Ex-Buckeye Fickell leads Cincinnati against No. 5 Ohio State

Field Level Media

September 03, 2019 at 7:00 pm.

Fifth-ranked Ohio State had a letdown after building a 28-0 lead in the first eight minutes of its season opener against Florida Atlantic.

While the Buckeyes (1-0) got away with the lull in the 45-21 win, they might not be as fortunate if the same thing happens against Cincinnati in Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday.

The Bearcats (1-0) opened with a 24-14 home win over UCLA and have continued the momentum off an 11-2 record last season under third-year coach Luke Fickell, a former standout defensive lineman for the Buckeyes as well as a longtime assistant coach at his alma mater.

“Coach Fickell has done a very good job building toughness in that group,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

This Battle of Ohio presents a rare challenge to the Buckeyes’ in-state dominance. Ohio State hasn’t lost to an in-state school in 41 games, since a 7-6 loss to Oberlin College in 1921.

“We’re Ohio State, everybody has a chip on their shoulder when they play us,” Ohio State defensive tackle Davon Hamilton said.

Ohio State got off to the fast start thanks to sophomore quarterback Justin Fields, a Georgia transfer making his first college start. He threw for three touchdowns and ran 51 yards for another score in the first quarter but was not satisfied.

“All aspects of my game can get better and improve,” he said. “I’m just going to get back in the film room and see what mistakes we had and fix those and get ready for Cincinnati.”

Fickell, who was 6-7 as interim coach at Ohio State in 2011 in between the firing of Jim Tressel and the hiring of Urban Meyer, would rather concentrate on his current job and not rehash his ties with the Buckeyes, which include being on the staff of the 2014 national champions.

“I can’t allow myself to get involved in the emotional type of things,” Fickell said Monday. “We’re so focused in on the things that we have to do as opposed to it being an emotional game or prep in a lot of different ways. I don’t want to talk about who’s going to be there, tickets, different things like that. I’ve avoided that for a long time, and we’ll continue to avoid it for five or so more days.”

The coaching matchup is intriguing with Fickell’s defensive acumen going against Day, whose strength is offense and the development of quarterbacks, such as Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins last season.

Day added a wrinkle to begin the post-Meyer era when he had Fields take snaps at the line, something not done in previous years.

“It’s important to be able to line up under center, run the football, play-action pass and do some things, and also run the spread and run with tempo,” Day said.

Cincinnati will be without safety James Wiggins, who led the Bearcats last season with four interceptions but sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice last week.