The Rewind: What We Learned From 11 Plays In Ohio State's 42-0 Win Against Cincinnati

By Colin Hass-Hill on September 10, 2019 at 8:35 am
Justin Fields
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State's has played just two games this fall, so it's important not to overreact.

But, wow.

The Buckeyes blew out Cincinnati at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, winning 42-0 and looking sound in every phase of the game. A lot can and will change between now and the end of the regular season, but they look as impressive as anybody could have imagined to open the 2019 season.

Let's take a look at 11 plays or sequences from Saturday's game that can help us learn about this Ohio State team.

1st quarter - 9:40: Justin Fields evades a possible sack then throws a pass to K.J. Hill. The ball got jarred loose with a hit on Hill, causing an incompletion.

  • In general, Ohio State's offensive line provided Fields with stout pass protection on Saturday other than a few moments. This was one of those times. Cincinnati rushed four players against the Buckeyes' seven-man protection. A Bearcats defensive tackle threw left guard Jonah Jackson aside, giving him a mostly clean path to Fields.
  • Despite the rusher quickly getting in his face, Fields displayed impressive awareness and mobility within the pocket to side-step the would-be tackler and find enough open grass to plant his feet. He has looked more advanced than expected in these types of moments in the first two games.
  • Fields kept his eyes downfield, which has been a focus of the coaching staff ever since he arrived on campus in January. He planted his foot and delivered a strike, showing off his arm strength. The pass came maybe a moment later than he would've preferred, but the up-the-middle pressure altered his timing a bit.
  • The ball came loose when a defensive back hit Hill. Hill had an otherwise strong game, including a touchdown, but the normally surehanded wideout should've come down with the catch. 

1st quarter - 8:35: Justin Fields drops back, decides to scramble and scores a 7-yard rushing touchdown for the first points of the game.

  • Cincinnati attacked Ohio State's offensive line with frequent blitzes, including in this goal-line situation. Luke Fickell's team sent seven Bearcats after Fields. But as so often happened on Saturday, the Buckeyes' protection held up, giving Fields enough time to survey his options. 
  • With only two wide receivers running routes, Fields only had a couple of options, both of which Cincinnati covered well. The quarterback could've tried to force the ball into a tight window, but it would've been ill-advised. Instead, he made the smart decision to take off on the ground, and he made it at the right time. Fields showed off his speed and had some end-of-run toughness, knowing he was about to get hit.
  • Sure, Fields wants to avoid getting hit as much as possible. But given the touchdown that's on the line, this is contact that's worth taking.
  • Day singled out this decision by Fields to take off as one of his favorite plays in his postgame press conference. He liked his quarterback's decision to not unnecessarily force a throw.

2nd quarter - 13:45 and 13:37: On the first play, Chase Young causes a pressure and Tommy Togiai gets called for roughing the passer. On the following play, Tyreke Smith sacks Desmond Ridder.

  • Chase Young is unbelievable. Neither Cincinnati nor Florida Atlantic are loaded with future NFL players, but Young has looked like a future top-five draft pick early in the season. On the first play, he rips under the left tackle's hands to pressure Desmond Ridder and force the quarterback out of the pocket.
  • Togiai's roughing-the-passer penalty wasn't particularly egregious and could've gone uncalled, but the sophomore has to know better. Ultimately, the useless hit didn't cost Ohio State any points, but he unnecessarily turned what would have been a fourth down into a first down for the Bearcats.
  • One positive from the hit for the Buckeyes? It allowed Tyreke Smith to get his first career sack. Smith did a nice job preventing the right tackle from getting his hands on him, crossing his face and going inside.
  • Ohio State doesn't have a consistent edge rusher across from Young yet. Can it be Smith? After missing the season opener with an undisclosed injury, Smith flashed his potential on a couple plays in Saturday's game.

2nd quarter - 10:16 and 9:44: Justin Fields tosses a 21-yard pass to Chris Olave, and then J.K. Dobbins scores a 4-yard touchdown to give Ohio State a 14-0 lead.

  • Without anybody close to him, Fields had enough protection to pump fake a deep ball before taking the underneath route and hitting Olave near the first-down marker. Day has stressed making smart reads and minimizing possible turnovers to Fields. 
  • Olave made the first Cincinnati defensive player miss, sending him toward the goal line. Without as much team speed at wide receiver as it had last season, Ohio State is relying on Olave to become one of the top playmakers at the position.
  • On the following play, Cincinnati dialed up another blitz, which the Buckeyes' offensive line handled with ease, creating a sizable hole for Dobbins who went into the end zone untouched. In particular, Wyatt Davis did his job well, keeping the blitzing linebacker out of the running lane.
  • Dobbins hit the hole quickly, which was a theme on Saturday. He didn't dance much in the backfield, getting downfield quicker than he did in the first week. Better blocking in Week 2 helped him out, too.

2nd quarter - 8:06: Cincinnati sacks Justin Fields for a 5-yard loss on 1st-and-10.

  • An eight-man protection scheme against a four-man rush produced the expected result of Fields having loads of time in the pocket.
  • His two receivers didn't get open, though, and he takes a sack. This happened twice on Saturday. He has to be careful not to hold onto the ball too long. This was one of just a couple negative plays Fields made versus Cincinnati.
  • Don't miss Jonah Jackson burying the defensive end. Remember the nine knockdowns he had against Florida Atlantic in the opener? The Rutgers transfer clearly has a bit of a nasty streak.

2nd quarter - 4:20 and 3:56: J.K. Dobbins rushes for eight yards on 1st-and-10, then converts the first down on the next play with a 3-yard run.

  • Dobbins didn't have an immediate running hole, so he began to reverse course. A linebacker wrapped him up and he spun off – but didn't fumble, which he did once in the season opener. Cincinnati needed two more defenders to take him to the ground.
  • Jackson and Myers miscommunicated on the next play, which led to a defensive lineman in Dobbins' face two steps after he took the handoff. He found a new hole, though, juking the defensive tackle and converting the first down.
  • Watch Dobbins finish both of those runs. On consecutive plays, he forced a missed tackle and didn't go down until multiple Cincinnati players got their hands on him. He has to continue to end runs with this ferocity in future weeks.

2nd quarter - 2:00: Justin Fields hits Garrett Wilson for a 9-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 28-0 lead.

  • On this score, Fields got pressured a bit more than he typically did on Saturday. He didn't really set his feet, but that didn't stop him from delivering a beautiful ball. It was the type of ball nobody quite knew he could throw consistently.
  • Everybody had heard so much about Wilson's abilities since he committed a year and a half ago, but he hadn't come through with a big play in a regular-season game yet. He lived up to the hype on this touchdown, skying for the reception, the first of his career.
  • Both Binjimen Victor and Jaylen Harris are taller receivers with longer arms, but Wilson might be the best red-zone option on the team. Was this a sign of what's to come?
  • Day called this an NFL-level play. He's right. Both will eventually be playing on Sundays. Before then, though, they have more than 20 games remaining to play together in college.

3rd quarter - 13:16 and 12:18: Malik Harrison tackles the running back for a 1-yard loss, then Chase Young leads the charge for a third-down sack.

  • Eleven Warriors' own Kyle Jones touched on this impressive play from Harrison in his must-read article about the return of the Silver Bullets that published on Monday, so we won't spend too much time on this. But it's worth another look.
  • Both Harrison and Browning have looked like ball-carrier-seeking missiles in the first two games of the season.
  • The following play, Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison dialed up a man-coverage blitz. Three different players could have sacked Ridder, but Chase Young got to the quarterback first, as expected. That's what happens when teams don't give their offensive tackles additional help when facing arguably the best edge rusher in the country.

4th quarter - 8:36: Desmond Ridder keeps the ball on a zone read and is forced to take a 3-yard tackle for loss by Malik Harrison.

  • On 2nd-and-1, Cincinnati somehow manages to go backward.
  • Ridder, running the zone read, saw Young crash down on the running back, which hypothetically should've given him enough room to get a first down. Enter Harrison. He realizes what's happening quick enough to change directions, accelerate and sprint toward Ridder, running behind the lead-blocking tight end who doesn't turn around quick enough to knock Harrison off course. It turns into a three-yard loss.
  • We'll see what happens when Ohio State faces stiffer competition, but Harrison has clearly taken the next step in his development. Physically, there's not much more Al Washington could ask for in a weakside linebacker.

4th quarter - 5:01 and 4:47: Master Teague carries the ball for 12 yards on third down, then follows it with a 13-yard rush to take the ball down to the 3-yard line.

  • In the first two games of the season, Teague has shown a burst from the moment he takes a handoff. On the first play, he converts a 3rd-and-7 by quickly planting his foot and slightly changing direction before he hits the hole. Like Dobbins did earlier in the game, he finished the run, carrying defenders with him as he moved the pile.
  • The following play, Teague took advantage of an absolutely massive hole created by the offensive line handling Cincinnati's defenders. Again, the second-year running back quickly turns upfield and takes the ball down to the 2-yard line.
  • Teague has made a strong case for more touches in the first two opening games. He runs with purpose, doesn't go down with the first hit and always hits holes hard. Now, how would he look against a team's rested first-team defense in the first quarter? I'm a bit intrigued. Are Tony Alford and Day wondering the same? If so, maybe we'll see a dose of him early in a game. However, Teague missing most of fall camp with an undisclosed injury has held him back a bit in the eyes of the coaches.

4th quarter - 3:06 and 2:05: Tuf Borland tackles the running back on a 3-yard gain. Two plays later, Baron Browning tackles Tavion Thomas on another 3-yard gain.

  • Two things have especially stood out about the linebackers in the first two games: how quickly they flow and swarm to the ball, and how well they get off blocks. Both are on display in these two plays.
  • On the first play, Harrison does his job, forcing the running back to go inside. Who was there waiting for him? The other two linebackers, of course. Pete Werner came from the backside of the play to deliver the initial hit. Tuf Borland quickly joins him after throwing the left tackle to the side.
  • Two plays later, running back Tavion Thomas makes Damon Arnette miss an ankle tackle, but Browning comes from the backside of the play to chase him down. Browning didn't allow the left guard to block him and take him out of the play.

Other Notes From Rewatching

  • It's become clear that Fields could run much more often both in scrambled situations and in designed runs. Yet, in order to protect his body, those situations have been minimized. We haven't seen Fields have to make those choices in close games, though. Will he choose to run and risk his body? Does his decision-making change? We haven't had a chance to find out quite yet.
  • As of now, it seems that Teague has won the backup running back job even though Day hasn't officially announced it. Demario McCall, until the game entered the fourth quarter, mainly served as a situational or third-down back. It appears likely that he'll stick with that role as Teague makes a run at stealing a few carries from Dobbins.
  • Davon Hamilton absolutely dominated. Since he's soft-spoken, he often goes overlooked. With Hamilton leading the way, the Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches at nose tackle. Robert Landers and Togiai are overqualified in their current backup roles.
  • Ohio State trotted out two punt returners at once: McCall and Hill. It's an interesting combo, but McCall clearly has more game-breaking speed.
  • With Cincinnati backed up at its own goal line, the Buckeyes went with a 4-4 defense, putting Harrison, Browning, Borland and Werner on the field together at linebacker. Hafley and Mattison aren't afraid to mix of personnel packages.
  • In the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes lined up with a three-man front then had Browning blitz off the edge as an outside linebacker. He nearly managed a sack. Browning off the edge has the potential to cause opponents problems.
  • Josh Proctor and Isaiah Pryor each took a few snaps alongside Jordan Fuller in the defensive backfield. The Buckeyes have heavily used a single-safety look, but in certain matchups they might turn to a two-safety look more often.
  • As our own Kyle Jones wrote on Monday, Werner dropped and became the single deep safety in a couple blitzes on Saturday. The first time, Shaun Wade had a strip sack.
  • Later in the game, Brendon White dropped and became the single deep safety as Fuller rotated into the flats. White and Werner essentially play the same position. White might get more snaps in certain matchups, but the coaches like Werner a lot and want to keep him on the field.
  • Ohio State's full starting offensive line earned "champion" honors for the second week in a row, and it was entirely deserved. Thayer Munford looks healthy. Jonah Jackson plays with an edge. Josh Myers has shown consistency. Wyatt Davis has lived up to expectations. Branden Bowen has played solidly in his return to action. Can they maintain this level of play against more talented opponents? That's the main question about the group.
  • On the 60-yard touchdown run from Dobbins, Munford made a key block on the edge to spring the back.
  • Dobbins had a near-fumble early in Saturday's game. It would've been his second turnover in two games.
  • Jonah Jackson had a drive-killing holding penalty on the first drive of the game. The Buckeyes can't afford that type of mistake.
  • Is Olave the next Terry McLaurin as a punt gunner? He showed a flash by downing Drue Chrisman's well-placed punt inside the 1-yard line after the Buckeyes' first possession.
  • Simple analysis: Day has done a good job putting Fields in winnable situations, and Fields has done a good job winning them. Generally, Day hasn't asked Fields to do too much or forced him to make plays. 
  • Ohio State's cornerbacks continued to tackle well on Saturday. In particular, Jeff Okudah has no trouble bringing anybody to the ground.
  • Cameron Brown got some decent run on Saturday. He seems to be the first cornerback off the bench. Prior to the season, Wade noted Brown's speed as his standout trait.
  • Teradja Mitchell seems to be the fifth linebacker. He's not in the rotation of the top four, but he's above Dallas Gant and K'Vaughan Pope.
  • Amir Riep deserves kudos for initiating the tackle that led to the fumble that preserved the shutout on Cincinnati's final possession. He's blocked by Wade, among others, in the Buckeyes' defensive backfield. His time will come, though he might not get significantly more snaps until after this season.
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