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Ohio State’s young talent looks to shine again versus Tulsa

After steamrolling Bowling Green, can the baby Buckeyes keep it up against Tulsa?

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

So much for a slow start. Behind an explosive offense, Ohio State steamrolled a Bowling Green team many are picking to win their division, 77-10. Damn near everyone wearing a scarlet jersey touched the ball or scored a touchdown, while setting the school record for single game yardage.

Defensively, Malik Hooker may actually be Ed Reed in disguise, and the Buckeyes limited the Falcons’ explosive offense to a meek 3.3 yards per play. In all, it was a pretty great showing. Expect more of the same this week.

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane come to Columbus with an offense also hell bent on playing fast, with legitimate playmakers out wide and at running back. Tulsa’s offense also provides intrigue in that it’s similar to the Buckeyes’ next opponent: Oklahoma.

For all its prowess on offense, Tulsa’s defense is just as prone to giving up points. Seeing a ‘77’ on the Ohio Stadium scoreboard may not happen again, but the Buckeyes should once again be balanced and dominate an overmatched opponent.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch for tomorrow (Before you start worrying about the Oklahoma game):

Line work

Despite Ohio State’s track record of offensive line success under Urban Meyer, no one would have blamed you for thinking that the new ‘slobs’ would go through an adjustment period. Even against Bowling Green, an up-and-down performance from the new group wouldn’t have been shocking. Instead, they kept the pocket clean for JT Barrett all day, and paved the way for 359 rushing yards, highlighted by this impressive stat:

Regardless of opponent, that’s serious impressive. The two returning starters — center Pat Elflein and guard Billy Price — were unsurprisingly stellar, but the play of the three new faces is cause for excitement.

With a combined zero career starts, Jamarco Jones, Michael Jordan, and Isaiah Prince all performed admirably, hinting at the line’s potential. Saturday is the next step in that development, and make sure to watch these three while the Buckeyes are having another field day on the ground.

Jones and Prince are both maulers in the run game, and another solid week of pass protection will go a long way into quelling uneasiness about Ohio State’s trip to Norman next week. Jordan looked a bit lost while run blocking at times, but that’s to be expected out of a true freshman making their first start. Otherwise, he looks to be every bit the talent he was touted to be this offseason.

The Buckeyes’ offense should feast tomorrow, so take a few plays to appreciate the new hog-mollies up front making it possible.

Open field

Ohio State’s deep stable of runners took advantage of the line’s play last week. Five of the six players with carries averaged at least five yards per carry, helping the offense achieve an astounding 84 percent rushing success rate. They were able to get anything they wanted on the ground, and with multiple threats, as well. Fears of losing Ezekiel Elliott’s high-level production were quashed, at least for one week. What the ground game was missing, though, was explosion.

Ohio State didn’t post a single run of over 20 yards against Bowling Green, despite controlling the line of scrimmage and averaging over six and a half yards per carry. With the talent in the Buckeyes’ backfield, expect that to change against Tulsa.

Redshirt freshman Mike Weber was the unfortunate recipient of at least three shoestring tackles preventing explosive runs last week, but with more experience — and some better balance — is a strong candidate to turn those seven yard gains into 25 yards. Add in the explosiveness of Curtis Samuel — and now Demario McCall — and it would be a surprise if they don’t break off at least a couple of long runs against this defense.

The Golden Hurricane were consistently gashed by opposing runners last season, giving up the fourth most runs of over 20 yards in the country. Despite not surrendering one against San Jose State last week, the Buckeyes should be able to replicate the success of Tulsa’s 2015 opponents. While efficiency is great, adding an explosive element to the run game would be a good sign for the Buckeyes before their trip to Norman.

Fully operational

Do you know who Percy Harvin is? Oh, you do? Did you know that he has a position in Ohio State’s offense unofficially named after him? Or that he was very fast? Well, if you weren’t aware of those things, Harvin was a very good player for Meyer at the University of Florida. He gave the Gators a dynamic weapon in which to destroy defenses however they decided to use him on a given play. In Meyer’s fifth season in Columbus, the Buckeyes may finally have a player with similar versatility. Or three.

Samuel’s first two seasons were littered with moments that showed his ability to play that hybrid role, and against Bowling Green he went full supernova in a Harvin-esque performance:

It’s been hinted that 15 touches per game for Samuel is a offensive goal, and yeah, please do that. Thanks.

In addition to the abundance of touches Samuel received, the original Percy Harvin 2.0 — Dontre Wilson — got in on the fun. Wilson’s 73 yards from scrimmage were the most for him since gaining 92 against Cincinnati in September 2014. He also caught two touchdowns, while seeing time at wildcat quarterback, so it’s clear that the staff is keen on giving him the opportunity to live up to the hype he brought with him in 2013.

Finally, Demario McCall burst onto the scene —literally— on Saturday, giving the Buckeyes a third dynamic H-back. McCall generated 90 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, as the Bowling Green defense could barely lay a hand on him. The production came in garbage time, but McCall looks to have the makings of a special player.

It will be intriguing to see how the staff uses the three against Tulsa, given the insane success they had last week. Keep an eye on not only how many touches each receives, but also they way they are getting them, whether it’s through handoffs, receptions, or snaps at the wildcat quarterback position. Regardless, it appears that Ohio State again doesn’t have the one hybrid back they’ve been searching for. They have three.

Playing in space

Much of the talk this week surrounding Tulsa’s offense centered on its similarities to Art Briles’ Baylor groups, and with good reason. Head Coach Philip Montgomery was a long-time Briles staffer in Waco before migrating to Tulsa, and bringing those offensive principles with him:

While Meyer mentioned Tulsa’s star power at receiver, they are far from a pass-first offense that can’t run. The Golden Hurricane are content to pound the ball, while spreading the wealth. Three backs had at least 70 carries last season, and that trend continued last week against San Jose State. So how will they attack the Buckeye defense?

Much like Baylor, they prefer to split receivers out as wide as possible, creating a numbers mismatch in the box. This puts a ton of stress on opposing linebackers to make plays in a position where a missed tackle means a long gain, or worse. Raekwon McMillan should be fine in that regard, but this will be a pressure packed day for Joe Burger, Chris Worley, and maybe Dante Booker. History indicates if they’re able to make plays against the run, it should be a good day defensively.

During his time as Baylor OC, the key ingredient for defensive success against the Bears appeared to be limiting their production on the ground. When opposing run defenses tackled well, they not only prevented the explosive runs offenses like this so desperately crave, but increased the likelihood of three-and-outs. Three-and-outs are great against any offense, but especially so against one that likes to push the pace, such as Tulsa’s. If the Buckeyes are forcing these quick possessions, it’s likely because the linebackers are making plays against the run.

Causing havoc

If there was one thing to nitpick from last week’s game, it was the lack of a pass rush and overall havoc creation. While the Buckeyes generated two sacks, neither came from the first team defense, and essentially were during garbage time. They didn’t make many plays behind the line either, as Tyquan Lewis and Joe Burger were the only silver bullets with a tackle for loss. It wasn’t a poor performance by any means, but it was a quiet day from Lewis, Sam Hubbard, and co.

Bowling Green’s penchant for getting rid of the ball quickly was a reason for that, so it will be interesting to see the amount of pressure the Buckeyes generate against a team that prefers to wait a little longer before throwing.

The Golden Hurricane didn’t have much trouble preventing San Jose State from making tackles for loss, but did allow major pressure on passing downs, which bodes well for the edge rushers. You don’t need me to explain that if San Jose State can generate pressure, the Buckeyes should be just fine.

Expect the defensive line to get back on track, with Lewis and Hubbard in particular, having big days. Tracy Sprinkle’s season ending injury means opportunities for Dre’Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton, as well. But most importantly: Please, Nick Bosa, shrug next time.