After what seems like two months, Ohio State gets back into action this week against Cincinnati. With the loss to Virginia Tech in the rear view mirror, how will the Buckeyes fare this Saturday against Cincinnati? Let's take a look.
THE MATCHUP: First off, I NEVER compare scores. Never. Ever. These football games are like boxing matches, where the styles make the fight, so you can't compare unlike opponents, but fans and sportswriters love to do it. It's why they're often wrong in predicting outcomes, but it won't stop them week after week. There is no reason to look at the Virginia Tech games every week, hoping they do well, but being suicidal when they lose at home to bad teams. The Hokie game is gone, and in the bad column, so don't look for help from Virginia Tech. What Ohio State has to do is WIN. Period. There are going to be a ton of one-loss and two-loss teams at the end. They need to be one of them.
Was Navy a bad matchup for Ohio State? Not really, because you knew what they were going to do on both sides of the football. Was Virginia Tech a bad matchup? No, unless you're scared to play a top-40 team at home at night. Is Cincinnati a "bad" matchup? I've seen some folks write that it's sad to use Cincinnati as a barometer for where Ohio State is as a team, but that is an accurate statement. This week's game will reveal a lot. Let's take a look.
OFFENSIVE LINE: They have been average at times, and below average more than Ohio State is used to seeing. This is a week they can shine, and I expect them to perform well as a unit. This group won't be asked to block Florida State or Alabama this week, and that's a good thing. But they should have their way with the Bearcat front-seven. Cincinnati will blitz and take chances defensively, but without enough talent to make that much of a difference in the long run. Ohio State will run the football this week, especially early, which will open up everything else. Hopefully, they attack the Bearcats between the tackles early and stay with it, establishing a physical presence. Pass blocking should be alright, and there will be pressure when they're out-numbered, but J.T. Barrett can make them pay with his legs. I'm expecting this group to play really well, because the talent on the other side isn't very good at all. Even in the spread-crazed era, controlling the line of scrimmage is the best recipe for success. This matchup is a good one for Ohio State. There won't be many this season.
QUARTERBACK: J.T. Barrett is good, and getting better, which is bad news for UC. The Bearcats really need him to gack it up, and help them out by turning the ball over. I do not see that happening. Not much good happened in the Kent State scrimmage, but one good thing was Barrett getting more live snaps. Every snap he gets as a freshman takes him closer to being a sophomore. He should be fairly clean here, which is the key for him to play well. No QB is all that accurate with a helmet in your chest, or lying on your back. See the Virginia Tech game as proof. Shouldn't happen this week.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Cincinnati offensive line is actually pretty good, but they aren't close to Bosa, Bennett, Washington, Schutt and Miller. HUGE advantage to Ohio State, and this group needs to dominate because Gunner Kiel can throw the rock. But not with a helmet in his chest, or lying on his back. If they can pressure UC rushing only four, and I think they can, then they can keep seven in coverage, or at least six if you blitz one backer. Ohio State WILL NOT consider the running game at all, and rightly so. Everything will be geared to stop the pass, and I don't see Cincinnati having any success on the ground, which really puts Kiel in a tough spot. If the D-line controls their side of the football, and they should, life gets much easier for Chris Ash with the back-seven.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: This has been a zone defense for years, trained to drop and keep everything in front. This is what was taught and what they recruited for. Now, Ash wants to run man-press, and there are going to be growing pains. There were some pains against Virginia Tech. There could be a few against Cincinnati. The Bearcat receivers are good, and if Kiel gets time they are going to break free on occasion. Ohio State needs more man cover corners and they are trying to recruit this position that way. Right now, they have two in Doran Grant and Eli Apple. They need four, or more. The better the pass rush, the less these guys get exposed, so the front-four dominating makes life easier back here. Cincinnati will hit a few on them, but Ohio State can't let it be a blizzard.
THE PREDICTION: Great matchup for Ohio State on both sides of the football. Offensive line should not be exposed, and the defensive line should dominate. That's a recipe for success this Saturday. Ohio State will control the ball a lot offensively, and score a lot of points. They should finally be able to run the football for the first time this season, and watch what that does for Barrett's effectiveness. Defensively for Ohio State, Cincinnati will score, but not nearly enough to win the game. UC will have less than 75 yards rushing and be one-dimensional. That should let the OSU D-line run wild all night long and wreak havoc.
Ohio State 48 Cincinnati 20.