COLUMBUS, Ohio — When glancing at the 2021 Ohio State football schedule ahead of the season, a couple of games would have stood out.
The thinking was that Minnesota, the opener, could be a dangerous game on the road, plus it was at night. Oregon, of course, was the marquee non-conference match-up. Indiana always plays the Buckeyes close, Penn State is usually the top threat in the Big Ten’s Eastern Division, and Michigan is well, Michigan.
No one circled week three, Sept. 18 against Tulsa, but now it could be argued this is OSU’s biggest game of the season.
The truth of it, without slighting the Golden Hurricanes, is that the Buckeyes are really playing against themselves this week.
Following a 35-28 loss to Oregon last week, there are concerns with this Ohio State team, once again expected to win the conference and earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
It was an alarming performance on defense, allowing 505 yards to the Ducks and not getting any real pressure on the quarterback. Even more troubling . . . the Buckeyes looked lost on that side of the ball.
Even had OSU found a way to win last week, this stretch of four games (Tulsa, Akron, at Rutgers, Maryland) was always going to be important, and always about how much better the Buckeyes were able to get in games they would be comfortably favored in.
But it’s the defense that is really under the microscope.
What changes might we see? Will there be any changes in coaching responsibilities, or game-day locations (sidelines vs. press box)? Will there be any schematic changes? Will the rotation of players be shortened to keep the players on the field? Are the changes sufficient enough to keep Ohio State out of danger against the Terrapins (see 2018) and Scarlet Knights (see the second half of 2020) when October rolls around?
All intriguing questions to keep you alert and awake during an otherwise sleepy, mid-afternoon 3:30 p.m. start.
On offense, Ohio State has been impressive overall this season, but still has some areas in which Ryan Day is looking for improvement.
The Bucks had trouble running the ball last week, with just 128 yards on the ground. OSU was also just 6-15 on third-down conversions, and 2-5 on fourth downs.
The three failed conversions came at the Oregon 31, 39, and 8-yard lines. Any combination of points there could have made a huge difference in what ended up a 7-point game.
Tulsa might be 0-2 on the season (losses to California-Davis and Oklahoma State) but will have some players capable of testing OSU.
Running back Deneric Prince is a Texas A&M transfer that has no doubt taken note of what Mohammad Ibrahim and CJ Verdell have done against the Buckeyes.
He and teammate Shamari Brooks have averaged 5.7 yards per carry this season (Ohio State is allowing nearly 5.4 yards a clip).
There is very little history between these two schools on the football field, with just one previous meeting.
OSU was a 48-3 winner back in 2016, in a game delayed at halftime by more than an hour due to a severe thunderstorm in Columbus.
The biggest connection is actually through a former Buckeye head coach.
John Cooper began his Hall of Fame career on the Golden Hurricanes’ sideline, sporting a 56-32 record from 1977 through 1984, winning five straight Missouri Valley Conference titles to close his time in Tulsa.