COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) —No. 9 Ohio State didn’t play well but the Buckeyes held on to beat Tulsa 41-20 at Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Below are three takeaways from the game, including continued problems on defense, growing pains with freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud and a stellar performance from freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson.

Buckeyes defense is still problematic

Leading up to the game, head coach Ryan Day said they would make structural changes to the defense and part of that included moving defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs to the booth while safeties coach Matt Barnes called the plays from the field. The Buckeyes also utilized two-high safeties more often than usual but failed to prevent Tulsa from throwing the ball. The Golden Hurricane finished with 428 yards passing and sliced through the middle of the field just like Oregon did a week ago while failing to pressure Tulsa quarterback Davis Brin.

“We’ve got to do a little bit of a better job of making the quarterback uncomfortable,” Day said. “I thought the coverage overall, there were times that it was solid, but still too many things in zone with a couple guys running free.”

But a promising takeaway was a much improved run defense allowing just 63 yards as well as forcing two interceptions, including a Cam Martinez pick six to seal the win.

“I thought, for the most part, they played with good energy, they prepared well during the week, everybody was on the same page,” Day said. “There were some in-game adjustments that were done much better and more efficient than the week before.”

Running game much improved

Part of OSU’s improved run game has to do with the fact that the Buckeyes played Tulsa and not Oregon. Last week, OSU only rushed for 128 yards while averaging just 4.1 yards per rush. This week, the Buckeyes averaged nearly eight yards per rush and finished with more than 300 yards on the ground. Most of those yards came from TreVeyon Henderson who shattered Archie Griffin’s single-game rushing record by a freshman with 277 yards and three touchdowns.

“I wasn’t expecting something like this but I told y’all before the season I had big goals for myself and I reached one of my goals today but I’ve got plenty more, so I’ve got to keep working,” Henderson said.

Henderson broke away for two big rushing touchdowns with a 52-yarder and a 48-yarder.

The Buckeyes hang their hat on being a well-balanced team and since Stroud is not really a running threat, it’s vital for the Buckeyes to continue to win at the line of scrimmage in order to establish the passing attack.

Day said the Buckeyes offense was ‘out of whack’ last week because they couldn’t run the football and he was pleased with his team’s improvement on the ground.

“I thought our offensive line really established the line of scrimmage and we were able to control the game at times,” Day said. “When [Henderson] gets to the second level, he gives us that opportunity to come off the back end and hit home runs, which you saw in the first game and saw a few times today.”

C.J. Stroud growing pains

For the third week in a row, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was underwhelming in the first half. The redshirt freshman completed just 8 of 15 passes for 99 yards with one interception. But unlike the first two weeks, Stroud didn’t have a tremendous second-half bounce back. Stroud overthrew several wide-open receivers, including a long pass to the end zone that would’ve been a touchdown to the sure-handed Chris Olave who had zero catches on the day.

Stroud’s interception was ill-advised throwing into triple coverage to tight end Jeremy Ruckert when he should’ve checked down to a wide-open TreVeyon Henderson in the flat for what would’ve been at least a five-yard gain. He finished 15-for-25 with 185 yards and one touchdown.

“Every game is a learning aspect for me,” Stroud said. “I’m only 19 playing as a redshirt freshman. That’s no excuse but I mean I still have a lot of football to learn and I feel like I’m getting better and better every week. I know a lot of people probably don’t agree with that but that’s OK. I have a God-given talent and every time I go out there I give my blood sweat and my tears . . . I’m going to keep my faith in God and my teammates and just keep going.”

He’s right. Mistakes will happen when you have a young quarterback, but those mistakes will also be more detrimental when the Buckeyes play better competition. Luckily for Stroud, Ohio State has another tune up game next week against Akron before traveling to face Rutgers on the road Oct. 2.

Day added some context to the situation saying he had to spend more time working with the defense, which meant he spent less time getting his starting quarterback ready.

“Moving forward I think we have a good plan on defense but it’s going to have to be something that I, as the head coach, have to make sure that it’s right,” Day said. “We all have to be on the same page because ultimately I’m responsible for it.”

Bonus takeaway: Where are the fans?

76,540 fans attended the game. That’s less than ideal. The Shoe regularly packs in more than 90,000 people for any given home game regardless of who the Buckeyes are playing. But against Tulsa, open seats were everywhere. Maybe it’s because OSU lost the week prior. Maybe it’s because fans prefer to stay home and watch or that they’re uncomfortable to come because of rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Whatever the reason, the lack of people inside Ohio Stadium is concerning for a university that didn’t make money at football games last year due to the pandemic.