Every Ohio State fan can vividly recall how close the University of Cincinnati came to upsetting the Buckeyes in Paul Brown Stadium in 2002. I am willing to guess that many Buckeye fans have either forgotten, or have decided to ignore, that Cincinnati gave Ohio State a good game in 1999 in Ohio Stadium as well (Ohio State 34-20). Of course, Ohio State had easier games in Ohio Stadium versus Cincinnati in 2004 (27-6), and in 2006 (37-7), both times with current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio facing former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
With a 6pm EST kickoff on The Big Ten Network, Tommy Tuberville will lead his undefeated Cincinnati team into Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes, led by Tuberville's former SEC nemesis, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Before presuming Ohio State should be able to easily dispatch Cincinnati, Buckeye fans would be wise to remember that Meyer's Florida teams lost to Tuberville's Auburn teams in both 2006 (Auburn 27, Florida 17) and 2007 (Auburn 20, Florida 17).
My points are no matter who the coaches are for Cincinnati or Ohio State, and no matter if the game is in Cincinnati or Columbus, this game should prove to be a battle. This is as close of an in-state rivalry that Ohio State has, or will, ever develop. Of all the Ohio colleges that Ohio State schedules, Cincinnati will traditionally have the most talent, and the best chance, of defeating Ohio State. Below are three critical areas I will be focusing upon when Cincinnati @ Ohio State kicks off at 6pm EST on the Big Ten Network:
1. Has Ohio State Settled Its Offensive Line? - A major reason why Ohio State was defeated at home by Virginia Tech was because Ohio State's inexperienced offensive line had difficulties with the Bear front the Hokies repeatedly used. While LT Taylor Decker and RT Darryl Baldwin seem to be set at their respective positions, the interior positions are still in flux. Considering Coach Tuberville's experience as a defensive coordinator (Arkansas State, Miami (FL), Texas A&M), look for Cincinnati to do what they can to stymie and stump Ohio State's offensive line throughout this contest. Cincinnati may not be able to play a Bear front, but Coach Tuberville probably has some ideas on how to confuse and challenge Ohio State's offensive line Saturday evening.
2. Can Ohio State Establish Its Running Game? - I have stated this before, and will state again that Ohio State truly misses the power running game of Carlos Hyde. Ohio State has been trying to establish its running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel, but it has not been easy or smooth. Considering Cincinnati has a high-powered passing game, an effective strategy Ohio State could use would rely upon its running game to keep the Buckeye defense on the sidelines, and control the clock. Will Ohio State be able to run the ball when it wants to, or needs to, versus Cincinnati on Saturday evening?
3. Will Ohio State's Defensive Line Emerge? - [Warning! Shameless Self-Promotion Rapidly Approaching!] On the most recent Men of the Scarlet and Gray podcast that I contributed to as a participant, I mentioned how Ohio State's defensive line has not been nearly as dominant as I expected this season. While Joey Bosa has played well, and Noah Spence is suspended indefinitely, can Ohio State develop a pass rush to harass Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel on Saturday evening?
Those three areas are going to be on my mind when the Cincinnati @ Ohio State commences Saturday evening. If Ohio State is to maintain its winning streak versus Cincinnati, Buckeye fans can hope the answers will develop in Ohio State's favor.