With Braxton Miller out for the season following shoulder surgery, head coach Urban Miller put the offense in the hands of J.T. Barrett, the first freshman, redshirt or true, to start a season-opener for Ohio State since Art Schlichter in 1978.
While Barrett was effective, he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman went with a rather conservative game plan.
In reality, though, the contest was a tale of two halves and OSU played much better after intermission.
For the first 30 minutes of action, the Buckeyes had 162 yards of total offense on 30 plays and with nine first downs. Ohio State scored two field goals on six possessions. The other three times with the ball ended with two punts, an interception, and the last play of the half when OSU took a knee.
On Ohio State’s first play from scrimmage to start the game, things looked promising. Barrett connected with senior wide receiver Devin Smith on a 14-yard pass play. Then Barrett just missed as sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson was unsuccessful on a diving catch. After sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliot was stopped for no gain, Barrett dropped back and raced out of the pocket only to be stopped three yards short and OSU was forced to punt.
Pinned at their own 1-yard line, Navy was able to manage to get 21 yards in seven plays before punting the ball back to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes scored the first points of the game on their next possession, but went just 28 yards on eights plays and settled for a 46-yard field goal by true freshman Sean Nuernberger that was dead on and right down the middle.
Navy, though, marched 75 yards in 11 plays to take the lead, a lead they would not relinquish until the third quarter.
On the first play, running back Ryan Williams-Jenkins churned out 11 yards before quarterback Keenan Reynolds scampered for 24 to the OSU 40. Five plays later, the Midshipmen found themselves first-and-goal at the 3 yard line.
It took all four plays for Navy to score from there, and that fourth down play is still controversial in my mind. From the 1 yard line, DeBrandon Sanders ran around the left end and dove for the pylon just as Tyvis Powell and Doran Grant converged on the ball carrier. Replays looked like Sanders’ knee slid out of bounds before hitting the goal line marker. The call on the field was a touchdown, and the replay official ruled that the call was confirmed. I’m still not sure. Photographer Dan Harker of The-Ozone.net was right there and snapped a great photo. Click on the link to see for yourself.
Both teams then traded punts before Ohio State mounted a drive that got the Buckeyes inside the Navy’s 10. But on first and goal from the 8 yard line, Barrett spun to avoid the rush, rolled to his left and tried to hit Wilson who was just inside the end zone near the sideline. But Barrett didn’t get enough air into it and threw into double coverage as the pass was intercepted by Navy’s Parrish Gaines at the 3.
The Buckeye defense forced a three-and-out which gave the Scarlet and Gray great field position to start their next possession at the Midshipmen 41 yard line.
Once again, Ohio State got inside the 10, but only came away with a 28-yard field goal by Nuernberger with 2:04 left to trim Navy’s lead down to 7-6.
On first-and-10 at the 12, Wilson gained 8 yards on a run up the middle to the Navy 4. On second down, freshman running back Curtis Samuel was stopped for no gain going up the gut. On third down, Herman dialed up the wrong play as Barrett rolled right on an option, but it as well defended and Wilson missed a block. Barrett was then late on the pitch to Elliot on the loss of 7.
The Midshipmen got the ball back with two minutes left before halftime and nearly came away with points. Navy drove down to the OSU 18 yard line, but William-Jenkins failed to get out of bounds on his gain of 7 yards on the ground. The Mids had to burn their last timeout and then Nick Sloan was wide-right on a 36-yard field goal attempt.
The second half which was much better for the Buckeyes. Ohio State scored touchdowns on three of the four offensive possessions while racking up 258 yards and added a TD by the defense.
Navy had the ball to begin the third quarter. Facing a third-and-3 from the OSU 36, Reynolds tried to pitch the ball in the backfield as he was being hit by Josy Bosa and the ball bounced off slotback Demond Brown’s arm. Ohio State’s Darron Lee picked up the loose pigskin and went 61 yards for the defensive touchdown to put the Buckeyes up 13-7 with 13:08 left.
The Midshipmen took the lead right back by going 84 yards in just four plays capped off on a 1-yard run by Reynolds. The key play of the drive was the first one when Williams-Jenkins ran 67 yards down the left side as freshman strongside linebacker Chris Worley bit on the play and didn’t have outside containment.
On Ohio State’s next possession, the Buckeyes drove down to the Navy 48. On third-and-3, Elliott looked like he advanced the ball far enough to move the chains, but the referees ruled that he was down about a yard short. Instead of insisting on a video replay, Meyer had the offense quickly snap the ball and Elliott was stopped for a loss of 2 on fourth down.
That was the only time the Midshipmen stopped the Buckeyes in the second half.
After Navy had to punt, the Buckeyes the ball on their own 20.
It only took one play for Ohio State to take the lead for good as Barrett threw a deep pass to Smith, who got past the defense and was all alone for the 80-yard scoring strike that made the score 20-14 in favor of the good guys with 4:10 left in the third.
The Midshipmen added a 36-yard field goal with 13:26 to go in the fourth quarter to trim the Buckeyes lead to 20-17, but Ohio State held the ball for nine minutes and 48 seconds on two long scoring drives to put the game out of reach. The rest of the frame, Navy had just nine offensive plays for 26 yards with the bulk of that coming with less than two minutes to go trailing 34-17.
On Ohio State first scoring drive of the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes went 80 yards in 10 plays taking exactly five minutes off the game clock that resulted in 10-yard TD run by Elliott.
After a three-and-out forced the Mids to punt, it took Ohio State 10 snaps to go 78 yards in 4:48 as Barrett connected on a 9-yard TD pass to sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas with 2:09 left.
– Barrett finished with 226 yards on 12-of-15 passing with two touchdowns and an interception. He was also OSU’s leading rusher with 50 yards on nine carries. Except for two mistakes, he played well.
– The Buckeyes had 40 rushing attempts compared to just 15 passing attempts. In the fourth quarter alone, Ohio State had 18 offensive plays with 16 of those on the ground. The Buckeyes wore down Navy’s defensive line as the game went on and it showed. The Midshipmen couldn’t stop OSU’s run game.
– Elliott, Ohio State’s starting running back, wasn’t impressive statistically. He had just 44 yards on 12 carries and an average of 3.7 per attempt. Samuel fared better and was second on the team in rushing toting the rock seven times for 45 yards (6.4 avg.).
– Offensive line, though, didn’t play very well and if the Buckeyes want to contend for a Big Ten title and more that unit is going to have to play better. A lot better. For the most part, Barrett didn’t have much time to throw.
– The defense played well, even though it surrender yards by the chunkage. Navy had 370 yards on the ground, but just 20 through the air.
– Special teams was good, too. Sophomore punter Cameron Johnston had an average of 55.5 yards on two boots while Nuernberger made both of his field attempts. Wilson is electrifying as a returner who will likely take one (or many more) to the house this season.
– Bottom line, the Buckeyes got the win, but there’s lots of room for improvement.
– Up next, Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech, next Saturday. Kickoff at Ohio Stadium is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on ESPN. The Hokies defeated FCS William & Mary, 34-9.
Postgame quotes from Meyer:
“The best thing about this game is we won it and it’s in our rearview mirror.”
“I thought J.T. did OK. He was good. I never felt he was rattled.”
“We wanted to open it up a little bit more in the first half but we didn’t. It wasn’t because of him. It was because of our offensive line. There’s a standard set for offensive line play for many, many years. It didn’t resemble an offensive line at Ohio State the first two quarters.”