Luke Fickell’s return to Ohio Stadium figured to present a greater challenge to Ryan Day and the Ohio State Buckeyes than what they faced last weekend. But Fickell and the Cincinnati Bearcats were treated rudely, early and often, as the Buckeyes rolled over the Bearcats, 42-0.
Ohio State opened up the scoring in the first quarter when quarterback Justin Fields scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown run to cap a five-play, 41-yard drive, giving the Buckeyes an early 7-0 lead.
The drive was set up by a Drue Chrisman punt that was downed at the Cincinnati 1-yard line, followed by a three and out forced by the Buckeyes defense.
Two drives later, Cincinnati appeared poised to cut into the Buckeyes’ lead, but Sam Crosa’s field goal attempt was blocked by defensive end Chase Young to thwart the scoring threat.
Fields and the Ohio State offense wasted little time adding to their lead following the blocked field goal, marching 87 yards on just six plays that finished with running back J.K. Dobbins finding the end zone on a 4-yard carry. Fields went 4-for-4 on the drive, which ate up just under two minutes of game time, upping the score to 14-0 with 9:40 left in the second quarter.
Dobbins found paydirt again on the Buckeyes’ next offensive drive, this time racing 60 yards untouched to increase the lead to 21-0 with over seven minutes still left in the first half. Dobbins finished his day with 144 yards on 17 carries.
Having opened up a big first-half lead for the second straight week, the Ohio State offense didn’t let up this time, continuing to take it to an overmatched Cincinnati team.
Ohio State would add another touchdown before the break, with Fields finding true freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson for a 9-yard strike — Wilson’s first career touchdown — that sent the Buckeyes into the locker room with a 28-0 lead.
Cincinnati totaled just 108 total yards, 18 of which came in the running game, in a dismal first-half showing that saw them outgained by 248 yards and was marred with critical penalties.
The second half didn’t prove to be much better for the Bearcats, who were forced to punt on their first two possessions of the third quarter. Following the second punt, Fields added his second rushing touchdown of the day to increase the Ohio State lead to 35-0.
Cincinnati threatened on the ensuing drive with one of its few scoring chances of the game, moving the ball to the Ohio State 9-yard line as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked off the clock.
But as was the case for most of the game, Cincinnati was unable to stay out of its own way. Quarterback Desmond Ridder’s pass was deflected and ultimately intercepted by Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland and returned to the Ohio State 45-yard line, ending the threat and giving the Buckeye offense prime field position.
Fields cashed in the turnover nine plays later on a 5-yard pass to K.J. Hill for his second touchdown pass of the day, wrapping up the scoring at 42-0.
Sharp from the opening drive, Fields finished 20-for-25 for 224 yards and two touchdowns. He added 46 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.
Hill led the receiving unit with eight catches for 57 yards and the touchdown. Binjimen Victor recorded five catches for 69 yards.
Much maligned last year, the Buckeye defense turned in another stellar performance, holding Cincinnati to just 273 yards of total offense for the game and totaling five sacks. Senior cornerback Damon Arnette led the way with six total tackles. Young recorded three tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Following the game, Day said of his defense’s performance, “It’s another step in the journey. It’s what we see in practice every day. Going up against them in spring and during the preseason, I knew they were going to be tough, and they’re getting there.”
Day said the defense isn’t a finished product by any means but called it a “great start for those guys.”
Asked if he is beginning to see the overall potential of his team, Day said he didn’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“Get on to (watching) film and keep working at it,” he said before adding later, “I do think, though, this team has a chance (to be great). But the goal is to be 1-0 (in each individual week). And again, I say that all the time, and it sounds cliche, you can’t get ahead of yourself. We have to enjoy this win and (it’s) on to Indiana.”
Fields said he felt “really comfortable” coming into the game with the confidence he gained from his first start a week ago. As for the capabilities of the team, he said, “I think we can be as good as we want to be. If everybody stays focused, we limit the injuries on the team, I think we can do big things this year.”
Ohio State will open its conference slate, albeit briefly, next week when the Buckeyes travel to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers. Kickoff is set for noon.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.