Cincinnati brought dreams of a historic upset to Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Those were dashed by halftime, though, as the fifth-ranked Buckeyes cruised to a 42-0 win in front of 104,089 fans.
Here are five things to know about Ohio State’s first shutout win in nearly two years:
1. For the second week in a row, Ohio State led 28-0 in the first half.
This time, coach Ryan Day’s team did not take its foot off the accelerator, tacking on two touchdowns in the second half and turning away a pair of Bearcat forays into scoring territory.
“We talked about doing a great job coming out at halftime,” Day said. “That was something we were emphasizing really all week because (a 45-21 win over Florida Atlantic) didn’t leave a great taste coming off the field last week. I thought we sustained it and finished it the right way this week.”
Ohio State improved to 184-48-15 against in-state opponents, winning their 42nd in a row in a streak that dates to 1921.
Cincinnati, 11-2 a year ago, was thought to be a candidate to end that streak, but the Bearcats lost to the Buckeyes for the 12th straight time, the most-lopsided setback in the series since a 67-6 Ohio State win in 1931.
2. Day saw the J.K. Dobbins he had been waiting for.
Dobbins ran for 91 yards and a touchdown last week against Florida Atlantic, but a lost fumble marred his afternoon, and Day confirmed he expects more from the veteran.
Saturday, Dobbins answered his coach’s challenge to raise his level of play, exploiting some huge holes from the offensive line and scampering for 141 yards on 17 carries.
What was the difference?
“Just don’t press,” Dobbins said. “Stay with the game plan and run like I know how to run. I was a little more focused on me and not everyone else.”
He scored two touchdowns and averaged 8.3 yards per carry, a total bolstered by a 60-yard touchdown run and 24-yard run.
“When he got to the second level he was rolling today,” Day said. “I thought it was great getting J.K. going, and the O line did an unbelievable job.”
3. The Buckeyes controlled the line of scrimmage.
Ohio State ran for 270 yards on 46 carries, an average of 5.9 yards per carry, with Master Teague adding 60 yard on 11 carries and quarterback Justin Fields running for 42 yards on nine attempts.
They all found lots of room to run much of the afternoon as a new-look UC front threw a variety of stunts and blitzes at them.
“(The offensive line) didn’t blink,” Day said. “They were blitzing from sideways, every which way. The guys were covering it tup. They hit us on a couple early on, but then we started to cover them up.”
The defensive line took care of business, too, harassing the UC quarterbacks all afternoon (five sacks) and shutting down Bearcats running back Michael Warren II almost completely.
He managed only 15 yards on 10 carries.
Dunbar graduate Tavion Thomas made the UC rushing numbers look more respectable by picking up 58 yards on 11 carries in the second half, but he lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter.
4. The line’s performance was part of an overall great day for the defense.
Thomas’ fumble (and Marcus Williamson’s recovery) sealed Ohio State’s first shutout since Sept. 30, 2017, a 56-0 win over Rutgers.
The Bearcats managed 273 total yards and 13 first downs, hitting a handful of big plays but otherwise having a hard time sustaining anything with no ground game to speak of until long after the outcome had been decided.
“It’s another step in the journey,” Day said. “It’s what we see in practice every day. Going up against them in spring and during preseason, I knew they were going to be tough, and they’re getting there. It’s not a finished product by any means but they’re getting there.”
He praised new co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley as well as veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson for their contributions.
“I thought we owned the line of scrimmage today, did a great job,” he said. “They were flying around. That’s what we envisioned when we put this together, we all got together I guess back in January when it all came about, but this is a great start for those guys. I thought they were running around tackling well and creating turnovers against a good Cincinnati team.”
5. The education of Justin Fields continued.
Ohio State’s starting quarterback was an efficient 20-for-25 passing for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
He took a sack after holding the ball too long, but he also threw the ball away a handful of times rather than force it into coverage, something his coach liked to see from the sophomore who also had multiple timely scrambles.
That a 9-yard touchdown run to start the scoring in the first quarter.
“His feet are the X-factor,” Day said. “If he can keep us on schedule, we don’t need to scramble for eight yards, but if he can turn a first-and-10 (attempt at a deep pass) into second-and-6 (by scrambling when nothing is open) that keeps us on schedule. And the only time we really got ourselves off schedule was the holding call in the first drive. We were rolling.
“Overall I thought it was a solid performance but another step in his progression.”
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