Cincinnati was expected to give Ohio State a pretty stern test, but it did not work out that way.
The Buckeyes overcame some early mistakes and ended up winning easily to improve to 2-0.
There’s always more to see on a second viewing than the first given how much is going on on any given football play.
Here are six takeaways from a review of the Buckeyes’ win:
1. This was a great look at who Justin Fields is and who he can be.
The Ohio State quarterback scored rushing and passing again, continuing to display a growing command of the offense and growing pains at the same time.
He took a bad sack but had a handful of smart throwaways and was generally pretty accurate. (He can get through his progressions, but the next step is probably getting through them faster.)
Fields also showed off his arm strength by zipping the ball from one hash to the far sideline multiple times.
His ball doesn’t sizzle like some high, high-end passers, but he gets it there with haste. Visually it’s sort of like the difference between a fastball at 98 mph or 103. One might jump out at you a little more, but the other is plenty to play with.
He’s also not an electrifying runner, but he’s still got a nice combination of speed and size with some vision.
Fields definitely looks like a guy who has to make a living as a pocket-passer at the college level but one who can be an above-average scrambler. He runs well enough to be used in a handful of designed runs per game, which is obviously huge for this offense.
And he still looks like he could be a bigger, more accurate Troy Smith to me.
2. The J.K. Dobbins 60-yard touchdown run was about as good as it gets from top to bottom, a great example of scheme, execution and talent all coming together.
The ghost motion by the slot receiver caused the defense to shift and lightened up the back side by removing a defender. It also seemed to throw off the safety in the middle of the field, who reacted late and couldn’t make up for it.
The backfield action slowed down the reaction of the linebackers, and Thayer Munford, Jonah Jackson and Josh Myers all had nice blocks, leaving no one else to make a play. To cap it all off, Dobbins showed nice burst through the hole, and Austin Mack hustled down the field to cut off the last guy who had a chance to catch him.
3. Ohio State’s running scheme has been disappointingly thin the past few years, but not so far in 2019.
Among the examples was Fields’ second touchdown run, a quarterback sweep into the boundary with good blocks by the tight end (Luke Farrell) and left tackle (Munford) before Dobbins sealed the linebacker.
After Dobbins scored on a buck sweep in the opener, Ohio State mixed in zone and gap runs (a.k.a. “Dave” during the Jim Tressel days or “power” just about anywhere in football) for the running backs and a handful of different quarterback read plays with the tight ends being more involved as well.
4. However, the fourth-and-1 call UC stuffed was… not great from the OSU coaching staff.
Ohio State reached back to the Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett days, emptying out the backfield and essentially going to the single-wing. This play was poorly executed, but it is harder to execute it when the defense knows what’s coming. The UC end did a good job sliding into hole and messing up path of the pulling guard so the outside linebacker had an easy clean-up job. This play failed despite the formation creating favorable numbers to run against.
5. We got a look at Brendon White and Shaun Wade on the field together.
That was expected to be perhaps the main defensive package (with four down linemen and two linebackers) this season, though Ohio State has played with three linebackers a majority of the time through the first two games.
Wade and White essentially alternated as the strong safety in the opener but shared the field a few times last week.
The surprising practice of having SAM linebacker Pete Werner drop into deep coverage against FAU was apparently not just a decoy to throw off UC’s preparations. He was there multiple times against the Bearcats, giving offenses one less pre-snap tell via personnel and opening up some blitz options.
Most expected Werner would never be on the field in passing situations (and possibly only on select standard downs), so it will be interesting to see if this continues.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison chalked it up to FAU and UC giving them a lot of two-tight end looks, but the coaching staff clearly likes Werner, who is probably the most athletic of the linebackers (who have played enough to gauge).
6. Lastly, the call for more hustle has been heeded.
The defense has done a great job of running to the ball and cleaning up each other’s mistakes, a big emphasis in the offseason.
That filtered down to the second unit and preserved the shutout as the fourth-quarter fumble inside the 5 was purely a result of hustle. After the front got creased and the middle linebacker wasn’t fast enough to cut off the runner, Amir Riep ran him down while Dallas Gant kept chugging and knocked the ball loose. Several other Buckeyes were around the ball, too, and Ohio State was rewarded with the ball and the goose egg on the scoreboard.
Bonus note: That fumble was a really unfortunate way for Tavion Thomas’ day to end. In his season debut, the Dunbar grad looked good up to that point. He doesn’t have great speed, but he is powerful and has good shake and shiftiness for a back his size. We also saw Franklin grad Ryan Montgomery’s first college carry on that final drive.
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