Ohio State is set to return from its bye week to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday evening at Ohio Stadium.
After coming off of back-to-back wins to start their season, the Bearcats enter Columbus at 2-0, boasting the ninth-best pass game in the country. They are led by Notre Dame-transfer Gunner Kiel, who has tossed 10 scores in the opening two games.
The Lantern sports editors have compiled a list of the five things you should watch for as the Buckeyes and Bearcats prepare for the second night game in Ohio Stadium this season.
1. Can the Buckeyes slow down Gunner Kiel?
The Buckeye defense ranked 112 out of 125 teams in the FBS last season in pass defense and, in contrast, the Bearcats currently boast a top-10 pass offense.
Bearcat quarterback Gunner Kiel is averaging 344.5 yards per game through the air, and has tossed 10 touchdown passes to seven different receivers.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, while their secondary might still be working out the kinks, their defensive line seems to be in rare form. Although they are without star junior defensive end Noah Spence for the foreseeable future after he failed a second drug test, the “Silver Bullets” should be able to take care of business if the secondary can keep Cincinnati in check.
2. Did the bye week help OSU prepare?
The Buckeyes said they prepared all offseason for Navy and came out rather sluggish, before ultimately defeating the Midshipmen, 34-17.
They have now had a bye week to prepare for the Bearcats, however, they don’t have much to go off of.
Cincinnati has played just two games so far this season, both of which were the first college game action for Kiel, who is arguably the Bearcats’ biggest offensive threat. In those two games, Kiel has accumulated 689 yards passing, throwing just two interceptions.
On the other hand, the Buckeye offense has now had time to get extra reps to the plethora of young talent that has seen playing time this year.
Players like redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and freshman running back Curtis Samuel, among others, can only benefit from the extra time in the film room, and in the huddle going against the Buckeye defense in practice.
3. Can Barrett build on his record-setting day?
When Barrett exited the Buckeyes’ 66-0 win against Kent State, he had already etched his name in the school record books.
Not only did he throw for 312 yards — making him the first official 300-yard passer for OSU since Troy Smith in 2006 — but he also tied former quarterback Kenny Guiton’s school record for touchdown passes in a game with six.
While the numbers themselves point toward an other-worldly performance, Barrett certainly still has room to improve. He’s only three games into his collegiate career, and has had less than a month as the No. 1 quarterback on the roster before he made his first start.
It’s been said in the past and it will be said again: Barrett will never be the same player as injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller. But that he can still perform and lead OSU to big wins in big moments.
He led a comeback charge against Navy that resulted in a 34-17 season-opening win, then keyed a furious comeback against Virginia Tech that fell short. That loss — despite him throwing three interceptions — can’t be blamed on Barrett’s arm, especially because he spent the majority of the second half on the Ohio Stadium turf.
If Barrett can build off his performance against the Golden Flashes, he could become a go-to player instead of a question mark on offense.
4. How will Cincinnati respond to the loss of one of its own?
Redshirt-freshman running back Chamoda Kennedy-Palmore died Thursday afternoon, two days before the Bearcats’ game against OSU.
Forget where he came in on the depth chart: losing a teammate, friend and — as teams are often as close as a family — brother is one of the worst things a group of student-athletes could possibly experience. For some, it could be so overwhelming that it could be difficult to play the game, while for others it could be extra motivation to perform in his honor.
OSU released a statement Thursday evening saying it will observe a moment of silence to honor Kennedy-Palmore before the game.
From there, it won’t be quite normal, but the game will go on as one could expect.
5. Jalin Marshall, the (Insert Position Here)-back
Redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall might be more comfortable in Barrett’s shoes than his own.
The Middletown, Ohio, product played quarterback in high school and was initially recruited as a signal caller. In fact, he said Wednesday that his first collegiate scholarship offer was from Cincinnati, which wanted him to play quarterback.
Of course Marshall has made the adjustment to playing in the wide receiver-running back hybrid roll for OSU, but he has still lined up under center in practice. He said there is a package the coaching staff put in place that would give him the snap, and the Buckeye faithful might get a chance to see that in action for the first time against the Bearcats.
OSU and Cincinnati are scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.