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5 things learned from Ohio State’s shutout win over Cincinnati

The Buckeyes were ON against the Bearcats.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Week 2 of the college football season is done, and the Ohio State Buckeyes will now go on their first road game of the season carrying a 2-0 record. But before we start to focus on the impending high noon showdown in Bloomington, Ind., against the Indiana Hoosiers, let’s unpack what the Buckeyes did against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Ohio State dominated their Ohio brethren, flexing the offensive and defensive muscle against a UC squad that appeared to be on the up-and-up. For you gamblers, the line for OSU-UC was hovering around the 17-point mark in favor of the Buckeyes. I, for one, wouldn’t have touched that with a 17-foot pole. That’s why I don’t bet on sports.

A 42-point performance by the offense and a 0-point performance by the defense highlighted the improvements Ryan Day and company made since their Week 1 win against the Florida Atlantic Owls. The second home game of the season was very enjoyable if you supported the Scarlet and Gray. Justin Fields shined, J.K. Dobbins shined and Chase Young shined—just to name a few.

Let’s take a closer look and showcase the five biggest things learned from Ohio State’s latest win in this 2019 campaign.


1) Lockdown defense

You love to see it, folks. With a couple of Buckeye breaks in the red zone, Ohio State got the shutout against an in-state opponent. One of those breaks was an interception by Tuf Borland via a tip. The other other break came by way of fumble, thanks to Dallas Gant knocking the ball out of Tavion Thomas’ hands as he was approaching the goal line. And in the first half, Chase Young blocked a field goal attempt.

And if we’re being honest, Shaun Wade was very close to forcing another turnover:

Of the 11 Cincinnati drives, only three had real chances for scores. Even if Cincy were to convert on those realistic scoring drives, they would’ve only yielded 17 points. It still would’ve been a convincing OSU win no matter how you looked at it.

In those old NCAA Football games, the pre-recorded dialogue lines talked about how ‘defense wins championships.’ If Ohio State keeps doing what they are doing on defense, then they’ll be cruising into the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff picture.

As a whole, the defense had five sacks on UC quarterback Desmond Ridder. You could’ve put Ridder, or The Riddler (Jim Carrey’s version from Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever) and the outcome would’ve been the same. With another 1.5 sack performance this season, Young is proving why he’s going to be one of the top picks in the upcoming NFL Draft; and guys like Malik Harrison, Brendon White, Damon Arnette and Wade are anchoring their positions.

Cincinnati’s offense was able to pick up 276 yards, but efficiency wasn’t a highlight. Four of their drives ended as three-and-out, and eight of them didn’t even go 20 yards. In comparison, OSU had nine drives go for at least 20 yards, and committed zero three-and-out possessions. Granted, Ryan Day is running a program that is considered to be one of the best in college football. The Bearcats may not be on the same level, but you have to at least move the ball a little. At a minimum, just scoring points would be acceptable. They couldn’t do that, and that’s more of a testament to how good this Ohio State team, rather than how bad Cincinnati played.

UC had chances to deliver points, and the Buckeyes slammed the door on those opportunities. If I had to face this Buckeye squad and deal with the strategies Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison, the OSU defensive coordinators, have drawn up, I’d be shaking on the sidelines. The only way to stop this defense is for them to, literally, not show up for the game. Other than that, expect Young to bring pressure, and the defensive backs to clamp down on the pass game.

Indiana will have their hands full against the Buckeyes. Screens and short passes where the receiver is expect to run to open space will result in minimal yardage because Jeffrey Okudah and the rest of the core tacklers are heat seeking missiles. Okudah had a solid open-space tackle against UC that stopped a potential 5-yard play and turned it into a 1-yard play. On top of that, if the Hoosier line doesn’t give quarterback Michael Penix time to throw, he’s gonna have a bad time in the pocket. Young has three sacks on the season, and he’s gonna be hungry for at least another one in Bloomington.


2) Mr. Good Decisions

For the second straight week, Justin Fields has electrified the field at Ohio Stadium. First, it was a clinical performance against the Florida Atlantic Owls, a game where he scored five total touchdowns—tying Dwayne Haskins for most TDs in a Buckeye debut. On Saturday, a 20-for-25 mark in the passing game gashed the Cincinnati defense. Comeback routes were hit and wide open targets were getting the football.

He keeps this up and we’ll be calling him Dr. Fields by the time 2019 ends. That’s how clinical he’s been.

When a new QB takes over a program, you expect a learning curve. There’s going to be mistimed throws. There’s going to be forced passes, and maybe some interceptions. So far, we’ve seen none of that from Fields. In these two games, he’s gone a combined 38-of-50 for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Also of important note: No interceptions.

By also having the ability to take off and run, life is a little easier for Fields. If you’re not a mobile QB, you’re confined to the pocket or scrambling for your life laterally. When receivers are covered, Fields, more often than not, finds a way to get positive yardage on the ground. So far, Fields has three touchdowns and 103 net yards of rushing this season. He’s made solid choices on the zone reads, and is causing havoc to the two defenses he’s faced.

Even though Indiana is on the road, what we’ve seen from Fields shows his ability to make plays. I don’t foresee any problems for QB1 or the offense in Bloomington next Saturday.


3) O-line improvement

Buddy, the OSU offensive line looked near unbeatable. What Fort Knox is to protecting the United States’ gold reserves, Greg Studrawa’s O-line did the same for Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins.

Two sacks were surrendered in Week 1 versus Florida Atlantic. But in Week 2 against Cincinnati, only one sack was given up. That’s a significant improvement, considering that UC is a better team than FAU.

And it’s not like the sack allowed on Saturday was a game changer. Linebacker Bryan Wright was someone to keep an eye, and he showed up with a sack. But right after that, the team picked up the pieces in a big way. They blocked for Dobbins, who ended up running all the way home for a 60-yard TD.

Dobbins didn’t have the greatest of games to begin the season. He was held to 91 yards on 21 carries—averaging 4.3 yards per pop. Against UC, he did infinitely better; he collected 141 yards on 17 carries, which equates to 8.3 yards per carry. That’s 4.0 yards more per carry against a better defense. When the offensive line can block, giving the rusher enough room for themselves and a moving truck, good things happen.

After the game, Day mentioned the work put into improving the front line after last week’s performance against FAU:

It was one of those strange opening games but we worked hard this week. Stud and the O line did a great job. I’m not sure if it was one snap, they didn’t blink. They were blitzing from sideways, every which way. The guys were covering it up.

Weekly improvements are a part of any successful program. Day looked into the mirror, figured out what the problems were, and went out and fixed them with the team. A team that can turn it around week after week is scary. The same mistakes weren’t repeated. On the opening drive, a holding call on Jonah Jackson stalled out the offense. However, that would be the only offensive penalty OSU committed for the game.

The O-line blocks better and doesn’t get caught with multiple holding calls. If this can be sustained, Dobbins is going to have no problem getting 1,000 yards rushing, and Fields is going to have a field day in both passing and running. Buy stock now in the Buckeye offense while you can.


4) Wilson’s first TD

We knew that Garrett Wilson had talent. A five-star wide receiver recruit out of Austin, Texas, the Lone Star State native decided to pack his bags and come to Columbus for his college years. Already, that major decision is reaping rewards, and given a full season of reps and practice, Wilson is the next great Ohio State wideout in the making.

Not only did Wilson get his first career reception on Saturday, but he also got his first OSU receiving TD on the same play. And it wasn’t an easy one. It wasn’t like he was waving his hands in the end zone, signifying that he was wide open. He was covered in the end zone by junior safety Coby Bryant, and had to make a tough grab.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Ohio State
The Greatest Showman: Garrett Wilson makes a big-time grab over UC cornerback Coby Bryant.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Going up for the football like that reminds me of Michael Thomas. We are seeing the infancy stages of Wilson as a college football player. What happens with six more weeks of practice? What happens after a season’s worth of games? Wilson has limitless potential and I wouldn’t be too surprised if he becomes the secret weapon in the Penn State or Michigan game. Like Chris Olave last season, Wilson could be the unchecked wide receiver that absolutely demoralizes a quality Big Ten opponent.

Making highlight reel worthy catches isn’t something new. After the game, Fields talked to the media about Wilson’s catching ability and dropped this nugget:

For me and Garrett, and I think everybody else on the team, they know that’s not a circus catch for Garrett; that’s pretty much routine for him.

Now that teams know Wilson is a real talent, maybe we’ll start seeing coverage deployed against him. Between K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Jeremy Ruckert and Olave, someone is bound to be open. There’s too many possible options for Fields to go with, and by adding Wilson to the list, defenders have to keep the receiving unit in front of them. Through two games, they haven’t done that, and I expect that to be the case for most of the games this season.


5) The first real test?

Between FAU and Cincinnati, the Bearcats are clearly the better of the two teams. When you look at the box score, though, it appears that the Owls were better, solely off the point total. Don’t be fooled by that assumption, though. Cincinnati is a good team, but after a week of adjustments from the Buckeyes, it didn’t appear that UC was a 10-win caliber program.

Indiana may boast a 2-0 record, but their résumé is padded. A 10-point win on a neutral site (Lucas Oil Stadium) versus Ball State and a 52-point win at home against Eastern Illinois are good wins to push you in the direction for bowl eligibility. They don’t really do a whole lot of good preparing for Ohio State.

After Indiana, Miami (OH) and Nebraska are on tap. Both of those teams have been uninspiring—moreseo the Cornhuskers than the RedHawks. With Scott Frost and his ‘Huskers blowing a 17-point lead on the road to Colorado on Saturday, the Sept. 28 matchup with Ohio State has lost some of the hype.

While not a national title contender, the Bearcats were a decent team from the Group of 5. Prior to the season starting, I would’ve wagered that UC was a New Year’s Six contender. Again, this is why I don’t bet on sports. And maybe Cincinnati is still an NY6 team, but because of how dominant OSU looked on the field against them, it sure didn’t look/feel like it.

Cincinnati’s Week 1 opponent, UCLA, somehow lost at home to San Diego State. Does that water down Cincy’s victory over the Bruins? You bet. I was very much a believer in the Bearcats—thinking maybe, just maybe they could be a real contender for a top-tier bowl game. I still think they’ll pick up 8-10 wins, but with the way Boise State and UCF are playing, they are in the clubhouse favorites to pick up a NY6 bid for the Group of 5.

Just for your edification: In the Saturday night cap, FAU got pummeled by UCF at home, 48-14.

Now transitioning back to Buckeye talk. Another week of Ohio State filleting their opponent on offense and defense has them primed to start the Big Ten slate of games on the right foot. At this rate, I don’t see how the Buckeyes don’t open up 5-0. From the looks of it, Michigan State is the next real challenge on the schedule.