Donte Wilson didn't sugarcoat it — if Ohio State's offense played like it did in the first half against Tulsa early in its showdown against Oklahoma, beating the Sooners falls into question.
"I don't know, man. It'll be tough," Wilson said Saturday after the Buckeyes took care of the Golden Hurricane 48-3. "But that's the plan, to not start out that way."
Ohio State's offense settled for two field goals in the first 30 minutes of what eventually turned into a game that was never in doubt. Luke Fickell's defense scored twice in the final 3:02 to put the Buckeyes ahead 20-3 at half, as Malik Hooker returned an interception 26 yards before Marshon Lattimore did the same as a monsoon began at Ohio Stadium.
"It's a team sport. We've all be in those situations when it's been the other way. We've all been around here when it's been the other way," Fickell said after his unit allowed just 188 yards and forced six turnovers. "The reality is, whether it's offense, defense or special teams, there's momentum in every game. Once you get it, you gotta keep it, when you don't have it, you gotta find a way to get it."
The game turned when Hooker read Dane Evans' eyes and stepped in front of a pass before essentially walking into the end zone untouched. Ohio State forced a quick three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but J.T. Barrett and its offense failed to do anything with terrific field position near midfield — a theme that resonated throughout the opening half.
"The offensive line gets a lot of praise around here," Urban Meyer said. "Also when things aren't going well, it's probably because we're not playing up to our expectation level."
The Buckeyes ran through the rain and into the locker room for halftime with just eight first downs (Tulsa had nine), 158 total yards and a meager 89 rushing yards on 20 carries. Tulsa's defensive line won early, getting in the backfield and disrupting plays often. Barrett also fumbled an exchange with Mike Weber in the first quarter that Tulsa recovered but failed to produce points with.
"A lot of pressure that we weren’t ready for, or one of the pressures we weren’t ready for," Barrett said. "With that, just kept us on our toes and our base plays we had a hard time running between the tackles because they were doing a lot of twisting. We made adjustments at halftime and did a better job of picking that up in the second half."
“The offensive line gets a lot of praise around here," Urban Meyer said. "Also when things aren't going well, it's probably because we're not playing up to our expectation level.”– Urban Meyer
Rain and lightning in the area extended the halftime period from its usual 20 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes, and it turns out the extra 50 minutes were all Ohio State needed. The Buckeyes finished with 417 total yards and eventually wore down Tulsa up front. Curtis Samuel, Weber, Barrett (twice) and Wilson all secured touchdown runs as the Buckeyes pulled away.
Meyer's offense is predicated on establishing the running game, which did not happen until Ohio State's defense broke Tulsa's spirit with a pair of interceptions through the rain soaked Columbus air.
"I knew they were blitzing a lot, one out of three or more were pressures, and we just weren't getting anything going," Meyer said of the first half. "And obviously the second half I thought we did — even in inclement weather, we did a nice job even making some balls — plays in the air."
"I know we gotta establish the running game," Wilson added. "Once the running game pops, then we can start airing the ball out."
As sheets of rain fell, Ohio State grew stronger. But even though its defense forced nine turnovers in its first two games to help push the team to a 2-0 start, the offense cannot play the way it did on Saturday and expect to stay in the game against Baker Mayfield and Co. down in Norman.
"Our defense is playing so well right now," Meyer said. "Obviously, the challenge of challenges comes next week against a very good team and we're going to jump on that one early and get ready to go."
A young Ohio State roster is set to embark on its first road game of the 2016 season, one that will shed light on where it sits among the nation's top teams and play a role in the eventual College Football Playoff hunt. Even though Oklahoma lost last week against Houston, firepower is everywhere on its offense which can score at any moment.
Like Meyer said, the challenge of challenges.
"I feel like today on offense we started a little sluggish but we’re going to get better at that," Barrett said. "I think we’ll keep on progressing because in the second half we did a great job playing our offense and our defense did a great job."
Meyer stressed how his defense picked up the other side of the ball to get the job done against Tulsa, saying "that's what good teams do." He's not wrong, but his players recognize how essential it is for Barrett, Wilson, Samuel and Co. to correct its issues before hitting the field next Saturday night in Norman.
"If we weren't carrying momentum into the week, everybody probably would have had their heads held low," Wilson said.
Added Raekwon McMillan, who led Ohio State with eight tackles and forced a fumble: "Next week is definitely going to be a challenge. Our first road game, they got a bunch of talented guys on their team but we also have a bunch of talented guys on our team."