The interesting thing about this week has been the lengths that Ohio State fans have gone to reassure themselves that this game is going to be just like all the other OSU-UC games of the past. That this game will be like all the games from the recent past against the other teams from Ohio. That they still have an unassailable superiority in talent. That they will simply be able to throw more good athletes on the field and prevail in the same manner that they prevailed against Kent State this year, or Miami last year. That attitude is as much a part of the program in Columbus as Short North being weird. It's a part of the place, and it could be their downfall.
Top to bottom the Buckeye's do have more talent, from top to bottom and front to back. But this is not the rolling ball of death that Ohio State fans think it is. This is not last year's Buckeyes which were comfortably better in every regard than this iteration. They are a mess up front with no clear idea who their five best offensive linemen are. That's a big problem a month into the season, and it's probably not one that will be solved tonight.
For all the greatness of the Buckeye's defensive line individually the whole still feels less than the sum of their parts. I really like Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett. Adolphus Washington is a really good three technique defensive tackle and Steve Miller was a great frontman. Still, the feeling that they should be better is hard to get over.
The linebackers are a blank slate populated four and five star athletic marvels. But the older more experienced linebackers like Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry have been underwhelming. The young guys like Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan are filled with promise, but they lack experience, and experience matters.
That same line of thought goes for the defensive backs as well. There is a mix of older and more experienced backs like Droan Grant with plenty of youth in Eli Apple, Von Bell and Tyis Powell. They are playing a new style of defense after last year's disaster in the back end. The stats and OSU fans say they have solved their issues from last year. But they have only faced one live test, against Virginia Tech and they failed it.
There is a route in this game for the Bearcats to win this game, and that wasn't the case in 2004 or 2006. The defense doesn't need to shut down Ohio State in a conventional sense, they just need to get enough negative plays in the form of tackles for loss and sacks to keep the Buckeyes from consistently clicking into a higher gear that is doable against an offensive line which is still very much a work in progress.
On the other side of the ball UC need's to keep Gunner Kiel clean enough for his receivers to do damage down the field. The Bearcats will get their chances because the Buckeye's preferred coverage will mean de facto one on one matchups with the Bearcats receivers down the field. That is the main reason I think the Bearcats have a chance here, I don't think Ohio State is good in pass defense, no matter what the stats say. It will take the Bearcats first full game of the season, and nearly flawless execution but it can be done.