Eight minutes of stellar football won’t cut it this week.
That was the gist of what Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Tuesday during his weekly news conference.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
The Buckeyes were flawless to start Saturday’s opener against Florida Atlantic, scoring four quick touchdowns and stuffing the Owls’ offense early. But the Buckeyes looked very much like a team working out the kinks in the final 3½ quarters of their 45-21 victory. This week, with Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati Bearcats coming to town, Day knows that the Buckeyes need to be better.
“Significantly, I think,” he said. “We have to play for a full 60 minutes. Those first six to seven minutes were just completely dominant, but then the rest of it was just OK. We can't take a deep breath after we go up like that.”
He put some of the responsibility on the coaches, who substituted liberally once the Buckeyes got the big lead. It’s unlikely that Ohio State will roll over UC the way it did FAU.
“This is a team that won a lot of games, they just beat a Pac-12 team, and (they have) a coaching staff that I've got a lot of respect for,” Day said. “Although they are not a Power Five team, their talent level is just as good as most of them.”
On Thursday, Cincinnati defeated UCLA for the second year in a row. Under Fickell, the former Buckeye player, longtime assistant coach and one-year coach, the Bearcats jumped from four victories in his first season to 11 in 2018, his second. They are one of the favorites in the American Athletic Conference.
“They're really a Big Ten team,” Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson said.
Ohio State hasn’t lost to an in-state school since 1921, the year before Ohio Stadium opened. But UC, which opened as a 16½-point underdog, has a realistic shot.
“Watching the film here for a couple days, we’ve got our hands full,” Day said. “It's a very good football team, very well-coached. Coach Fickell has done a very good job of building toughness in this program.”
Showing toughness has been a consistent theme for Day in his first season as Buckeyes coach, and he believes his players showed it in the opener. He was particularly pleased with the defense, which was consistently inconsistent a year ago. FAU had negative yardage in the first half before having more success once OSU's backups entered.
“I think that we saw some guys flying around,” Day said. “I thought you saw some hard tackling early on. You saw guys running to the ball with great effort, and that's what we want.”
Johnson said the Buckeyes must pay particular attention this week to playing disciplined against a Cincinnati offense that has two potent threats in quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Michael Warren.
“They run the football well, have a great scheme and great offensive coordinator,” Johnson said. “Their offensive line is young but big, and their quarterback and running back are special.”
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields showed how special he can be Saturday. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for a 51-yard score. But Day was more impressed by how the sophomore managed the game by not taking unnecessary risks.
The Buckeyes’ run game tailed off after a quick start. Day wasn’t overly concerned about that, although he was displeased with what he called an “inexcusable” fumble by J.K. Dobbins in the second quarter.
“That cannot happen,” Day said.
But he expects Dobbins to bounce back, and he believes his team will make the needed jump from Game 1 to Game 2.
“We talked about coming out to a fast start, and that was about as fast as I've been around,” Day said of the Florida Atlantic game. “That goes to show the explosiveness of what we can be, and I think everybody felt that. Now it's time to keep building on it as we go.”