Say this for Ohio State's defense in the 10th-ranked Buckeyes' 41-20 win over Tulsa. The goal was to stop the run, and stop the run they did.
The Golden Hurricane ran the ball 28 times for 73 yards -- 2.61 per carry. That output was Tulsa's worst since Nov. 23, 2019, and represented a marked step forward for a Buckeye run defense that allowed 269 yards and three touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry one week ago.
If that was the mission, it's mission accomplished.
"I thought we stopped the run better," Ryan Day said afterward. "We did mix up some of the looks. We changed things up structurally on game day; we'll look at the film and see how that went. I thought for the most part they played with good energy. Everybody was on the same page."
Day called the performance one step forward in a long journey, taking the generally optimistic, cautiously positive approach because he recognizes Ohio State's defense won't turn from liability to strength in one week's time. Case in point: All that focus stopping the run came at the expense of the pass defense. Tulsa quarterback Davis Brin completed 31-of-54 passes for 428 yards and two touchdowns, albeit with two interceptions. His 128.8 quarterback rating against Ohio State was nearly 30 points higher than against UC Davis, a game where he threw for 202 yards on 7.2 per attempt with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 19-17 loss.
Though he needed 54 attempts to get there, Brin's 428 yards were the most by any Tulsa quarterback since the 2014 season opener.
While Ohio State's run defense is up to 100th a quarter of the way through the regular season, its pass efficiency defense places 75th.
With the score 13-6 at the half, Ohio State opened its lead to two touchdowns on a 48-yard TreVeyon Henderson run. Tulsa then pulled back within a score on 21-yard Brin strike. When Henderson again broke free for a 52-yard touchdown sprint, Tulsa pulled back within a score with its best drive of the day. The Hurricane went 75 yards in six plays, making the score 27-20 with 12:07 to play.
Tulsa had the ball with a chance to tie midway through the fourth quarter, but the Buckeye defense forced a punt. CJ Stroud put Ohio State back up 14 with a 12-yard strike to Garrett Wilson, and Cameron Martinez put the game away with 61-yard pick-six.
"There were times where the coverage was solid," Day said. "Too many things in zone, a couple guys running free on some things. We are challenging, we are getting better, and you're seeing young guys getting better."
Day alluded to "structural" changes within the defense during his midweek press conference, and he delivered on Saturday. Secondary coach Matt Barnes called the defense, while coordinator Kerry Coombs moved into the press box and helped with in-game adjustments.
The head coach seemed pleased with that arrangement, with the caveat that he's still assessing his defensive staff and will be more involved on that side of the ball than he was before Oregon.
"Moving forward I think we have a good plan on defense," he said. "I'm the head coach, so I have to make sure that it's right. We've got to be on the same page. Ultimately I'm responsible for it. I have been in some of those meetings. Usually I'm not but I just wanted to make sure that things are running the way that I see them."
The biggest step forward Ohio State's defense took Saturday, according to Day, was not necessarily in the way that it played but in the process leading up to the snap -- better adjustments, better communication, less confusion.
"It's a team effort over there. I think the way things went today was pretty smooth and hopefully we can build on it," he said.
And what of Coombs, Ohio State's $1.4 million coordinator without a specific positional assignment?
"He just wants to win. He's still very much a part of this defense and a big part of Ohio State."