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Buckeyes zipping through learning curve, putting nation on notice

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields accounted for four touchdowns in the win over Cincinnati. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Buckeyes zipping through learning curve, putting nation on notice

COLUMBUS — Ohio State needed creative ways to describe the season opener.

Funky. Uneven. Bad taste in the mouth of the Buckeyes.

One week later, summing up the effort was a lot simpler: Completely dominant.

Ryan Day will still go back and pick through the film for corrections, because that’s just what coaches do. Captains like Chase Young were already quick to point out areas where the Buckeyes could improve, which is also fair in a season that is only a couple games old. And it’s also true that the level of competition is obviously going to get tougher at some point, even if Cincinnati deserves credit for what it’s accomplished under Luke Fickell and is capable of becoming a ranked team by the end of the season.

But if Ohio State was supposed to go through some growing pains with a first-year coach, a brand-new starting quarterback and a completely rebuilt defense, there’s some bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are already rolling in every facet of the game, and the 42-0 demolition of the Bearcats on Saturday at the Horseshoe is a clear signal that they’re again going to be contenders for the College Football Playoff.

“I don’t think this one was as funky,” Day said. “It wasn’t as fast and furious, and we had to regroup at halftime and then come and win the third quarter. But we talked about doing a great job coming out at halftime. That was something we were emphasizing really all week because didn’t leave a great taste coming off the field last week.

“I thought we sustained it and finished it the right way this week.”

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State coach Ryan Day had the Buckeyes rolling on Saturday against Cincinnati. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Both performances effectively produced the same result, because the outcome was never in doubt in either early win to start the season. But there was certainly a different vibe for the Buckeyes given the start-to-finish effort against Cincinnati, something that they didn’t quite have against Florida Atlantic.

Of course, there’s also something to be said for putting away an opponent in just nine minutes like Ohio State did in the opener. And that blitzkrieg did provide a glimpse at the incredible potential stuffed into the loaded roster Day inherited. Given his choice, though, he’d surely prefer the four-quarter display he saw against Cincinnati than the abbreviated glimpse from the opener.

Part of that jump can be chalked up to the usual improvements teams tend to show from the first game to the second when the rust is kicked off and the rhythm of the season begins to take hold. But it was always possible that Justin Fields would need longer to settle into his role leading the offense or that the retooled defensive staff would need more than two games to get its scheme established. Instead, Fields has nine touchdowns in his first two starts and looks like a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, while the Silver Bullets already have a shutout on their resumé.

“I think last week we felt OK with the win, but there were just some mistakes that we knew we couldn’t make,” Young told Lettermen Row. “It was still cool to win, but we knew there were things that had to be corrected. I feel like we did that and we put that on film with our performance [Saturday].

“We were clicking on all cylinders. Shoot, it’s hard to get a shutout, that’s not easy. But we still have to pay attention to all those details, getting all the little things right. And that’s what I’ll emphasize to the rest of the guys.”

When Young speaks up, the Buckeyes tend to listen to the new captain — especially after he set the tone with 1.5 more sacks and a key blocked field goal.

Ohio State-Chase Young-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young turned in another productive outing for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The star junior is the epitome of the all-out effort that Ohio State needs as it continues to grow, because it’s probably still just scratching the surface of what it can become this year. But with Young offering relentless energy, J.K. Dobbins kicking into gear as both a game-changing tailback/surprisingly-effective lead blocker and Fields carving up defenses with both his legs and arm, the ceiling is already being raised for the Buckeyes.

“I think this was another step, though, in the journey,” Day said. “It was the right step. We talked about coming into the game, we wanted to be the best in the country with what we do. It’s not easy to do. And with that comes seriousness. We want to have the best defense and offense and special teams — with that comes a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of sacrifice.

“I think we’re on the right journey that way. But we go into conference play next week [at Indiana], and we have to start over again. Because when you come into the game, so much goes into it preparation wise — physically, emotionally mentally — to make sure you execute what you need to execute on Saturday. So, we have to start that journey again … and we have to keep building on this.”

Even from Game One to Game Two, the Buckeyes clearly grew in a hurry.

And if they aren’t done yet, that should be a scary thought for anybody who steps on the field with the monster Ohio State is building.


Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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