For a game that ended up a 21-point win Saturday, there sure were a lot of pressing questions surrounding an Ohio State performance that would be accurately characterized as a mixed bag in more ways than one.
Buckeye head coach Ryan Day and six of his standout players from Saturday's 41-20 win over Tulsa took the time to address a good portion of those questions following the contest in Columbus though, and many of their responses deserve a spotlight.
One such soundbite came from first-year starting quarterback C.J. Stroud, who had his worst performance of the first three games of the season Saturday, completing just 15 of his 25 pass attempts for 185 yards with one touchdown and an interception. In his post-game interview, Stroud reminded critics and members of the media of his age, and alluded to a lingering shoulder injury for the second straight week.
“Every game’s a learning aspect for me. I’m only 19 playing as a redshirt freshman. It’s no excuse, but I still have a lot of football to learn," Stroud said. "I feel like I’m getting better and better every week. I know a lot of people don’t agree with that, but that’s OK. I have a God-given talent, and every time I go out there, I give it my blood, swear and my tears. If that’s a problem with the media or whatever, whoever it is, I mean it is what it is. I’m gonna keep my faith in God and my teammates, and they have their faith in me, and I’m gonna just keep going. I don’t worry about the negativity, I’m all about being positive. And I feel like I’m a great player. Of course everybody has mistakes, but I know I’m a great player.”
Stroud said he wasn't injured enough to be held out of the game, but acknowledged that he is not performing at an optimal capacity right now. Stroud was seen favoring his shoulder during warmups.
Stroud definitely appears to be favoring that shoulder a bit, leaves it dangling after this throw in warmups. pic.twitter.com/zpWs3WS5xU— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) September 18, 2021
“I was healthy enough to play. Definitely not 100 percent, but who is 100 percent around this time? We have a job to do, we definitely gotta fix up some things on offense, but all-in-all, winning, it isn’t easy. Especially when everybody has a big target on their back. Definitely have to get better, but I was healthy enough to play, so thank God.”
Stroud's performance may have been lackluster by recent Ohio State standards, but the defensive storylines were circled in permanent ink ahead of Saturday's game due to the Buckeyes' Oregon loss a week ago. Secondary coach Matt Barnes took over play calling duties for defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, who was moved from the field to the box before the game, and Day seemed to like the way both of those changes worked out against Tulsa.
“We’re gonna watch the film and assess it and go back in there. That’s kind of the way I see it moving forward right now as I sit here,” Day said. “Larry Johnson’s obviously very, very involved and has a lot of input on the game plan as well. So it’s a team effort over there. But I think the way the things went today was pretty smooth, and hopefully we can build on it.”
As far as Coombs' reaction to seeing his responsibilities lessened this week, Day said his coordinator took it in stride.
“He’s a professional. He’s an Ohio guy, he’s from the state of Ohio, he’s got a lot of pride and he just wants to win. So he’s still very much a big part of this defense and a big part of Ohio State.”
Any discussion about the story of Saturday's game have to begin and end with true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson though, as the Virginia native ran for a new freshman record 277 yards against the Golden Hurricane. Henderson tacked on three touchdowns as well, and did we mention it was just the first start of his career?
Henderson said he only learned he would start for Ohio State a little while before kickoff Saturday, but the former five-star recruit clearly made the most of his opportunity.
“I’m excited right now, but at the same time I gotta keep this going,” Henderson said. “I can’t just let this be a one-time thing. I gotta stay hungry, go back to practice this week coming up, work hard again and do it again next Saturday.”
Henderson's blockers were particularly proud of him after the game, and left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere couldn't help but smile when asked about the player that seized the Buckeyes' starting running back job in a major way against Tulsa.
“TreVeyon obviously had an amazing day. Couldn’t be more proud of him,” Petit-Frere said. “He’s probably one of the best players we have here, and he’s worked so hard from the beginning when he got here to now. Everything’s kind of going for him, and he’s showing out.”
Henderson's show-stopping exhibition no doubt carried the Buckeyes to victory, but the Ohio State defense did manage to string together an impressive stretch of six straight stops through the middle of the game, and finished with two interceptions on the night. Members of the Buckeye defense said they didn't notice much of a change with Coombs not calling plays on Saturday, adding that the communication between coaching staff and players was on point throughout the contest.
“No, not really," third-year safety Ronnie Hickman said when asked if he noticed a difference between Coombs and Barnes in the play calling department. "I think the coaches did a good job of communicating through the headsets, so I wouldn’t say it was that much of a change."
There were obvious changes on defense for Ohio State, however, even if all of them didn't pay off quite as much as the the Buckeyes would have hoped. Ohio State played around with blitz looks and and two-high safety formations, and despite starting free safety Josh Proctor being out for the season, Hickman said him and Bryson Shaw were comfortable making adjustments on the fly.
“Part of playing big-time college football is you gotta be able to adapt to the new things," Hickman said. "I think myself and Bryson and the other safeties did a good job of it today. We just gotta do it better.”
Of the positive takeaways for the Buckeye defense, several are the emergence of first or second-year freshmen that have contributed earlier than expected for Ohio State over the first few games. Starting cornerback Denzel Burke continued to show that he might be the best player in the Ohio State secondary in general, and redshirt freshman defensive back Cameron Martinez returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter while seeing his first snaps of the season.
“It’s something that we always talked about," Martinez said. "Us three, it’s something that we always talk about too. We see each other in the game and we just always envision what plays we can make and what we can do. We have a lot of confidence and we were able to do that. So it’s a great time to be out there with my guys.”
After tallying its second win of the season Saturday, Ohio State moves on to face an in-state opponent next week with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Akron on the schedule in Columbus.