But on the other side of the ball, it felt like 2013 at times as well – and not in a good way.
One year after Ohio State finished 110th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game and gave up the second-most passing yards per game in school history thanks largely to a plethora of big plays, the Buckeyes again were gashed for three long touchdowns that allowed the Bearcats to claw back into what at one point looked like a blowout.
Cincinnati wideout Chris Moore had three touchdowns totaling 221 yards, allowing him to become the third Ohio State opponent to reach 200 yards receiving in a calendar year. His two longest grabs – an 83-yarder and a 78-yarder on either side of halftime – allowed UC to trim what had been a 23-point OSU lead to just five.
But of course, there are differences between this year and last. There’s a new co-defensive coordinator in Chris Ash and a new press quarters scheme that head coach Urban Meyer said would challenge every throw.
And on Saturday night, Ohio State lost some of those challenges, leading Meyer to say he told the defensive brain trust to dial back the aggressiveness a bit. And when asked after the game whether he thought the Buckeyes have the horses to play the in-your-face defense installed in the offseason, Meyer expressed equal parts confidence and concern.
“I really think we do (have the players to execute the scheme),” he said, “but obviously I saw what you saw. So I'll be ready to address that more because that's going to be a hard conversation tomorrow. I want to challenge throws and play bump-and-run coverage. If you have the personnel, keep doing it. If you don't, you've got to adapt. And our guys hang in there with us, so maybe Cincinnati's receivers are that much better than Ohio State's receivers. I don't know.
“That's just something we've got to evaluate. It's still early. But it's not like this is not going to be addressed and get worked on.”
Ohio State entered the game as the only team in the nation that hadn’t allowed a reception of 20-plus yards, but that might have more been a function of the offenses the team had faced in the early throes of the season. Either way, that stat went out the window on UC’s fourth play of the game when Moore hauled in a pass against single coverage from safety Vonn Bell to snag a 60-yard score.
It was a similar story on his second long score with just 26 seconds to play in the first half. Moore got matched up with redshirt freshman cornerback Eli Apple in single coverage and got a step on him to the inside then outraced the Buckeye to the end zone for the 83-yard score.
To Ash, who brought the press quarters scheme with him from Arkansas, the mistakes were part of the high-risk, high-reward system Ohio State wants to play, with a man simply getting beat in one-on-one coverage.
“You want to play an aggressive defense, and that’s what we’re going to play,” Ash said. “That won’t change. The first one they caught on Vonn, Vonn’s just got to be on top of the receiver and make a play. When you do what we do, you put yourself in one-on-one situations and you’ve got to win those one-on-one battles.
“Right out of the gate, Vonn didn’t win his one-on-one battle. We played pretty well until the last touchdown of the first half, which really hurt, where Eli got beat over the top.”
The story was a little different on Moore’s third long touchdown as Cincinnati took advantage of aggressiveness in action, not in scheme. The Bearcats ran bubble screen action to the right, causing Doran Grant to come forward to try to stop the screen instead of covering Moore, who ran a simple post down the field for an easy score.
“His was a discipline error,” Ash said. “He didn't bust an assignment, what he did is he put his eyes in the wrong spot. They had run so many bubbles by (MeKale McKay), and (Grant) actually made a play or two that he wasn't necessarily supposed to on the bubbles. Well, they run a bubble and he had his eyes in the backfield and cut his guy loose. It was a discipline error, and those things are easy fixes."
While those plays allowed Moore to put up the most receiving yards for an opposing player in Ohio Stadium history, they represented the lion’s share of the damage against the OSU defense. The Buckeyes gave up 131 yards on Cincinnati’s other 30 passes, held UC to 4 of 11 on third down and allowed just 47 yards of offense on the Bearcats’ last four drives.
In other words, fix the big plays and you’ve got a pretty solid defense.
“One of our No. 1 objectives coming into this game was to not give up big plays and I think that’s the thing that’s gonna be glaring to you,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “There are times you play really good ball and times you give up shots. We knew at times we were going to challenge people and when it comes down to that you’ve got to make plays. So that’s the frustrating thing.”
So on the whole, Ash and his charges were happy to leave Saturday with a win. Sunday will be a day for improvement, but don’t expect Ohio State to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
"We'll address it tomorrow,” Ash said. “We just won a game. We're going to enjoy the victory. I don't know what you guys want, but we're going to enjoy the victory against a team that has a good quarterback, good receivers. We were concerned about their passing game going in, but you take away three plays – which you can't – we played the rest of them pretty decent.
“Now we have to get the three we gave up fixed. We can't allow that, we're not going to allow that, it's not acceptable, but we'll get it addressed tomorrow."