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Five takeaways from Tulsa: Young players still maturing, secondary may be best unit on team

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OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) scores his first rushing touchdown of the game during the third quarter against Tulsa on Sept.10. The Buckeyes won 48-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) scores his first rushing touchdown of the game during the third quarter against Tulsa on Sept.10. The Buckeyes won 48-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

The first half of Saturday’s game against Tulsa might have seemed like a completely different contest from the second half. Regardless of how the team’s performance is viewed by the media and fans, the Buckeyes picked up a hard-fought win against the Golden Hurricane to improve to 2-0.

Although the end score was 48-3, OSU only led 13-3 with three minutes left in the first half. The offense was struggling to put points on the board, and Tulsa was giving the Buckeye defense a run for its money.

With much of the playmaking coming from the defensive side of the ball, here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game against Tulsa.

Secondary the key to OSU’s early success

Both games played by the Scarlet and Gray have come against opponents well outside the top 25. However, both Bowling Green and Tulsa have potent passing attacks, with each one ranking fifth and 11th in the nation, respectively, in terms of pass yards per game last season.

Combined, the Buckeyes have only given up 302 passing yards in the first two games — an average of 151 yards per game. Last year, the Buckeyes gave up an average of 184.5 passing yards per game.

Three starters may be gone from the secondary, but there has been little drop off for OSU this season.  Both redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore and redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker have five picks combined through two games, which puts them both near the top of the national rankings in terms of interceptions.

Although a few plays against Tulsa made the OSU secondary look vulnerable, the unit has played at a high level so far this year. But, Hooker is not satisfied just yet.

“I think we can’t sit with where we’re at now,” Hooker said. “We have to get better and watch film for the games coming up next week.”

Defensive line may struggle without Tracy Sprinkle

Although the defense for OSU has been playing tough and basically dominating opponents this season, there were a few runs against Tulsa that had Buckeye fans holding their breathe. The absence of redshirt junior defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle could be felt on those runs, even though redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton have received praise from their teammates.

On run plays up-the-middle during the first half, Tulsa junior running back D’Angelo Brewer had multiple carries where he hit the hole with the nearest defender at least three yards away. That open space allowed the Golden Hurricane to pick up a couple first downs, extending drives and tiring the defense. In the long run, the defense was not affected, but a team like Oklahoma — the Buckeyes next opponent — may exploit these holes more readily than Tulsa.

Last year, Oklahoma averaged 222.1 yards per game, which was 22nd in the nation. Returning starter and junior Samaje Perine has averaged six yards or more per carry in his last two seasons, and has rushed for a combined 3,062 yards in his last two years.

Perine was dinged up earlier in the week with a shoulder injury, but scored twice. Freshman Joe Mixon received a bulk of the carries against Louisiana-Monroe, finishing with 117 yards.

Hooker said he felt like the team did not play with the intensity it usually plays with against Tulsa. If the defense plays as flat as it did against Oklahoma, the running lanes may be even more wide open.

Wide receivers are still a mystery

Losing Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall was an issue for OSU this spring. That discussion was supposed to end after redshirt sophomore Noah Brown was rumored to be recovering well from a leg injury he suffered last season.

There was some maturity in the unit in sixth-year senior Corey Smith and redshirt junior James Clark. However, both Smith and Clark have been far from leading members of the receivers, failing to produce a single catch in the first two games.

Redshirt sophomore Parris Campbell made his first reception of the year for five yards against Tulsa, and the production of highly touted redshirt sophomore Noah Brown dipped Saturday, as he was only able to haul in one pass for 16 yards.

Junior Curtis Samuel currently leads all Buckeyes in receiving yards, but an emphasis this year from Meyer has been the success of wide receivers. That success has yet to be had, and OSU will need a wideout to step up against a defense like Oklahoma’s.

Jerome Baker has the intangibles to be a starter

It’s not often you hear of a high school running back transitioning to the linebacker position successfully. The Buckeyes are trying this kind of change with sophomore Jerome Baker.

For now, the transition appears to have great potential, as Baker had an impressive game filling in for injured junior linebacker Dante Booker against Tulsa. Finishing the night with five total tackles and a fumble recovery, he was all smiles at the post-game press conference.

Showing flashes of speed and strength, the former running back was all over the field, making plays and helping keep OSU ahead.

Even veterans present on the field are taking notice of what Baker brings to the table.

“(Baker) was out there communicating and talking a lot,” OSU junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “It made the job easier on me as the older guy out there.”

The status of Booker is still likely to be up in the air for much of the upcoming week. If Baker plays again against Oklahoma, it will be a test of exactly how much talent the young linebacker possesses.

Tight end under utilized

Last year, Nick Vannett made a big enough impact to be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. Although sometimes forgotten about in the offense, he made big enough contributions in the blocking and receiving game that Pete Carroll and the rest of the Seahawks pulled the trigger in the third round.

So far, the leading tight end for OSU — redshirt junior Marcus Baugh — has three receptions or 40 yards. The only other tight end with any statistics this season is freshman A.J. Alexander, who has one catch for three yards.

The year is still young, but it is important to remember how instrumental the tight end can be to a college football team. Meyer has never been one to use the position as a safety value or as a go-to receiver.

In a game like Tulsa, the tight end could provide a little boost to the offense when it is struggling, with the possibility of  small out route passes or streaks down the middle of the field. No player at that position caught a pass against the Golden Hurricane,

Sure, Vannett finished last season with just 19 receptions and 162 yards. But Baugh could see more targets if the offense needs a spark early in a game like it did Saturday.

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