COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the deluge hit, the game was over.
Not in a literal sense, of course.
A violent downpour just before halftime didn’t end Saturday’s college football game between the University of Tulsa and No. 4-ranked Ohio State University, though it did create a 69-minute halftime.
What the storm truly wrought was another deluge that did end the Golden Hurricane’s faint upset hopes — a deluge of interceptions that the Buckeyes all too willingly returned for touchdowns.
Despite an interception on its first offensive play, TU went into the final minutes of the first half trailing by just three points. But two Buckeye pick-sixes in the span of three Tulsa possessions — part of six Tulsa turnovers overall — buried the Golden Hurricane for good in a 48-3 loss.
“There right before half,” said Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, “the picks were a tough pill to swallow.”
An Ohio Stadium crowd of 104,410 packed in to watch the Buckeyes — a 29-point favorite — struggle mightily throughout the first half.
After one quarter, Tulsa had run 29 plays for 104 yards, while Ohio State had just 13 offensive snaps for 40 total yards.
“I’m so proud of what we did defensively,” Montgomery said. “Our defense, they played well enough to win. Offensively, we did not.”
Even a halftime disparity seemed, on the surface, manageable for Tulsa, with the Buckeyes gaining 158 yards and eight first downs on 34 plays, and the Golden Hurricane gaining 124 yards and nine first downs on 43 plays.
But oh, those two untimely turnovers.
“We knew we couldn’t come in here and turn the football over,” Montgomery said. “We did.”
The weather front arrived with just over three minutes to go, a fierce south wind swirling debris out of the stands and onto the field.
At that moment, Tulsa got a fourth-down stop with 3:09 to play before halftime, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the sideline — referee Jeff Servinski said an overexuberant TU coach came out onto the field — pushed the Golden Hurricane offense back to its own 17-yard line.
From there, quarterback Dane Evans fired the same quick slant to wideout Keevan Lucas that he had throughout the first half, only this time free safety Malik Hooker anticipated it, stepped in front and outraced Evans 24 yards to the end zone.
That put the Buckeyes up 13-3, but it quickly got worse.
Evans was sacked and fumbled on TU’s ensuing possession — the senior quarterback accounted for all six turnovers, four interceptions and two fumbles — but the Tulsa defense forced a punt.
Then, with 33 seconds left and the Golden Hurricane facing second down up at its own 24, the skies opened up and the rains fell.
On the very next play, with a sudden and severe downpour, Evans threw a weak pass into coverage, and Marshon Lattimore picked it out of the air, got some blocking, evaded a half-dozen tackles and scored with a 40-yard runback and a 20-3 lead.
In less than three minutes, the game for Tulsa turned from bright and promising to dark and foreboding.
The weather, of course, did not determine the winner of this game.
Ohio State started the second half with touchdown drives of 72 and 84 yards. The Buckeyes’ depth and athletic talent was always going to overwhelm the Tulsa side. In the second half, Ohio State scored 28 points and amassed 259 of its 417 yards.
Montgomery said the weather “played a part” but didn’t influence the outcome. Lucas said the team deals with weather delays in the preseason and shouldn’t have been affected.
“I think that kind of defines you as a team, how you come out and attack those types of situations,” Lucas said. “It played a part, but I mean, we feel like we’re a good enough team that shouldn’t matter.”
“Honestly, the weather don’t matter,” said safety Jeremy Brady. “Both teams are playing in it, so it’s just our job to maintain our focus … and just play football.”
The Golden Hurricane defense — so widely maligned last season for giving up 537 yards and 40 points per game — forced Ohio State into four three-and-out possessions and also swiped a fumble in the first half. The Buckeyes also went three-and-out twice in the second half.
This against a team that scored 77 points and compiled 776 yards and 41 first downs last week against Bowling Green.
Still, Montgomery — whose own offense scored at least 17 points in every game in his first season but managed only three against the mighty Buckeyes (TU had just one first down in the second half before the final five minutes) — had said he wasn’t bringing his team to Central Ohio to put on a good show. He wanted to win.
That just wasn’t going to happen on this day, not with Ohio State’s depth and skill, not with Evans’ six turnovers, and not with Montgomery’s sometimes overly bold play-calling (was it imprudent? Impatient? Foolhardy?) at the end of what had been a highly competitive half.
Montgomery acknowledged the idea that he might have otherwise tried to wind down the clock at the end of the first half trailing only 6-3.
“Initially when I went out, I was probably thinking that way a little bit,” he said. “But when we got the ball back with three minutes left (at the 17-yard line), we’ve got to pick up first downs or we’re gonna turn it right back over to ‘em. Didn’t want to give ‘em that situation. So I’ll look at it on tape and see what it looks like.”
Evans finished 15-of-32 for 157 yards. D’Angelo Brewer rushed for 58 yards on 15 carries, and Lucas caught six passes for 53 yards.
Barrett, who accounted for a school record eight touchdowns in a 77-10 victory over Bowling Green last week, had 149 yards passing, 55 rushing and ran for two TDs. Ohio State, stacked with five-star recruits and future NFL Draft picks, didn’t have a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver.
“I thought we did a good job containing the things we needed to contain, keeping it as much as we could in a box, and I thought our linebackers did a great job of triggering,” Montgomery said. “Our defensive line got pressure on J.T. at times, which was good. And really, for the most part, we contested pretty much every throw that was there. So I thought defensively, again, I thought our staff, with coach (Bill) Young and coach (Brian) Norwood leading that group, did an outstanding job of scheming ‘em.
“If you don’t let the game get away from you there at the end of the half, you’re sitting there in a very close ballgame, even with all the weather, and now they’re not feeling probably as comfortable to sit there and say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna pound the rock in the second half and try to eat this thing and here we go.’ ”