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Ohio State vs. Tulsa 2016: Game preview, prediction, and 6 things to know

The Bucks seek a 2-0 start when they welcome the Golden Hurricane to Columbus.

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Tulsa Joey Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off of a promising start to the 2016 season. The Buckeyes welcomed the Bowling Green Falcons to Columbus this past Saturday, and come out with quite the victory at 77-10. It was the most prolific game of offense in the storied history of Ohio State football, breaking the school record for total yards in a game at 776. J.T. Barrett had six passing touchdowns, in what was an extremely successful day through the air for the men in scarlet and gray.

While it was a good start for the young team, it’s still quite early in the season, and it’s a very long and excruciating one (in case last year wasn’t a great indication of that). The Buckeyes come into this game ranked No. 4 in both the AP and Coaches Poll, but as the past two seasons have shown (and every other one, really), that doesn’t count for anything. The first real test of the season will come September 17 when the Buckeyes travel to Norman to take on the Oklahoma Sooners, but they’ve got the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to get past first.

This will be the first meeting between the schools. And although Ohio State is expected to cruise here, it’s not expected to be nearly as easy as the Bowling Green game was. The Golden Hurricane is led by Philip Montgomery, former offensive coordinator at Baylor. His team had quite an explosive offense last year, helping the team improve from a dreadful 2-10 record to 6-7, taking the Golden Hurricane to the Independence Bowl and giving Virginia Tech a hell of a game in Frank Beamer’s last on the gridiron. They even gave Oklahoma a scare last season, before ultimately losing 52-38.

Tulsa has been a good program over the past 5 years, so Montgomery has been quite a bright spot early in his tenure after the hole the program had fallen into. He was able to boost the team’s offense in just a single season immensely, and without recruits. Last season, the defense was really their largest issue, but they were young, and with another year under their belt, the Golden Hurricane hope that it won’t be nearly as bad. A little defense would have gone a long way during last season.

Last season, Tulsa’s yards per game was 13th in the nation. That’s very good! They’re returning last year’s starting quarterback Dane Evans, who threw for over 4,300 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just eight picks. That’s always a good starting point for smaller programs. They’ve lost RB Zack Langer, who led the team in carries and touchdowns, as well as Ramadi Warren, who rushed for nearly 500 yards and six touchdowns. But, they are returning D’Angelo Brewer, who produced over 800 yards and six touchdowns on the ground last season. Despite losing two of their top three wideouts, one to graduation and one to injury, the Golden Hurricane spread the ball out a bunch last season, so there’s experience all around the receivers we will see Saturday afternoon.

But when the Golden Hurricane was playing teams of higher caliber, it was all for none, because the defense just wasn’t there. Ranked 126 in defensive yards given up per game, every game was a shootout. They’ve lost their leading tackler in safety Michael Mudoh, who had 13 percent of the team’s tackles, but they’ve also returned a good amount of talent in the defensive backfield. If there’s going to be any strength in the defense, it’s there.

Ohio State’s biggest advantages

Offense. The Buckeyes had no problem moving the pigskin last week, and as aforementioned, Tulsa doesn’t exactly boast a great defense. We know what we’re getting out of J.T. Barrett. He finished 5th in the Heisman Trophy voting his freshman season, and finished the 2015 campaign strong when he got the bulk of the snaps. Billy Price and Pat Elflein on the offensive line, along with new starter (yet upperclassman) Jamarco Jones serve as a good anchor to let Barrett do what he does, like throwing for 349 yards and six touchdowns against the Bowling Green Falcons.

Along with these guys, come a breadth of new weapons for the Buckeye offense. Nine different Buckeyes caught passes this past Saturday, five of them catching 3 or more passes. New starting running back Mike Weber also showed great promise on the ground, with 19 carries for 136 yards. Curtis Samuel, who might be the most versatile player on the squad, had 177 yards receiving, and was second on the team in rushing with 84 yards. If the Golden Hurricane has to keep their eyes peeled for at least one guy on the offense that isn’t Barrett, it has to be Samuel.

Pure talent. If for whatever reason this game begins to get tough, and Tulsa puts together a complete game, Ohio State’s talent alone should be enough to carry them over the top. Surely if you follow Land-Grant Holy Land closely and our State Secrets, you’ll know that Ohio State recruiting has been going bonkers since the arrival of Urban Meyer. So despite the big turnover on the roster, the talent is undoubtedly there. The aforementioned Mike Weber, who had a stellar debut with the Bucks was a four-star recruit, along with first-year starting offensive linemen in freshman Michael Jordan, and sophomore Isaiah Prince. First-year starting wideouts, and a pair of sophomores Noah Brown and Parris Campbell were also four-star recruits.

It’s the same story on the defensive side of the ball for Ohio State. Sophomore Sam Hubbard wasn’t the highest touted recruit by any means, but he was a monster in his roles last season, and should really shake things up on the defensive line this season. Expectations have also risen for sophomore Malik Hooker, who had a pair of picks for Ohio State last week. Montgomery hasn’t been able to get but one recruiting class in with the Golden Hurricane. So he’s still playing with some from a crop that went 2-10 prior to his first season at the helm. He did a great job last season of coaching up what he had, but with the wide range of talent that the Buckeyes boast, that could be all the Buckeyes need to win, even if Tulsa is somehow able to keep this one close. It helped Ohio State overcome Northern Illinois last season.

Coaching. Urban Meyer is undoubtedly one of the best in the business. Ohio State was already a great program before he took over in 2012, and he’s taken it to new heights, and setting the Buckeyes up for what could be a dynasty-like run if the recruiting classes keep coming and pan out. He’s lost just four games as the head coach of the Buckeyes, and is 13-0 against non-power five schools. Barring the greatest game in Tulsa’s history, that should become 14-0 for Meyer.

Philip Montgomery is a fine young coach. This is his first head coaching gig, but he’s gotten off to a great start. Unfortunately for him and his team, they’re running into one of the most unstoppable forces in college football right now. It’s not a game they expect to win, but it doesn’t hurt to see how one of the best programs in college football does things on a Saturday. Meyer, along with his assistants make up quite the staff. A few of the more notable names include Greg Schiano, Kerry Coombs, and Zach Smith. And despite the heat that Ed Warinner and Tim Beck have taken the past handful of months, they had a hand in the best offensive day in Ohio State’s history. If the game is close and it comes down to coaching, the Buckeyes chances are pretty dang good.

Tulsa’s biggest advantages

Offensive weaponry. This is likely the greatest advantage that the Golden Hurricane possesses. While the secondary and their ability to stop the run were strengths for them last season, the combined product on the defensive side of the ball, was a huge weakness. With that said, Tulsa boasts plenty of weapons on the offensive end, and they’re able to put it together, and do it against anybody. Last season, putting up points was the farthest thing from being an issue with this team. Their lowest scoring game of last season was in a 30-17 loss against ECU. In seven games last season, they scored at least 40 points or more, with one coming against Virginia Tech.

How were they able to do this? Of course it all starts at the quarterback position with Dane Evans. The senior threw for 4,332 yards last year with 25 touchdowns and just eight picks, and completed 63 percent of his passes. This is good, because last season was his first in Montgomery’s system, so you’d have to imagine with a year under his belt, there’s room for improvement there. The Golden Hurricane is losing starting running back Zack Langer, as well as two of their top three receivers in Keyarris Garrett and Conner Floyd, but there’s still tons of production coming back for them.

D’Angelo Brewer, while not the starter, produced nearly as much as Langer did. The touchdowns weren’t as close, but in rushing yards, Brewer had the advantage. Brewer will be the centerpiece in the backfield, and will likely be coupled with James Flanders, who took Ramadi Warren’s carries. Don’t be surprised to see Raymond Taylor as well, who had 12 carries for 50 yards in their season opener. At receiver, Joshua Atkinson, Justin Hobbs, and Keevan Lucas combined for over 42 percent of the targets last season, and carried the load in their first game of this season against San Jose State. The drop off at receiver should be zero, but if anything, very minimal.

Stopping the run. There were not many bright spots for the Golden Hurricane defense last season. By now, in reading this preview, you’re well aware that this team is, simply put, bad on defense. But you can always find a positive in any situation, and the ability of their defense to stop the run was one of those bright spots. Their linebacking trio of Matt Linscott, Trent Martin, and Craig Suits were the catalyst for this strength in the Golden Hurricane defense. The trio combined for 35.5 tackles for loss. While you might think a good chunk of those were sacks, it was just seven of them.

So if this was the case, how could they have been so bad? Well, everything was getting past them. The big plays hurt, and if safety Michael Mudoh’s percentage of the team’s tackles (13!) is any indication, it happened far too often. It’s nice to drop those linebackers back and keep everything in front of you, but that just wasn’t a reality for them last season, and it resulted in a pretty bad defense. They gave up just 10 points in this season’s opener to San Jose State, but, they’re San Jose State.

Secondary. Another defensive strength? Yes, hear me out. They didn’t get a whole lot of help last season, and despite losing its leading tackler, there’s some experience and some talent there. They return senior Jeremy Brady, corner Kerwin Thomas, and safety Jordan Mitchell, who combined for 17 percent of the teams tackles. Brady and Thomas led the team in picks with two apiece. Thomas also led the team in passes broken up with 12, and is definitely a highlight when it comes to returning players on defense.

The Golden Hurricane also added experience with Keanu Hill, a JUCO transfer, as well as redshirt freshman Reginald Robinson II. The front seven really showed promise in the first game, giving up just 53 rushing yards on 32 attempts. This should help the secondary be better, because of the ground they had to make up for them last season. The hope here is that another year helps them make a greater leap on defense, and that showed in the first game. Ohio State’s offense will certainly be a different test, but the inexperience at wide receiver just might help Tulsa enough to be somewhat effective. Although that wouldn’t be an entirely safe bet.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 46, Tulsa 21

Win Probability: Ohio State 93%

It’s a pretty safe bet for Ohio State to get away with this one comfortably. Tulsa is strong offensively, but if their defensive history is any indication, Ohio State could have another very fun afternoon on offense. Ohio State’s talent should be all the Bucks need Saturday to come away with this one.

After a smoking hot start last week, look for J.T. Barrett to keep making a statement, as it seems he has been slept on when it comes to early-season Heisman favorites. He got his campaign started in 2014 this same way, eating up on the lesser competition. Defensively, it’s always a safe bet to keep an eye on Raekwon McMillan, but also keep eyes on Malik Hooker, and Gareon Conley in the secondary. Expect the Buckeyes to come away with the W in the first meeting between these two squads.