Heading up the tunnel Saturday that leads from the visitors’ locker room, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell was stopped by one familiar face of many.

At the south end of Ohio Stadium, there was Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, running to catch up with him and offer a few quick words along with a handshake and a quick hug. Not 15 feet away stood John Cooper, Fickell’s coach during a durable four-year playing career at Ohio State, taking in the festivities.

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There was roughly an hour until kickoff. It was all uphill from there for the third-year Bearcats coach — and former Ohio State coach and assistant — who used the word “humbling” seven times during the first four minutes of his news conference after a 42-0 loss.

“We took one in the mouth for four quarters,” he said. “I asked every one of (our players) if they’ve ever had their absolute butts whipped before, and if they hadn’t, well, they just did.

"I’m disappointed we couldn’t give (the Buckeyes) a real game, and I’m sure they are in some ways too.”

Fickell’s return to his hometown was the albatross on the schedule, one that he tried to downplay by keeping his players from speaking to the media last week. He had discussed canceling the game with former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer because of all of the emotional components that came with it.

In hindsight, Fickell said he might have taken a better approach to it.

“I didn’t do a good job of preparing our guys,” he said. “I think maybe I tried to avoid it a little too much, and in the long run, we didn’t do a good job of handling it. Whether it’s a homecoming or not, it’s a shot in the gut, it’s a shot in the mouth.

"In this game, you’re going to have them, and it happened to be here, where I went to school, around a lot of people I know. I think that’s even more of a humbling experience.”

The Bearcats committed 10 penalties for 78 yards, turned the ball over twice and rushed for 37 yards through three quarters while falling behind 35-0. It reached a point during the fourth quarter where Fickell said he was just ready for the game to be over with.

“He didn’t want to make the game (about his) Ohio State past,” senior linebacker Perry Young said. “He just wanted us to play like we normally played. It’s a big stage, and we sometimes caught ourselves doing things we normally don’t do and it got to us.”

That’s what Fickell said will bother him the most from this loss, and he sounded like he mostly believed that, too.

“That (result) just ruined any type of sentimental thought you might’ve had,” Fickell said. “It was a long week.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy