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Ohio State vs. Tulane: 2018 game preview and prediction

After a three-game suspension, Urban Meyer will be back on the sidelines on Saturday afternoon, as Ohio State faces Tulane for the first time ever.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Tulane Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Following last week’s hard fought 40-28 win over TCU, Ohio State will close out their non-conference portion of their regular season schedule on Saturday against Tulane. Before heading to State College next Saturday for a Big Ten showdown with Penn State, the Buckeyes will welcome head coach Urban Meyer back to the sidelines.

Ohio State will square off with Tulane for the first time in school history, but the Buckeyes are quite familiar with some of the other teams who current make up the American Athletic Conference. The Buckeyes are 29-3-1 against teams from the AAC. The last time Ohio State played a team from the AAC was back in 2016, when the Buckeyes blitzed Tulsa, 48-3. The last loss by Ohio State to a current AAC team came back in 1950, when SMU beat the Buckeyes 32-27 in Columbus. Cincinnati was the other current AAC team to beat Ohio State, with the Bearcats beating their in-state foe in 1896 and 1897.

Urban renewal

After being placed on paid leave on Aug. 1 while the school investigated allegations of how Meyer handled domestic violence allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, the Ohio State head coach was suspended three weeks later for the first three games of the 2018 season. The Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat without Meyer, winning their first three games by a combined score of 169-62.

Now that Meyer is returning to his role as head coach, he’ll look to add to the best active winning percentage among FBS head coaches. Entering his 17th year as head coach, Meyer has posted a 177-31 record, which equates to a .851 winning percentage. Only Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy have posted an better winning percentage in college football history.

All Day

Acting head coach Ryan Day did a tremendous job in Meyer’s absence, almost flawlessly navigating a tough situation to win all three games he was in charge for. All three victories that Day was at helm for came against Power 5 schools, making Ohio State the only team in the country this year with three wins over Power 5 schools.

Now Day will settle back into his role as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Along with fellow offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Ohio State is averaging 56 points per game and over 600 yards per game. The Buckeyes have used the big play to their advantage to help boost their stats. Ohio State’s offense has already racked up 20 plays of at least 20 yards so far this season.

Pass happy

The leader of Ohio State’s offensive juggernaut this year has been quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The redshirt sophomore passed for a career-high 344 yards last week, which was the seventh-highest single game total in school history. Haskins has now thrown for 890 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first three starts for the Buckeyes. If Haskins continue to accumulate passing yards at this pace, he’ll eclipse Joe Germaine’s single season school record of 3,300 passing yards.

Haskins has had plenty of help from a talented stable of wide receivers, led by K.J. Hill, who is leading the Buckeyes with 17 receptions and 202 yards through three games. With his 95 receiving yards last week, Hill became the latest Ohio State wide receiver to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in his career. The 24-yard touchdown pass from Haskins in the third quarter was Hill’s first touchdown since last year, when Hill scored two touchdowns against Nebraska.

With Hill’s sure hands steadying the wide receiving corps, senior Parris Campbell is gathering steam and showing why many have pegged the speedy wide receiver as one of the fastest in the nation. Campbell has caught a touchdown pass in each of Ohio State’s three games this season, but none had a bigger impact than the touchdown against TCU. With the Buckeyes trailing 21-13 midway through the third quarter, Campbell caught a screen pass and took it 63 yards for a touchdown, which sparked a stretch where Ohio State scored 20 points in four minutes to take the lead for good.

Run the jewels

Right now Ohio State’s offense has the perfect mix of run and pass to keep opponents on their heels. The running game has seen Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins put up eerily similar stats so far this year. After opening up the season with 186 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon State, Weber has cooled off a little, rushing for just 95 yards the last two games. On the season, Weber has 46 carries for 281 yards and three rushing touchdowns.

As Weber has been slowed the last two games, Dobbins has picked up the slack. The sophomore is coming off his best of the season, rushing for 121 yards on 18 carries last week in his return to his home state. The 100-yard rushing effort was the seventh by Dobbins in his young career. For the season, Dobbins has rushed 45 times for 268 yards.

Fun for everyone

What has been the most interesting stat for Ohio State three games into the season is the Buckeyes have seen 15 different players score a touchdown so far this season. All last season the Buckeyes had just 16 different players reach the end zone. 12 of those players who have scored a touchdown have been on the offensive side of the football, while Nick Bosa, Davon Hamilton, and Dre’Mont Jones have accounted for the touchdowns on defense.

Next man up

The Ohio State defense suffered a big loss when Nick Bosa was injured against TCU, but Dre’Mont Jones and the rest of the defensive line picked up the slack in Bosa’s absence. Jones had one of the best games of his career, recording a sack to go along with his 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

After undergoing core surgery earlier this week, Bosa will be out for the foreseeable future, putting more pressure on defensive ends Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young to try and create the same type of pressure on opposing quarterbacks that Bosa did so far this year. Cooper recorded his first sack of the season last week, while Young recorded two sacks the previous week against Rutgers.

Searching for a remedy

While the defensive line has been holding their own so far this year, the same can’t be said about Ohio State’s back seven. The Buckeyes allowed a number of big plays in the season opener against Oregon State, and the issue returned last week against TCU. The Horned Frogs took the lead in the second quarter after Darius Anderson ran 93 yards for a touchdown, which was the longest play Ohio State has surrendered in their storied history. TCU also was able to register a 51-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to make it a 33-28 game.

The Buckeyes should get a chance to tighten their defense up against a Tulane team who has 21 plays of 20 yards or more so far this year. Seven of those big plays by the Green Wave have resulted in touchdowns. While the issues might not end up costing the Buckeyes the game this Saturday, it could be the difference next Saturday against Penn State if they don’t clean up their coverages.

Tough luck Tulane

Tulane comes into Saturday’s game having lost two of their first three games. The Green Wave opened the season with a 23-17 loss at Wake Forest in overtime, and after beating Nicholls State 42-17 the following week, Tulane suffered a 31-24 setback against UAB last week. The Green Wave have had some tough luck since 2016, losing nine games by seven points or less.

On the Fritz?

Head coach Willie Fritz is still trying to put the pieces together at Tulane. In his third season with Green Wave, Fritz is 10-17. The results so far have to be tough for Fritz, as the two seasons with a losing record at Tulane equal the number of losing seasons he had in his previous 23 seasons as a college football head coach.

Fritz started his coaching career at Blinn Junior College in 1993 and after four seasons he moved on to the FCS level where he spent 13 years at Central Missouri. Following four years at Sam Houston State, Fritz made the jump to the FBS level with Georgia Southern, where his 17-7 record in two seasons earned the attention of Tulane. Fritz has won 203 games as a college football head coach, making him one of four active coaches in college football with at least 200 wins.

Bank on it

Tulane’s offense will be led by quarterback Jonathan Banks. The senior took over as starter last year, throwing for nearly 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns, while adding 592 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. To open up the season, Banks threw for 281 yards in the overtime loss to Wake Forest, which was his second-highest passing outong in his time with the Green Wave.

Banks’ best quality as a quarterback is his decision making. Last year Banks threw just five interceptions, and the interception Banks threw last week against UAB snapped a streak of 98 consecutive passing attempts without throwing one. The senior will have to be at the top of his game on Saturday if he wants to avoid any more interceptions though, as Ohio State has picked off two passes in each of the last two games.

If Banks is able to evade the pressure for Ohio State’s defense, he does have a couple of big play wide receivers that he can lean on. Darnell Mooney has 18 catches for 308 yards and three receiving touchdowns so far this season. With his 123 yards receiving last week against UAB, Mooney now has 10 games of at least 100 receiving yards of his career.

A wave of big plays

Joining Mooney at wide receiver is Terren Encalade, who has 11 catches for 248 yards and two touchdowns this year. The senior has been a fixture in Tulane’s lineup since Fritz arrived, starting every game for the Green Wave since 2016. Encalade had two catches of 74 yards and 52 yards against Wake Forest, giving him 14 catches of at least 30 yards in his career with the Green Wave.

Ohio State’s defense can’t avoid any lapses in defending the run like they showed on Darius Anderson’s 93-yard touchdown run last week, or else running back Corey Dauphine could make them pay. Even though he has only seen 19 carries this year, Dauphine has 236 yards and three touchdowns. The junior did most of his damage against Nicholls State, where he rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries. Dauphine had a 45-yard run last week against UAB, giving him two consecutive weeks with at least one run of more than 40 yards.

Eyes on the prize

The Buckeyes have done a great job at protecting the football so far this season, with their only two turnovers of the season coming in the season opener against Oregon State. Ohio State’s football security will be tested against a Tulane team that is itching to break out the “turnover beads” on Saturday in Columbus.

In their season opener against Wake Forest, Tulane debuted the beads, and they have had plenty of opportunities to give the award of since, forcing at least two turnovers in each of their first three games, with six of their seven turnovers coming via the interception. Senior cornerback Donnie Lewis has picked off two passes this year, bringing his career total to seven interceptions.

It could be tough for the Green Wave to get a chance to give out their turnover beads though, as they have had trouble generated much pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year. Tulane has registered just three sacks and seven quarterback hurries this season. Add in the outstanding job Ohio State has done in protecting their quarterbacks, allowing just three sacks so far this year, it will likely give Haskins time to evaluate his options and avoid making any mistakes in the passing game.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 50, Tulane 12

Win Probability: Ohio State 98.5%

After a strong win down in Texas against TCU last week, Ohio State shouldn’t have much trouble with the Green Wave on Saturday afternoon. Emotions should be high with Urban Meyer returning to the sidelines, which could see the Buckeyes come out with a lot of energy.

The goal for Ohio State’s last non-conference game of the regular season is to avoid any injuries ahead of next week’s contest at Penn State. With Nick Bosa already out, the Buckeyes can’t afford to lose any more key defensive players. Urban Meyer and his coaching staff will be looking for their team to jump out to an early lead, which will give them a chance to get some of the backups some work. Saturday’s game will mark Tulane’s first ever matchup with Ohio State, and if the game runs anywhere close to the projections, the Green Wave won’t want to square off with the Buckeyes again anytime soon.