The first half of this one was a roller coaster. The Buckeyes rolled to a commanding 30-7 lead before giving up a brace of baaaad scores in just a few minutes to allow the Bearcats within 9. It ended up not mattering, but I still wouldn't want to be the Buckeye defense at practice this week.
Jeff Heuerman made a solid return to the team, throwing a few key blocks and reeling in a handful of catches in his first game back from a foot injury. The Buckeyes' stable of offensive playmakers made things happen in a big way, tallying 710 total yards en route to 48 points (2 came on an early safety). Let's look at the players who made it happen.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: Elliott was the player of the game for the Buckeyes. The narrative flipped this week, with Elliott finally looking like the best back in OSU's stable. Curtis Samuel previously made a case for that title, but Elliott was downright burly this week. He went over 100 yards for the first time this season, adding a touchdown to his 188 yard total. Adding a consistent power run dimension to this offense will be huge in the long run, so here's hoping this is a harbinger of things to come for the ground game. Elliott added 45 yards receiving to top things off.
Joey Bosa, DE: Spoiler alert: Joey Bosa is really good at football. Like, scary good. Bosa's strip sack of UC QB Gunner Kiel pushed the Buckeyes to a 16-7 lead in the first quarter, and he continued to hound the Bearcats' quarterbacks all evening. It's a good thing for OSU fans that Bosa still has to play a third year of football before becoming eligible for the draft, because he's going to make himself some serious money at the next level. This was Bosa's third forced fumble of the year, and all three have resulted in Ohio State points.
J.T. Barrett, QB: Barrett threw for 185 yards in the first half on his way to 330 pass yards overall. He was 26/36 passing with 4 TDs, good for a 72.2% completion rate. Barrett looked extremely comfortable in the pocket for the majority of the evening, and made consistently good reads throughout the game. The young QB made good use of his legs, too, finishing with 14 carries for 79 yards. Barrett really seems to be claiming ownership of an offense that looked lackluster and leaderless just a few weeks ago.
Dontre Wilson, WR: The shifty Wilson looked like the Harvin-esque hybrid we've been promised on Saturday. He tallied 1 carry for 21 yards and 6 receptions for 71 yards, including a nifty big gain on a double reverse that allowed Wilson to showcase his speed. Ohio State scored a few plays after Wilson took a carry inside the 15 and got a late hit tacked on for good measure. He also found the end zone once on a pass play.
The offensive line: An early false start notwithstanding, the O-line played pretty well all evening--and certainly better than they did in the Virginia Tech game. They kept Barrett's jersey clean and gave him time to throw (or occasionally tuck and run), which proved to be huge.
Ohio State's secondary: A fun stat: with 9:00 to play in the 3rd quarter, Cincinnati's Chris Moore had 221 receiving yards..on 3 catches. All 3 were touchdowns. Burn this secondary to the ground and start over. Gunner Kiel was a prized QB recruit out of high school, but this was Michigan-level bad. Eli Apple, in particular, took a lot of abuse from the Bearcats' passing game.
SELL: Receivers getting hit in the hands. Towards the end of the first half, when Ohio State looked to be firmly in the driver's seat, Buckeye receivers had two awful drops that ended up mattering a lot more than we thought they would. First, Dontre Wilson took one off the hands on a beautiful Barrett bullet that ended up on the turf. Shortly thereafter, Devin Smith dropped a ball that could have been caught by creatures lacking opposable thumbs, much less a collegiate wide receiver. OSU punted after that play, and Cincinnati went 97 yards in a handful of plays that resulted in a huge Bearcat touchdown.
BUY: Ohio State alums. Saturday marked the induction of the newest Buckeye HOF class, giving fans a chance to reconnect with the likes of Antoine Winfield and Troy Smith. The real MVP? Former LB Anthony Schlegel, who showed he's still got it when he lit up a fan that ran onto the field.
BUY: The offense's ability to get first downs. The Buckeye offense rolled to a a record 45 first downs on Saturday. That was more than enough to keep the ball away from the Bearcats and give the beleaguered defense a rest. The Buckeyes dominated time of possession, 41:56 to 18:04, and this was a big reason why. It's good to see this dynamic unit fire on all cylinders--they would have set a record for offensive yards gained, were it not for the comic stylings of one Cardale Jones on the team's 2nd-to-last play.