The new fall tradition continued again on Tuesday: Ryan Day press conferences. The Ohio State Buckeyes head football coach answered questions from the media—ranging from review of the Florida Atlantic win, to his impending battle with a former Buckeye athlete and coach.
Throughout the talk, there were nuggets of information unearthed. From Day’s impressions of the offense, to how the team can improve by Saturday, this was a good debriefing for the looming contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Many questions were asked, and many answers were given. Let’s take a look at five of the biggest answers Day gave on Tuesday, and see how they play a role for the weekend Ohio Battle.
1. “I mean, there’s a lot that we do and there’s a lot that goes into our offense in the running game, there’s a lot of reads. There’s things that happen presnap. There’s things that happen post snap. There’s things decisions that have to be made whether he gives the ball, pulls the ball, whether throws the ball in a perimeter bubble game or something like that.”
The running game is up first. Again, it’s hard to get a complete read on how well the offensive line and running personnel did after the first quarter. In the first 15 minutes of game time, the Bucks had 105 yards of rushing on 10 attempts. That’s a whopping 10.5 yard per carry average. Granted, 51 of those yards came on one carry by Justin Fields, who scored the first touchdown of Ohio State’s season. But let’s remove that outlier; 54 yards were gained on nine carries—good enough for a 6.0 yard per carry average. That’s still an impressive number.
However, things took a nosedive in the second quarter. The Buckeyes had 12 carries for three yards. That’s not even 0.5 yards per touch. The second half (third and fourth quarters) delivered 129 yards through 26 carries—a 5.0 yard average.
Creating rushing lanes of J.K. Dobbins, Master Teague, Demario McCall and Fields will be big helpers in getting the run game established. I like to believe the first game was an anomaly, where it was hard to get pumped up when you’re leading 28-0 midway through the first quarter.
We’ll see if presnap adjustments and blocking becomes better against Cincy. Luke Fickell is a defensive minded guy, so expect him to have some scheme drawn up to sneak through the trenches and into the Buckeye backfield.
2. “This is a team that won a lot of games and they just beat a Pac 12 team and a coaching staff that I’ve got a lot of respect for... Yeah, this is a team that although they are not Power Five team, their talent level is just as good as most of them.”
Speaking of Fickell, his program is on the up and up. The Bearcats are off to a 1-0 spot after dismantling UCLA, 24-14, inside the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium. With Chip Kelly at the helm of the Bruins program, his squad was held to 218 total offensive yards in that clash, showing that he really didn’t have an answer to what UC was showing. That’s not just a one-off event. Last season, the Bearcats went into Los Angeles and beat UCLA in their home house, 26-17.
The 2018 campaign was a great one for Cincinnati, as they went 11-2 in year two of the Fickell era. UC won their first six games last season before being upended by Temple on the road in overtime. After two convincing wins over Navy and South Florida, UCF picked up a 38-13 win in Orlando over the Bearcats. The Knights were a New Year’s Six team, and while the loss was a big one, it’s nothing to hang your head on. Cincinnati defeated Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl, showing that they can have sustained success against Power 5 teams.
Granted, the Bruins and Hokies are on downward slides. But, the Bearcats have looked decent in the games they’ve played against these teams. More importantly, they’ve been improving as Fickell gets more experience as head coach.
From recruiting to developing the team, Cincinnati is doing something right. Some of the kids that Cincinnati got wanted to be Buckeyes, but didn’t get the offer. If he inspires those players for Saturday, we could be in for some Bearcats having a breakout game in Columbus. Let’s not pretend that UC doesn’t have talent. A guy like Fickell can develop, and the big test for how well the development is going (for the players and for the coaches) will be on Saturday inside The ‘Shoe.
3. “I think from day one of spring practice, where Justin is right now, is considerably different and we have to keep building on that. But he stood in there and took some shots. The one he threw to Chris Olave, he took it on the chin and I thought he threw one heck of a ball right down the field.”
Fields had one of the best debuts in school history, scoring a total of five touchdowns. However, he wasn’t immune to the shots that being Ohio State’s quarterback comes with.
He took a couple sacks, and faced some pressure that forced him to scramble out and away from danger. The two quarterback hits he took also was a welcoming gift from FAU, basically letting him know that he’s on the big time stage for real.
Even through that, Fields was able to stand tall and make plays. As mentioned by Day, his strike to Chris Olave proves that Fields has the ability to make the throws, and take the hits when the defense is barreling toward him. He’s not afraid of that—and that’s an early sign that we could be seeing something special in the making.
The Bearcats defense will be better than what the Owls brought last Saturday. Expect more pressure on the O-line and Fields. But at the same time, expect Fields to be a little better than last weekend.
4. “Just overall execution and playing clean, and no turnovers, for sure, and then the penalties have to get cut down.”
Penalties and turnovers are absolute momentum (and drive) killers. We saw that in the Urban Meyer era, especially penalties, and the Day era began with more of the same. Against Florida Atlantic, seven total penalties were called on the Buckeyes.
Two delay of game penalties, two holdings, offensive pass interference, a false start and a roughing the pass call all came down on Ohio State.
With Fields being a new QB, a delay of games is understandable. But he had two against him.
Holding calls are a given, and that just means not holding onto the guy for too long. I’m convinced holding happens on every play, and it comes down to whether or not the referee sees it.
Olave pushed off for PI, and it was blatant on the replay—he was wide open on the catch, and his defender was stumbling backwards.
A holding and false start came in the fourth quarter when new guys were getting reps. That’s all about the learning experience, and is not that big of a worry.
Davon Hamilton was called for roughing the passer. Hitting the QB after a pass is always a gamble, especially if you’re coming into the pocket full steam ahead.
The two fumbles are where the big concerns rest. One came on a backwards pass, the other came from Dobbins getting hit. Dobbins rarely mishandles the rock, and you can bet that he’s worked on ball security since the fumble.
Again, it was a strange opening week for the Buckeyes. The turnovers should be limited this weekend, and the execution should be better, too. Dobbins will be cradling the ball with two hands, and the upperclassman will be working on not getting the calls against them.
5. “I thought Master ran well. Unfortunately Master has been out for a bunch of the spring and then for preseason. So he hasn’t practiced like a starter should or even a backup should. And so because of that, that stunted his progress.”
One of the big answers we got from FAU was how the running back depth looks. McCall can run with space, as seen on special teams, but the bruising back is on this squad is definitely Master Teague.
Not only can Teague run over defenders, but he’s shifty.
Now that Day announced that his development has been slowed down because of injury, I’m convinced we’re seeing only a partial picture of what Teague can do when he’s fully healthy and had time to get quality reps. Teague had 49 yards on eight carries against the Owls, and I’d wager that he’ll get similar chances against UC. However, I think he’ll get more than 49 yards against the Bearcats.