Ohio State’s season is only two games old, and grand pronouncements this early can look foolish by the time the leaves turn colors.
It’s hard to watch the No. 5 Buckeyes’ 42-0 steamrolling of Cincinnati in front of 104,089 at Ohio Stadium on Saturday without believing that the ingredients for a special season are in place.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
In his second career start, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields again played like a veteran, showing gaudy skills and poise. He made throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more look routine. After a so-so opener last week, running back J.K. Dobbins ran for two touchdowns and 141 yards, all in the first half, behind a jelling offensive line.
And Ohio State’s defense continues to put last year’s horrors in the rear-view mirror by handing UC its first shutout since West Virginia blanked the Bearcats in 2005.
This was expected to be a competitive game. Ohio State (2-0) was only a 16-point favorite against the Bearcats. UC (1-1), coached by longtime Buckeye Luke Fickell, won 11 games last year and beat UCLA in its opener.
But this was no contest. Like last week, the Buckeyes took a 28-0 first-half lead. Unlike a week ago against Florida Atlantic, Ohio State didn’t falter after getting that cushion.
“I thought we sustained it and finished it the right way this week,” coach Ryan Day said.
The Buckeyes knew that Cincinnati would come in hungry, eager to become the first in-state school to beat Ohio State since Ohio Stadium opened in 1922. The chippiness started before kickoff.
“Before the game, they kind of got into a shouting competition with us,” Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah said. “So just to be able to prove that Ohio State is not to be messed with, I think that was pretty big.”
Cincinnati threatened to score only three times. The first was thwarted when defensive end Chase Young, a force all game, blocked a field goal in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, UC got to the Buckeyes’ 5-yard line before linebacker Tuf Borland intercepted a deflected pass. The Bearcats were on the cusp of scoring against Buckeyes backups late in the game before fumbling at the goal line.
The Ohio State defense was particularly suffocating against the run game. The Buckeyes shut down star running back Michael Warren, holding him to 15 yards on 10 carries. His longest run was 4 yards.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Fickell said. “I hope everybody in that locker room uses it as a humbling experience. I’m going to.”
Even special teams got in the act. Ohio State’s first touchdown drive was set up by a UC three-and-out after Chris Olave downed Drue Chrisman’s punt at the 1.
But it didn’t matter whether the Buckeyes had a short field or a long way to go. Except for a few hiccups, Ohio State moved the ball at will behind Fields and Dobbins against a blitz-heavy UC defense.
Fields ran 7 yards for the first touchdown. Dobbins then scored from the 4 to make it 14-0 before breaking a 60-yarder for the third score.
Fields and freshman receiver Garrett Wilson connected on a dandy 9-yard touchdown to make it 28-0 at half. After running for a 4-yard score and throwing a touchdown pass to K.J. Hill early in the fourth quarter, Fields got the rest of the game off. He finished 20-of-25 for 224 yards.
His confidence in himself and his teammates is burgeoning.
“I think we can be as good as we want to be,” Fields said. “If everybody stays focused and we limit the injuries on the team, I think we can do big things this year.”
Day tried to temper things a bit.
“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves at all,” he said.
But Day expected a tougher game against the Bearcats.
“We were very concerned,” he said. “This (UC) team has won a lot of football games. They’re very sound. They create a lot of problems on defense. They blitz every snap. You have to do a really good job in preparation.”
As for his team’s potential, Day said he’s staying focused on each week, starting with next week’s Big Ten opener at Indiana.
“I do think, though, this team has a chance,” he said.
He wasn’t talking about beating Indiana. He was thinking about much grander things.