on, inert or burning.” So it is in Iberian romance; so it is with Ohio State football.

Fresh off a 77-10 smackdown of Bowling Green, the Buckeyes came out inert against a Tulsa team that wasn’t expected to stick around long. Despite forcing an early turnover, all Urban Meyer’s squad could muster in the game’s opening chapter was a field goal. It took 27 minutes for Ohio State to find the end zone, courtesy of a Malik Hooker pick-six; barely two minutes later, Marshon Lattimore repeated the feat to send the Buckeyes into halftime with a 20-3 lead.

The second half? That was a different story. Ohio State came out burning, abandoning their conservative offense despite a rain-soaked field and a long weather delay. Meyer’s dynamic stable of playmakers, including J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel, and Mike Weber, began to find an offensive rhythm, and it quickly became clear the Tulsa was hopelessly outgunned. The Buckeyes rolled, finishing to the tune of 48-3. Let’s take a look at who we have to think for a second straight decisive victory:

Blue chip stocks

Malik Hooker, S: Hooker has been indispensable on this Buckeye defense through two games. He’s racked up three interceptions, including one that he took to the house courtesy of Tulsa’s Dane Evans. Hooker added four tackles and a pass breakup to his total against the Golden Hurricane. Give him credit: his touchdown on Saturday—the result of a beautiful read and some serious lateral hustle to get to the ball—blew life into an Ohio State squad that looked poised to be dragged down to their opponent’s level.

Oh, and in case Hooker’s performance wasn’t impressive enough...

Marshon Lattimore, CB: If anyone on the Buckeye defense can claim to have impacted this game as much as Hooker, it’s Lattimore. Lattimore notched two interceptions against the Golden Hurricane, the first coming on the game’s opening possession. The second was an encore to Hooker’s performance, going back to the house for six after an ill-advised Dane Evans throw in first-half garbage time. Lattimore was in on three tackles for the Buckeye defense, which looks as sharp as ever under Luke Fickell and new co-DC Greg Schiano.

Raekwon McMillan, LB: The Buckeye captain didn’t rack up any highlight-reel plays, but he didn’t need to in this one. McMillan recorded eight tackles and forced a fumble, part of a five-turnover effort by the defense. That’s the most the Buckeyes have notched since 2014’s blowout against Maryland; given how much NFL talent was on that 2014 defense, there’s a lot to like about Saturday’s showing. The season’s still young, but Raekwon McMillan seems to be firing on all cylinders, ready to assume the leadership role (and ridiculous volume of tackles) that Joshua Perry left vacant.

Solid investments

Curtis Samuel, H-Back: After a down year in 2015, Brooklyn’s Finest certainly looks ready to step into the role of J.T. Barrett’s favorite weapon. Samuel didn’t find the end zone against Tulsa, but for a few series looked to be the only skill position player on the Buckeyes who’d actually planned to play on Saturday. He combined for 140 all-purpose yards, and showed off video game-worthy balance and speed as he found room to run at the second level. He and Barrett already look to have good rapport; it’s scary to think what that pairing might accomplish by season’s end.

Sam Hubbard, DE: The former Notre Dame lacrosse commit probably made the right choice, you guys. Hubbard showed that he could be a serious threat in Ohio State’s “Rushmen” package last season, and that’s translated to high-caliber play now that he’s on every-down duty. The Golden Hurricane couldn’t keep No. 6 out of the backfield on Saturday, and he finished the game with six total tackles, including two for a loss. Hubbard’s fast, physical, and has good hands—the Big Ten’s offensive lines are going to have problems with him.

Tyquan Lewis, DE: Across from Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis also had himself a day. Lewis racked up four tackles, including a sack, and forced a fumble with an absolutely punishing hit on Tulsa QB Dane Evans. He’s not as talked-about as Hubbard, and he doesn’t have the name value of Nick Bosa, but Lewis is an outstanding role player on this defense and probably doesn’t get enough shine from the public.

Junk bonds

Vanilla: Look, vanilla is a perfectly fine flavor for a soft-serve cone, and it smells really good when you take a whiff of one of those little brown bottles. But it’s a terrible look for Ohio State. The Buckeyes played a nondescript, conservative offense in the first half of this game, and it bordered on unwatchable. What’s more, it only got them six points. Oklahoma looms large on the schedule next week, and if Urban Meyer runs nothing but basic read-option looks for an entire half, the Sooners are going to put a hurting on the Buckeyes. Open up that playbook, Urbs. There’s a reason you’ve recruited such a deep stable of wildly talented athletes these last few years.

Buy/Sell

BUY: Wet Urban. Coach Meyer faced down a Hurricane and a thunderstorm on Saturday, and ultimately got the better of both. College football’s Captain Ahab.

SELL: Dry Urban. The first half was u-g-l-y for Ohio State’s offense, as clouds gathered on the horizon and the air hummed in anticipation of the coming deluge. Meyer went conservative, and the Buckeye offense fizzled.

BUY: The Bosa family legacy staying intact.