It's been two weeks since we've seen the Scarlet and Gray in action. Last time the Buckeyes played, Ohio State dealt out a 66-0 beating over another in-state foe in Kent State as J.T. Barrett and the rest of the team were able to bounce back following a gut-wrenching home loss to Virginia Tech. This week, Ohio State hosts another Ohio opponent with Cincinnati coming to town.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has had up and down performances so far in his career at Ohio State, though some of the rougher moments haven't fallen completely on the youngster's shoulders. Against Kent State, however, Barrett found plenty of time in the pocket and delivered his best game of the season throwing for over 300 yards and 6 touchdowns (matching a school record, set by Kenny Guiton) to one interception on 23-for-30 passing.
The offensive line had a strong performance in that one, while the defense did its part in helping to pitch a shutout in front of 104,000+ at the 'Shoe. That defense will see an increase in difficulty as the Buckeyes shoot for their 40th straight win over an in-state opponent, but it won't come easy.
Cincinnati (2-0) comes into Saturday evening's matchup with two wins over MAC teams in Toledo and Miami, but are looking to pass their first real test against the Buckeyes. After a first half that included 24 points scored, Cincinnati had to hold on to beat Miami, 31-24. But quarterback Gunner Kiel had a solid outing, throwing for 4 touchdowns on 25-39 passing for 271 yards in that win.
The Bearcats know they've got an excellent passing attack, as that aspect of the offense is ranked ninth in the country overall. Cincinnati also holds the 14th best scoring attack in the nation, making them a viable threat to attack Ohio State's slightly improved secondary all evening long. After finishing 9-4 last season, Cincinnati is looking to make a splash as they look to upset the Buckeyes on their home turf.
|2014 Cincinnati Schedule|
|12-Sep||Toledo (W, 58-34)||53|
|20-Sep||Miami (Ohio) (W, 31-24)||121|
|27-Sep||at Ohio State||10|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||9.3% (34)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||70|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-7 / 0.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
|2014 Ohio State Schedule|
|30-Aug||vs. Navy (W, 34-17)||65|
|6-Sep||Virginia Tech (L, 21-35)||19|
|13-Sep||Kent State (W, 66-0)||107|
|25-Oct||at Penn State||37|
|8-Nov||at Michigan State||13|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||24.8% (9)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||2|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||5 / 8.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (3, 7)|
Cincinnati's biggest advantages
Gunslinger under center. As followers of recruiting might remember, Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel took the merry-go-round way of deciding where he wanted to play his college ball. After first committing to Indiana, Kiel decided to decommit and committed to LSU. Except, he decided that wasn't really the right fit either, so Kiel decommitted from the Tigers and decided to join the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in 2012. All was well. Until it wasn't. Kiel promptly decided to transfer after being listed on the depth chart behind Everett Golson, Tommy Rees, and Andrew Hendrix (ironically, the same uarterback Kiel would beat last week against Miami).
OSU-UC Advanced Stats Preview
Ohio State returns to action against who some have called the second-most dangerous opponent on the schedule behind Michigan State. Right now, I disagree with that assessment, but I suppose we'll see after Gunner Kiel comes to town.
While the media and fans have really built the Bearcats up as an elite opponent, their numbers are much more average. Ranked 65th in Offensive S&P+, 58th in Defensive S&P+, and 57th in F/+ overall, these numbers are nothing to really inspire that much Buckeye fear.
However, while the Bearcats' overall offensive numbers aren't all that remarkable (and their defensive numbers are all mediocre), it's their offense's passing efficiency that gives Cincinnati some upset potential.
Finally, Kiel landed at Cincinnati with head coach Tommy Tuberville. In his first game as a college quarterback, Kiel would throw six touchdowns against Toledo the most ever by a college quarterback in their college debut. Now, after yet another solid performance last week against Miami, Kiel has a chance to really let the nation know about his talents on one of the biggest stages: against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. The former Indiana Mr. Football Award winner will be one of the best quarterbacks the Buckeyes' secondary will face all season.
Ohio State's secondary still needs work. The Buckeyes have worked to improve the play of the defensive backs since last season, and it has shown over the course of the 2014 season thus far. Still, the change hasn't yet been night and day. There have been plenty of miscues and while the unit is continuing to work to their strengths and improve upon each performance, the secondary will be tested heavily on Saturday.
Other than the game against Virginia Tech (which Ohio State lost, coincidentally) the Buckeyes have been fortunate to this point not to face too many teams that really air out the offense. After a triple-option attack from Navy and a mostly listless Kent State attack, you could say that forcing the ball into the air against the Buckeyes would be a safer call than to go at them on the ground.
Tommy Tuberville's had Urban's number. Amazingly, Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville was 2-0 against Urban Meyer when they coached at Auburn and Florida respectively. Despite that, a win won't come easily for Tuberville, as the Buckeyes do have the better talent and greater depth than the Bearcats. Still, any advantage that Cincinnati can use will be put to their disposal. While two very different teams are meeting, the 2002 version of this game came down to the wire, with the eventual national champions winning a tight battle, 23-19.
Earlier in the week, Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc mentioned that this game is a sort of state title game for the Bearcats. It's not even a question that Ohio State is, and will continue to be, the top dog in the state of Ohio. But if Cincinnati can take the crown, even if it's for a night, you'd better believe they're going to give it all they've got.
Ohio State's biggest advantages
Running back depth galore. Between Ezekiel Elliott, freshman sensation Curtis Samuel, proven back Rod Smith, and a dash of h-back Dontre Wilson, Ohio State has one of the deeper depth charts when it comes to backfield weapons. Despite that, the Buckeyes have been a bit underwhelming on the ground. Samuel is the only running back of the lot that has managed over 100 yards in a single game, and it came against Kent State. Despite this, this area is still one of strength, because particularly once they figure out the situation on the offensive line, expect a bigger boost in production from all of the backs.
Both Elliott and Samuel are still averaging over five yards per carry, but have only carried it 27 times each. The biggest key into unlocking the rushing game in this offense, though, is to lead with plays from the air, so that they can lull the defense into a sense of false security against the run. That's when the staff puts athletes like Elliott and Samuel into space and when big runs take place.
Defensive line pressure. Despite the loss of Noah Spence, this defensive line still stacks up with the best in the country, and with the combined efforts of Steve Miller, Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, and all-everything Joey Bosa, there's a good chance the Buckeyes will have plenty of chances to get their hands on Gunner Kiel to disrupt any passing plays while also taking care of the rushing attack from Hosey Williams or Tion Green.
Bosa already has two sacks to his name this season and a forced fumble in addition to the eight tackles he's made playing alongside his fellow defensive linemen. Expect him to get plenty of pressure out early on Kiel, despite Cincinnati's best efforts to release the ball quickly.
Come at the king, you best not miss. The Buckeyes will be challenged early on, with the adrenaline flowing on both sides. But in the end, Ohio State has to realize that they haven't lost to an in-state opponent since 1921, when the Buckeyes dropped a 7-6 game to Oberlin. History is on their side Saturday, as Ohio State has won the last 10 games between the two teams and leads the all-time series 13-2. Cincinnati's victories came in back-to-back home games in 1896-97.
For the Bearcats to pull off an upset in the 'Shoe, it would take another bit of history in its own right, but this Cincinnati team certainly has the belief they can accomplish just that.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 35, Cincinnati 20
Win Probability: Ohio State 83%
The win probability for the Buckeyes this week checks in at 82.6%, which somewhat surprisingly represents Ohio State's highest win probability (not counting Kent State) this season. But the Bearcats could well put up a better fight than what most (and the numbers) are expecting.
With a still green secondary going against a quarterback looking for his chance with the bright lights on him, something has to give. History might be against the Bearcats, but it doesn't mean Ohio State shouldn't stay on their toes in this game.
Expect the Buckeyes to come out victorious this week and it should go a long way in helping build up confidence as Ohio State prepares for entering the Big Ten slate of games.