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Fickell, improved Bearcats invade the Shoe: Is an upset brewing? Baver answers Colin’s questions – Wk 2

Colin: Week one is in the books. What impressed you about the Buckeyes performance?

Brent: MUCH better on defense. Granted 10 of the 14 teams in the Big Ten are probably better than FAU, but the Buckeye defense appears to be improved in all three groups: DL, LB and DB. We knew what Chase Young was capable of, but Josh Cornell was all over the field. And this team goes 6-deep at DT, even without Cornell who had slide outside with 3 of the top 4 DEs out with injuries. We saw far better play out of the LBs, and Jeff Okudah is starting to look like the 5-star corner Ohio St recruited. 

Yes, there are concerns with Justin Fields, but he showcased the tools that demonstrate what the hype is all about. As for Fields hesitance to throw into coverage, his failure to pitch the ball on the zone-read, and his handful of (safety) slides when running with the ball? I could be wrong, but I think Fields is following the direction of his head coach. No reason to take chances with a big lead, and keeping Fields healthy is a must 

Colin: How do you feel about Ryan Day putting the QB under center? 

Brent: You can’t argue with the results, can you? In theory, you have the same OC this year as you had last year, in Ryan Day. But most OSU fans knew that it was Urban Meyer’s offense every year he was in Columbus. I am not sure how things will ultimately turn out under Coach Day in Columbus, but I have full trust in Ryan Day’s offensive expertise. Not that the things they did with Justin under center were all that sophisticated, but I expect Day to continue to tweak things and make opposing defenses prepare for “more”.  

Colin: What needs improvement? 

Brent: 4.3 yds per carry from your starting tailback just doesn’t cut it...not at Ohio St. OSU was fortunate to overcome their inability to run the football last year in winning the Big Ten for the 2ndstraight year, but don’t count on it happening again. And you can get away with the offensive lull (after the 4 quick-strike TDs) against Florida Atlantic and still win handedly. But if you lose focus like that tomorrow, things could get scary. After the 4-TD explosion to start the game, the OSU numbers on the next 6 drives were: 30 plays, 79 yards, 4 punts, 2 lost fumbles, and no points. Hard to figure.

The new zone coverage scheme looked almost flawless early on. But once FAU adjusted, Ohio St had no answer for either Owl TE, each of whom gashed that zone repeatedly in that second half. Is the D willing to come out of that zone if they have to? I don’t know. Jeff Hafley, OSU’s new secondary coach/co-DC has been getting a lot of praise, but I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with Hafley.

Colin: Cincinnati is going to come into the Shoe with a major chip on their shoulder and a big win already under their belt. How concerned are you the Bearcats can pull the upset?

Brent: Probably more concerned than most. Luke Fickell wasn’t ready for the Ohio State head coaching job in 2011. But Luke has come a long way since then, and is going to have his Bearcats ready tomorrow.

Colin: What does Ohio State have to do to win this game?

Brent: The Buckeye offense cannot get in a rut again. Ex-Buckeye and current Bearcat DC Marcus Freeman is a rising star, and the UC defense is far better than FAU’s. Dobbins and KJ Hill are going to have to dial it up a notch after struggling in the opener. These guys have to bring it tomorrow, and help out their young QB. And the OSU O-line has to be more consistent. I think OSU will be fine on the other side of the ball.

Colin: So how does this game play out?

Baver: I think Cincinnati plays Ohio State tough at a minimum, and has a fair shot at pulling the upset. I expect a lower scoring game, which would make a 16-point spread hard to cover. But I think OSU depth ultimately wears the Bearcats out in the second half. I have Ohio St winning 28-20.

Colin: Any chance Michigan gets upset by Army? What other games and lines will you be keeping an eye on this weekend? 

Brent: Probably not, but UM should have blown Middle Tenn St off the field, and couldn’t do it. Michigan apparently has spent a good amount of time prior to this week preparing for Army’s option attack, so there should be no excuses if they have trouble defending it.

LSU at Texas is a can’t miss game. This is LSU’s best team since they went to the BCS title game in 2011. But going against Tom Herman when he is an underdog is usually suicide. I think LSU is a better team than Texas, especially at this point in the season, but no way would I lay 6½ pts to a Tom Herman-led team on the road. Slight lean toward LSU to win the game, with Texas +6½.

—Brent Baver