Henderson, in his third game, broke Archie Griffin’s 49-year-old freshman rushing record, romping for 277 yards and three touchdowns as No. 9 Ohio State struggled with Tulsa and then managed to pull away late for a 41-20 win on Saturday.
Henderson ran for scores of 5, 48 and 52 yards, which managed to paper over some of the same weaknesses Ohio State showed in the 32-25 upset by Oregon last week that sent the Buckeyes tumbling in the AP Top 25 poll.
Ohio State was supposed to be getting a break in the schedule, the first of two games against lesser opponents that would allow the ironing out of some glaring issues, particularly with the defense. Instead, it got a good tussle.
The Buckeyes (2-1) were not sharp, but Tulsa (0-3) just couldn’t match them blow for blow and Henderson, who ran for 69 yards in the first two games combined, broke through with huge plays at critical times. A late interception that Cameron Martinez returned for a 61-yard touchdown made the score look worse than it was for the persistent Golden Hurricane.
Henderson broke a freshman rushing record that has stood since Griffin ran for 239 yards on Sept. 30, 1972, in an Ohio State win over North Carolina. Griffin went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1974 and ’75, the only two-time winner in history.
“I wasn’t expecting something like this, but I have some big goals for myself,” Henderson said. “I got plenty more, so I got to keep working.”
The Ohio State defense, while holding Tulsa to 73 yards on the ground, allowed quarterback Davis Brin to throw for a career-high 428 yards and the team’s first two touchdown passes this season. Josh Johnson caught eight passes for a career-high 149 yards.
“We just went toe-to-toe with an exceptional type of team that’s explosive on both sides of the ball,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane took advantage of a still-disheveled Ohio State squad and went at the Buckeyes hard. They put up 501 yards of offense and stopped nearly everybody except Henderson.
“I thought our receivers did a nice job at trying to find separation and find holes to sit in and work in, and our offensive line again giving (Brin) time,” Montgomery said. “We were getting a ton of pressure. I thought those guys did a nice job with everything they were getting.”
Ohio State: Defensive issues are still prominent. The offensive line was better, and coach Ryan Day may have found a bell cow after splitting carries among Henderson and a couple others in the first two games.
Henderson’s first big run came in the third quarter with Ohio State hanging on to a 13-6 lead. He bounced right and blew past defensive backs for the 48-yard touchdown. Then at the end of the quarter, after Tulsa had pulled to 20-13, he broke through a hole in the middle and headed for the left sideline and the 52-yard score.
“He’s somebody that can hit home runs, and that’s special,” Day said. “He has that special talent. You give it to him, he gets to the second level and makes a guy miss, and it could be a home run. And that’s a whole different dynamic. What an exciting start to his freshman year.”
C.J.’s GROWING PAINS
Freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud, starting his third game, missed some receivers, tossed an interception and lost a fumble. He threw for 185 yards and a late touchdown to Garrett Wilson that gave the Buckeyes some breathing room. He revealed after the game that he’s been dealing with a sore arm.
“Winning isn’t easy, especially when everybody has a big target on their backs,” Stroud said. “Definitely have to get better.”
Ohio State G Thayer Munford left the game with an injury to his right leg late in the first quarter. S Josh Proctor, the most experienced player on the defense, was out after suffering a leg injury suffered in last week’s game. DE Zach Harrison also was out with an unspecified ailment.
Struggling with a 25 1/2-point underdog at home likely won’t get the Buckeyes many extra votes, especially with last week’s loss still fresh.
Tulsa: Hosts Arkansas State next Saturday. Ohio State: Hosts Akron next Saturday in a prime-time contest.