You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who screams “Ohio State” more than Luke Fickell. Cincinnati's coach grew up in Central Ohio, started a school-record 50-straight games for Ohio State from 1993–96, and then spent 15 years coaching the Buckeyes.
Saturday, he became the first former Ohio State head coach to visit Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes since Paul Brown did so in 1944. It wasn't the homecoming, he envisioned.
“We took one in the mouth for today for four quarters,” Fickell said after Ohio State's 42-0 win over his Bearcats. “Not like we only took it in the mouth for two quarters. We took it in the mouth for four quarters and it’s a humbling experience for a lot of us.
“I hope everyone in that locker room uses it as the humbling experience I’m going to. Probably ask every one of them if they’ve had their absolute butts whipped before and if they haven’t, they just did.”
Asked about his feelings about returning to Ohio State – something Fickell worked hard during the week to suppress – the coach admitted he may handle it differently if there is a next time.
“They lined up and said, ‘Hey, do what you guys do,’ and they challenged us and we couldn’t do it.”– Luke Fickell
“I didn’t do a very good job of preparing the guys. I tried to avoid [the homecoming story] a little too much and in the long run, we didn’t do a great job of handling it when it came down to it.
“Whether it’s a homecoming or not, it’s a shot in the gut, it’s a shot in the mouth,” Fickell said. “Whatever it is, in this game, you’re going to have them. And it just happened to be here where I actually went to school.”
Fickell, a defensive-minded coach, had nothing but praise for Ohio State's unit.
“We were trying to do some things but it’s not easy when they have guys on both sides and they can blitz the other way. I couldn’t even tell you what he had. It looked like on sacks it wasn’t one or two guys, but a slew of guys. But I know planning for them, it’s rough. It’s very difficult.
“They lined up and said, ‘Hey, do what you guys do,’ and they challenged us and we couldn’t do it.”
Asked about all-conference running back Michael Warren and Ohio State's ability to shut him down, Fickell said his team fell behind on the scoreboard, taking them out of what they wanted to do.
“We like to try to think we can wear some people down, but that just didn’t happen today,” he said. “We got into the situation where the game got out of hand and for us to try to wear anybody down in that situation is really difficult.”
It's a tough loss for a man who has his team on the right trajectory, coming off an 11–2 season in 2018. Asked if he took a moment to soak the experience in, Fickell admitted he didn't.
“Maybe I wish I would have now that reality hits and it's over, but we've got to move on.”