Inexperienced Ohio State secondary growing up in a hurry
There was this feeling that probably took Ohio State fans back to last year.
J.T. Barrett overthrew Marcus Baugh on third down and Ohio State settled for a field goal. Buckeye fans looked up at the scoreboard and saw: Ohio State 6, Tulsa 3.
There were shades of last year with the slow start. Was Ohio State looking ahead to Oklahoma? Was this going to be another grind-it-out, a-win-is-a-win victory? After all, it’s not like the Buckeyes could turn to Darron Lee or Joey Bosa to make a big play. And with a monsoon on the way, the conditions weren’t exactly ideal for the Ohio State offense to rally.
But the young Buckeye secondary grew up. Two pick-sixes later, and suddenly, any thought of Tulsa hanging around went away in a hurry.
It wasn’t up to Barrett to get the Buckeyes rolling. He did eventually. So did Curtis Samuel, who has major potential in Urban Meyer’s offense.
Saturday was about the Ohio State defense capitalizing on some awful Tulsa mistakes, and giving the Buckeyes some much-needed breathing room.
The biggest question mark for this team coming into 2016 was the secondary. Outside of Gareon Conley, this group had a bunch of first-year starters, many of whom were injured in 2015. Teams are going to try and exploit the Buckeyes’ defensive backfield. Tulsa did it to a fault.
Marshon Lattimore set that tone by picking off the first play of the game.
After his two-interception opener, Malik Hooker hauled in his third interception of the year. And it wasn’t just a bad throw or a bobbled pass. Hooker read the offense and made the perfect break on the ball.
Lattimore’s second interception was a little different, but the result was the same to close out the first half.
By day’s end, the Buckeyes had four interceptions. That’s a total of seven picks through the first two games. Sure, Oklahoma is lightyears ahead of Tulsa and Bowling Green at the quarterback position. Baker Mayfield is as good as any quarterback in the country.
But picture this reality.
What if the Buckeyes had allowed an average of 300 yards passing through two games? What if they were still trying to figure out the right rotation? How daunting would that Oklahoma matchup be?
Now, Ohio State knows it has a few emerging playmakers in the secondary. That needed to be figured out sooner rather than later.
Consider this stat from ESPN’s Brian Bennett:
Through 7 quarters, opposing QBs averaging only 3.8 yards per pass attempt vs. Ohio State, and Buckeyes have 7 INTs. Hello, Baker Mayfield.
— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 10, 2016
That’s a sign that guys are covered. The secondary is going its job, albeit against lackluster competition. Still, any notion that the secondary was going to be the obvious weak link should be gone.
Mayfield will inevitably test that theory. Oklahoma might throw more than any team the Buckeyes will see all year. Chances are, OSU won’t be able to bank on the ill-advised throws Tulsa made.
But now, at the very least, Oklahoma won’t be licking its lips heading into Saturday night.