“It’s like playing against your brother…That’s a big-time deal. I’m a competitor, so there’s no one I’d want to beat up more than my brother. I mean, holy cow, there’s no one I’d want to play harder against.” ~ Luke Fickell, Yahoo! Sports, 08/28/2019
This Saturday afternoon, Luke Fickell is planning on making his homecoming to Ohio State memorable. Coming off a dominant 24-14 home win over UCLA in the season opener, Cincinnati is primed to claim their first-ever win against the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium, and the first victory over Ohio State since 1897, a 24-0 shutout.
It is often said that a team will take on the personality of its head coach. If that is true, Cincinnati has demonstrated a commitment to physical, hard-nosed football on both sides of the ball. It may not be tremendously flashy, but it is very effective. Evidence of that has been seen in Cincinnati’s 12-2 record over its last fourteen games, including a win over Virginia Tech in the 2018 Military Bowl.
Ohio State fans have not forgotten how close Cincinnati came to upsetting the Buckeyes back in 2002. Luke Fickell was an assistant on that team, and has a team full of Ohioans who were not recruited by Ohio State.
“I’m a competitor, so there’s no one I’d want to beat up more than my brother,” said Fickell this week. At 12pm EST, for a national audience on ABC, he will get a clean shot at a “brother” that he desperately wants to beat.
Below are the three areas I will be focusing on as this squabble between brothers begins at 12pm EST this Saturday…
1. Cincinnati’s Run Defense vs. Ohio State’s Run Offense: Ohio State had a decent running game against Florida Atlantic, but how much of Ohio State’s rushing stats were positively influenced by Justin Fields’ long touchdown run of 51 yards moments into the game? Look for Cincinnati to stack the box against Ohio State, daring Justin Fields to throw to beat them. The Bearcats were able to hold UCLA’s rushing offense to 62 yards in the opener, and here is something else to contemplate – Luke Fickell was an assistant on the Ohio State team that suffered a loss to Virginia Tech in week two of the 2014 season, and that was because Virginia Tech ran a ’46’ front that thoroughly confused and rattled an inexperienced Ohio State offensive line. Fickell and former Ohio State linebacker/UC defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman may spring something like that on the Buckeyes.
2. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder vs. Ohio State’s Linebackers: Ohio State’s linebackers looked much improved last week against Florida Atlantic. With Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, here is another terrific test for the linebacker group. Against UCLA, Ridder would roll out, keeping drives alive by rushing for positive yardage when the opportunities presented themselves. Will Ohio State spy on Ridder with one of their outside linebackers (Malik Harrison? Baron Browning?) to shut down Ridder?
3. The Intangibles: Yes, I know that this is not something that can be viewed. I think of the old Mike Tyson quote, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Cincinnati is planning on coming up to Ohio State and punching the Buckeyes in the mouth. Repeatedly. The storyline of Luke Fickell’s return is going to overshadow the sheer physical nature of this game. Afterward, Ohio State fans will have a better understanding of what type of team the Buckeyes are in 2019, and how well-positioned they are as they get closer to Big Ten play.