Approximately 1 hour and 42 minutes away from the University of Cincinnati’s campus sits Ohio Stadium. On Saturday at noon on ABC our Bearcats face the #5 Buckeyes. Unfamiliar faces will fill the Horseshoe. Led by a new starting QB in Justin Fields and a new head coach in Ryan Day, the Ohio State Buckeyes for the first time in years are not favored to win the Big Ten outright. There are a lot of questions with the Buckeyes, surrounded by change at key positions on the field and with the staff. What is certain is that the Horseshoe is a very intimidating venue, and while the names on the jerseys change, OSU is absolutely stacked with talent every year.
Some say Ohio State refuses to play the Bearcats for fear of losing to the most competitive sports team in the great State of Ohio. We can only wonder what the 2008 and 2009 Bearcat teams would have done behind Tony Pike. Regardless, UC does not exactly have a history of success against that team stationed up I-71. Of the 16 meetings, OSU has won 14 of them. Most recently, in 2015, the Buckeyes won 50-28. However, that game was close into the 3rd quarter. And who can forget Chris Moore’s coming out party? He compiled 221 yards and 3 TDs on just 3 catches. The 2019 meeting will be far different – neither team has the same head coach and neither team looks the same in scheme on either side of the ball.
Luke Fickell was asked on Tuesday if he is preparing for this game like an Ohio State vs. Michigan games. As any good coach does, Luke blew off the question, responding “We have a rivalry game. It’s next week [vs. Miami (OH)].” However, let’s get real here. Coach Fickell played college ball at OSU and spent 16 years on the sidelines as an assistant in Columbus. Make no mistake about it – Saturday is a big deal. It’s a chance to prove Ohio State wrong for not hiring Coach Fickell as a head coach. It’s a chance for UC to prove they belong. It’s a chance to make a run at a New Year’s Day bowl game. It’s a chance to shock the experts on national television. It’s chance for the Bearcats to earn a top-25 regular season ranking for the first time in a long time. And it’s a chance for Luke to prove just how good of a head coach he really is. Win this and Coach Fickell has officially arrived. Not to mention how awesome it would be to stick it to his former employer.
The Bearcats have 70 players from Ohio on their roster. How many were offered by OSU? None. Mike Warren is from Toledo. Blue Smith is a transfer from OSU. The Buckeyes are favored by 16.5. Chip on the shoulder anyone? Just look at what Northern Iowa did to Iowa State last week.
Justin Fields has the build of any elite NFL quarterback. At 6’ 3” and 225 lbs., Fields was a 5-star recruit and the #1 dual-threat QB is his class. Last Saturday was his first career start after transferring from Georgia. Against Florida Atlantic, Fields went 18-25 for 224 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also ran on 12 carries for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. Statistically speaking, this is the best first career start of any of the recent OSU quarterback all-stars. UC’s defense without James Wiggins is going to have its hands full slowing down Justin Fields. Ohio State also has a future NFL running back in J.K. Dobbins.
Ohio State also possesses an elite defensive line, led by #2 Chase Young. Indeed, after the FAU game, Lane Kiffin said “Guy’s a great player and will change your whole game plan like a Myles Garrett does. We saw it happen. I can see why they talk about him being the first pick in the draft. The guy’s a special player, and he really changed the first half by himself. We had some plays that were going to be there and he makes plays.” The OSU defense held FAU to just 22 rushing yards on the day (but allowed 206 yards through the air).
Mike Warren is going to have a tough time on the ground. This game is going to be decided by how well the new UC offensive line protects Desmond Ridder and how well Dez can distribute the ball quickly. The UC defensive front will also need to harass Justin Fields. The Bearcats racked up 6 sacks against UCLA and prevented DTR from gaining any rhythm whatsoever. Fields is a green QB. Marcus Freeman will certainly be dialed in and have a plan to confuse him. Luke Fickell and his squad have beaten UCLA twice and Virginia Tech. Next up – his alma mater, Ohio State.
Prediction: 31 – 28 Bearcats by grinding out the clock in a thriller.
By Andy Smith
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