COLUMBUS -- Ohio State just might have found something while struggling with Tulsa for the vast majority of a subdued 41-20 victory on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Everyone knows the Buckeyes' defense is in the midst of a massive overhaul with glaring deficiencies at all three levels. Yet coach Ryan Day may have just stumbled into a band-aid solution that could protect his vulnerable squad -- a bona fide superstar running back.
Meet true freshman (dare we say sensation?) TreVeyon Henderson.
GALLERY: Ohio State 41, Tulsa 20
Ninth-ranked Ohio State beat Tulsa 41-20 on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. For further coverage log on at this link.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder from Hopewell, Virginia was rated the country's No. 1 high school running back last season by the consensus of national recruiting services -- and he never played a snap in 2020 as his team's schedule was wiped out by COVID-19.
But that made no difference. Henderson's transcendent talent package, including speed, agility, vision and emerging power, were so overwhelming his ranking was assured despite his inability to prove it on a prep field last fall.
Henderson showed a glimpse of that immense potential in his first game, taking a simple swing pass 70 yards for a touchdown at Minnesota.
On Saturday he made an emphatic statement in his first start after beginning the year as a third-stringer and moving into the backup role last week.
"I'm excited right now, but at the same time I gotta keep this going. This can't be a one-time thing," Henderson said. "I wasn't expecting something like this.
"We all worked hard this week but I wasn't expecting to get a lot of carries. I ended up getting a lot of carries."
Henderson ripped off 277 yards on 24 carries (11.5 avg.) and scored three rushing touchdowns on runs of 5, 48 and 52 yards to finally help the Buckeyes withstand a surprisingly pesky Golden Hurricane. It marked the third most rushing yards in a single game by an Ohio State running back, trailing only Trey Sermon's 331 yards in last year's Big Ten championship game and Eddie George's 314 yards against Illinois in 1995.
"Each running back is different, but (Henderson is) a guy that can hit home runs," Day said. "That's special."
An overpowering running game that can control the ball and the clock could be just what the doctor ordered for a Buckeye defense that continues to give up yardage in huge swaths.
Day tried moving defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs to the coaching booth and having assistant Matt Barnes call the defense on Saturday. But the results showed little improvement -- yet.
Winless Tulsa moved the ball virtually at will against the Buckeyes, compiling 25 first downs, 428 yards passing and 487 yards in total offense. That performance continued a trend first started by Minnesota in the season opener, and accented in last week's loss to Oregon.
The Golden Hurricane, which lost to UC-Davis (an FCS team) 19-17 in its season opener, played without its top receiver Keylon Stokes. Yet its passing game still proved unstoppable for Ohio State's leaky secondary. It took 11 penalties for 100 yards and a couple of key turnovers (including a 61-yard pick-six by Ohio State freshman Cameron Martinez) to limit Tulsa to 20 points.
So, with the OSU defense almost certain to remain one of the worst-rated groups in the country, the offense needs to figure out a way to protect their scuffling teammates. That recipe this week included 323 yards rushing and 7.9 yards per carry.
While it's tempting to light up foes with a couple of first-round NFL Draft picks at receiver in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, turning loose Henderson could chew some time off the clock and keep that fragile defense off the field. In the long term, that may be the healthiest approach while hoping the defense can somehow find its way.
"We already knew he was special, he showed the whole nation today," said freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud, who was 15-of-25 for 185 yards with a TD, an interception and a lost fumble.
For a program that has finished in the top 10 in eight of the past nine years, it's a startling transition to see Ohio State unable to dominate far inferior foes.
Even the crowd was shocking by Ohio State's standards. Only 76,540 fans were in attendance for the Tulsa tilt. That's the smallest home crowd in a half century -- since Ohio State beat Iowa 52-21 on Sept. 11, 1971 in front of 75,596 -- when Ohio Stadium's capacity was 88,000.
The very next year, in 1972, a freshman named Archie Griffin ripped off 239 yards against North Carolina to ignite Ohio State's 1970s dynasty. The Buckeyes have been a hot ticket item nearly every year since.
It might take a talent like Henderson, who broke Griffin's freshman single-game rushing record on Saturday, to offer a similar spark.