Football Friday Preview: Buckeyes look to win 25th-straight regular season game, face Navy

On Saturday, the No. 5/6 Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Baltimore to face the Navy Midshipmen. Kickoff at M&T Bank Stadium is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson in the booth and Allie LaForce on sidelines. As always, you can hear the contest on your terrestrial radio dial all across Buckeyeland on the 64-station Ohio State IMG Sports Network and around the world on Sirius-XM College Sports Nation Channel 91 with “Big Daddy” Paul Keels, Jim Lachey and Marty Bannister on the call.

Ohio State's Brian Rolle returns an interception during Navy's two-point conversion attempt during the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

Ohio State’s Brian Rolle returns an interception during Navy’s two-point conversion attempt during the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

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In 2013, Ohio State won 12-straight during the regular season with wins over Buffalo (40-20), San Diego State (42-7), California (52-34), Florida A&M (76-0), Wisconsin (31-24), Northwestern (40-30), Iowa (34-24), Penn State (63-14), Purdue (56-0), Illinois (60-35) and Indiana (42-14). The two losses were to Michigan State (34-24) in the Big Ten Championship game, and to Clemson (40-35) in the 2014 Orange Bowl.

Navy had a record of 9-4 last season with wins over Indiana (41-35), Delaware (51-7), Air Force (28-10), Pitt (24-21), Hawaii (42-28), South Alabama (42-14), San Jose State (58-52) and Army (34-7) during the regular season. The four losses were to Western Kentucky (19-7), Duke (35-7), Toledo (45-44, 2OT) and Notre Dame (38-34). The Midshipmen went on to defeat Middle Tennessee (24-6) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

Series History:

This will mark just the fifth time that Ohio State and the Naval Academy have met on the gridiron and the Buckeyes are 4-0 in those games. This will be just the second time that Ohio State has ventured East to play Navy. The two teams met in Baltimore in 1930 at old Municipal Stadium, with the Buckeyes coming out on top, 27-0. One year later in 1931, Ohio State notched a 20-0 decision in Columbus. In 1981, Art Schlichter threw touchdown passes of 50 and 9 yards while Jimmy Gayle scampered for two more scores to lead the Buckeyes to a 31-28 victory over Navy in the Liberty Bowl. In 2009, Ohio State hosted the Midshipmen (see below).

2009 – OHIO STATE VS. NAVY

With 2:23 left to play in the game, Navy scored on a 24-yard run by quarterback Ricky Dobbs that brought the Midshipmen within a two-point conversion of tying the game at 29-all. Luckily for the scarlet-clad faithful inside Ohio Stadium, there was man named Brian Rolle.

Rolle intercepted Dobbs’ two-point conversion pass and raced 99 yards the other way to give Ohio State two points and sealed Navy’s fate as the Buckeyes went on to win 31-27.

The Buckeyes took the game’s opening possession and marched 49 yards in six plays that was capped off on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor to Dane Sanzenbacher in a drive that took only two minutes and 23 seconds off the clock.

But Navy scored on their first possession, going 80 yards in 15 plays as Dobbs raced 16 yards to paydirt on a quarterback draw when the Midshipmen were faced with a third-and-2.

With just over 12 minutes left in the second quarter, Ohio State was able to take advantage of a Navy miscue as the Buckeyes used the short field and went 44 yards in seven plays as Pryor ran around the left end and into the house from two yards out that put OSU ahead 17-7.

With 58 seconds left until halftime, Aaron Pettrey connected on a 23-yard field goal to put Ohio State up 20-7.

Both teams traded punts to start the second half before Navy mounted a 15-play, 99-yard scoring drive that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs to Marcus Curry that trimmed Ohio State’s lead down to 20-14 with 1:24 left in the third quarter.

On the Buckeyes next turn with the ball, the Buckeyes went up 23-14 on a 52-yard field goal by Pettrey with 14:11 left to go.

Shortly thereafter, OSU’s Kurt Coleman forced a fumble that was recovered Doug Worthington at the Navy 30 yard line, and it took just three plays to cash in on the Midshipmen turnover as Herron took a pitch and ran six yards around the left end for the score that put the Buckeyes ahead 29-14 with 11:56 left after Pettrey’s PAT attempt was wide-right.

After a Navy turnover and Ohio State losing the ball on downs, the Midshipmen got back into the game as Curry scored on a 85-yard pitch and catch from Dobbs with 6:15 to go with the Buckeyes leading 29-21.

After a Pryor interception, Navy had good field position at the OSU 33 yard line.

In just thee plays, Dobbs scored on a 24-yard draw play that cut the Buckeyes’ lead down to 29-27 with 2:33 left. A two-point conversion would have tied the game, but Rolle saved the day with his interception.

SCOUTING THE BUCKEYES

With quarterback Braxton Miller, the reigning two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year out for the season following shoulder surgery, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett takes over as the Buckeyes’ signal-caller. Many questions remain, especially since Barrett hasn’t played since October of his senior year at Rider High School in 2012. Last April for Ohio State’s Spring Game, Barrett was 17-of-33 passing for 151 yards and he ran for 21 yards on six attempts.

Earlier this week, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer described Barrett as a distributor and called him “Guiton-ish.” One thing’s for sure, the Buckeyes have several playmakers on offense with running backs Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith and Curtis Samuel, H-backs Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, and a whole host of quality receivers with Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Jeff Greene and Johnnie Dixon.

It’s also quite possible that redshirt sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones could get some snaps. At 6-foot-5 and weighing 250 pounds, Jones is a human battering ram. While he only threw two passes last season, Jones did rush for 128 yards in 17 attempts (7.5 avg.) and a TD as the third-string quarterback behind Miller and Kenny Guiton.

In the backfield, Elliott is Ohio State’s top returning rusher after netting 262 yards on 30 carries (8.7 avg.) and two touchdowns as a freshman. Wilson was second with 31 attempts and 250 yards (8.1 avg.) and a score, plus he caught 22 passes for 210 yards and two more TDs as a freshman, as well.

At wideout, the senior Smith appears ready for an increased role after catching 44 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns last year, while senior tight end Jeff Heuerman had 26 receptions for 466 yards and four TDs.

The biggest question, though, is on the offensive line that have combined for just 20 career starts, the second-fewest in the country with just one starter returning, junior left tackle Taylor Decker.

Defensively, the Buckeyes return eight starters that features one of the best defensive lines in the country with Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington. Last season, Bennett totaled 11.5 tackles for loss with 7.0 sacks, while Bosa recorded 13.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks.

The linebacking corps will be much improved this season even with the departure of Ryan Shazier to the NFL as senior captain Curtis Grant will man the middle, and on the outside, sophomore Joshua Perry and redshirt freshman Darron Lee will start. Perry is Ohio State’s top returning tackler with 64 stops last season. Freshman Raekwon McMillan, a five-star recruit, will also get ample playing time.

Leading the way in the secondary is cornerback Doran Grant, who had three interceptions to go along with 13 passes defended and 58 tackles last season. Powell was ninth in tackles last year with 48.

SCOUTING THE MIDSHIPMEN

Eight of the 11 starters from last year’s team return including junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who had a tremendous sophomore season. Reynolds gained 1,346 yards on 300 carries (4.5 avg.) with 31 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,057 yards on 68-of-128 passing with eight TDs and two INTs. Reynolds finished the 2013 campaign No. 1 in the country in scoring per game (14.7), tied for first in rushing touchdowns (33) and tied for 11th in points responsible for per game (18.2). He finished 23rd overall and second among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game (103.5).

Second on the team in rushing last season was junior fullback Chris Swain as he gained 420 yards on 107 attempts and four touchdowns, though he’s second on the depth chart at the position behind senior FB Noah Copeland, who toted the rock 69 times for 339 yards and two TDs. Third-string fullback Quinton Singleton will see plenty of action as well after gaining 361 yards on 65 carries, while senior slotback Geoffrey Whiteside (49 att., 363 yds., 3 TDs) and junior slotback DeBrandon Sanders (42 att., 340 yds., 1 TD) also get into the mix. Sanders was also Navy’s top pass-catcher but had just 13 receptions for 223 yards and a score.

Senior right guard Jake Zuzek, who has started 26-straight games, anchors the offensive line and is joined by three other returning starters with senior center Tanner Fleming, junior left guard E.K. Binns and senior left tackle Bradyn Heap.

Utilizing a 3-4 defense, Navy returns seven of the 11 starters from a year ago, though the Middies two top tacklers from last season, middle linebackers Cody Peterson and D.J. Sargenti are gone. The top returning defensive stopper is senior outside linebacker Chris Johnson who recorded 84 total tackles. Senior free safety Parrish Gaines was second with 65 total tackles.

The major problem with Navy’s defense last season was the ability to get upfield. The Midshipmen were dead-last in Division I FBS in tackles for loss and second-to-last in sacks. Senior middle linebacker Jordan Drake led Navy in sacks but had just three, while sophomore backup outside linebacker William Tuider had a grand total of 4.0 TFLs to lead the team. Johnson and Gaines both shared the team lead with three interceptions.

ANALYSIS AND PREDICTION

Since news of Miller’s injury became known, the national media has dropped Ohio State down several pegs even though the Buckeyes have yet to take a snap in a regular season game. The good news is that Meyer is still the head coach and OSU has a very good offensive coordinator in Tom Herman.

Today is almost like Christmas Eve, and tomorrow we hope to unwrap a shiny, new toy that’s Buckeye football.

The thing is, we don’t know what to expect. It’s gotten to the point that this writer has tuned out all of those so-called college football “experts.”

Talking season is over. Let’s play some football!

Ohio State 45, Navy 17