The Battle of Ohio

When I first saw my ticket to the UC/OSU game on Saturday, my immediate reaction was laughter.  Apparently I had purchased a ticket to see "The Battle of Ohio" instead of the Ohio State/Cincinnati game.  This was funny on several levels:

1)      Ohio State playing Cincinnati in football is hardly the Battle of Ohio.

2)      Cincinnati isn't really in Ohio.

3)      Just as the Alamo (Alamo Rental Car), Little Bighorn (Chrysler) and Yorktown (Propecia) were famous battles that had landed lucrative corporate sponsorships; the Battle of Ohio was being financed by United Dairy Farmers.

4)      Even when you remove the "battle" metaphor from the event and consider that this is merely a football game, it still involves a city – Cincinnati – that has taken football futility to new depths.  Consider that Ohio State has beaten Michigan THREE TIMES since the Bengals have had a .500 season.

Add to that the sea of Ohio State fans dominating the tailgating landscape, Cincinnati's prior reputation of football misery, and the Buckeyes' top ten ranking, and Saturday's "Battle of Ohio" had all of the makings of an ambush.

Then the game started, and the Battle of Ohio began.  And Ohio State looked more like the challenger than the undisputed champion.  Cincinnati (a city whose football games I usually try to avoid watching) played better in every facet of the game – and lost.  I've heard so many people bemoaning how poorly Ohio State played and how they were lucky to win the game, yet nobody has really explained why they won.  Here are the most two most popular wrong answers:

1.      Cincinnati receivers dropped two touchdown passes on the last drive.  Cincinnati should have won.

Yeah, unfortunately Cincinnati benefited – throughout the game – from Buckeye defenders who were unable to catch potential interceptions that were thrown right to them.  I don't know how many gimme interceptions they blew, and I refuse to watch the videotape of that awful game, but it was at least three.  So if before you say that Cincinnati would have won if their receivers could have held on at the end, you need to consider that they might not have even had the ball if Buckeye defenders had fingers to go with those hands. 

2.      Cincinnati got screwed on a bad fumble call. Cincinnati should have won.

The defensive holding flag thrown on OSU during Gamble's TD return – which was thrown about 25 yards behind where he was during the runback – was questionable at best.  Bad officiating is part of the game.  Cincinnati didn't get screwed.

The fact is that Ohio State played an awful game.  The pass defense was terrible to the tune of the best performance being turned in by a wide receiver.  The offense moved at a sluggish pace, was sloppy, made stupid mistakes – and the offensive play calling gave Ohio State no further advantage in the game. 

So let's look at both halves of the half-full/half-empty glass:

1.      Ohio State played in a close road game and won (if you think that it was basically a home game for Ohio State, then you obviously weren't at the game – or you don't realize what crappy field conditions do to a physically superior team when playing a mid-major school).

2.      Craig Krenzel led his team, which played poorly, to a come-from-behind, end of the game victory.

3.      In 1999 and in 2002, Cincinnati has played Ohio State.  In both games, they had more first downs, more passing yards, more sacks, more total yards and forced three Buckeye turnovers.  The results: Ohio State did not bring their A game (or B, or even C) to play the Bearcats twice and won both times.

4.      In terms of wakeup calls, they don't get any better than this, especially with three teams coming up on the schedule that are so bad that they probably won't qualify to even watch bowl games this season.

And on the empty side…

1.      Our two vaunted senior safeties, Donnie Nickey and Mike Doss, are liabilities when defending the pass.  Doss's meal ticket is big hits and his run support, while Nickey has been adequate playing centerfield.  People say that is the free safety's role – playing centerfield – and they're right.  Unfortunately, with the defensive backfield the way it is this year, Nickey ends up needing to cover receivers – often – one on one, and he needs to get better at it, now.  And Doss needs to get a lot better.  Big hits are nice, but the current blueprint for "How to Beat Ohio State" is throw, throw, throw, throw.

2.      The coaching staff found versus Texas Tech, Kent State and Washington State that the Buckeyes could wear down their opponents with ball control.  It was evident that this was the case with Cincinnati as well, with Lydell Ross carrying the ball.  Yet play after play, Ohio State went to pocket passing, a lot of the time only sending two receivers out, giving Krenzel little opportunity to make plays.  The offense was so telegraphed that often plays were over before they began. 

3.      Maurice Hall – as Chris Gamble showed, it's unfortunately clear that there are openings for physically talented players on the defensive side of the ball.  Considering you were de-cleated head-on by a linebacker and dropped the ball, it might be in your best interest to think about your future (we haven't yet mentioned the giant hole to your right on that play that you did not run through). If you cannot take a hit head-on from a Conference USA linebacker without being KO'd, you should consider pass defense, because the linebackers in the Big Ten are much better across the board.   

4.      This game was marked "potential let-down" back in the mid-nineties when it was scheduled, yet the team came out completely unprepared for a team playing the biggest game in its history in front of the biggest crowd in its city's history.  They were unprepared for the offensive scheme, the no-huddle, UC's defensive strategy or their relentless play – as if they were going to just roll over and die. 

They played like absolute crap and won with heart and natural talent.  Like beating your little brother in basketball while playing on your knees.  Disheartening and uninspiring as it was, the Buckeyes are undefeated and have three consecutive games here where an A+ showing isn't going to be necessary for a win, again. 

But who am I to overlook the Battles of Indiana, Evanston and San Jose (sponsors undetermined; however the opponents certainly will be).

Going through Oktoberfest/bratwurst withdrawal at

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