COLUMBUS — It’s already difficult enough to play Navy because of the tough, dedicated and disciplined players demanded by any service academy.
“These guys are guys who are trained to be fearless and they’re trained to be relentless,” Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry said. “So we know that we have to go full-go the whole game. Are we prepared to play 60 minutes? Yeah.”
But there’s more. On top of that, No. 5 Ohio State must get ready for the Midshipmen’s lethal and unique offense when they meet on Saturday in Baltimore.
Navy is one of the few full-time practitioners of the triple-option left at the college level.
Last year, Ohio State’s defense was riddled in consecutive losses to end the season after a 24-game winning streak. Cornerback Doran Grant was asked whether he was worried about how good the pass defense would be this season.
“That’s not what we’re worried about,” he said. “We’re worried about beating Navy. That’s what we’ve been focused on this training camp. They have a unique style of playing offense.”
The Buckeyes, who are opening their 125th season, have an idea what they’re up against. Navy came into Ohio Stadium to open the 2009 season against an Ohio State team that would end up going 11-2, winning the Big Ten and then beating No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
And the Midshipmen almost left Columbus with a victory.
Navy cut a 13-point halftime deficit to two with 2:23 left — and had a two-point conversion pass to tie it. But Ricky Dobbs’ throw was picked off by linebacker Brian Rolle and he returned it for two points the other way to seal a 31-27 victory.
The current Midshipmen, coming off a 9-4 season which included a win in the Armed Forces Bowl, still follow the same offensive philosophy under seventh-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
“We’ve got to try to find every edge and do everything we can,” he said earlier this week of the matchup with the Buckeyes.
Navy has players who might not be as big or as fast as those at Top-25 powerhouses, but it levels the playing field by using the option. The read-and-react offense, predicated on split-second decisions, sterling execution and quickness, is unique in many ways.
“We feel we have a wrinkle for every (question),” offensive coordinator Ivan Jasper said with a chuckle. “Whether it’s going to work or not, we’ll see.”
Junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds leads an offense that was No. 2 in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year in rushing at 325.4 yards per game. Reynolds ran for 1,346 yards and 31 touchdowns.
“He’s their guy,” Perry said. “He’s a guy who isn’t necessarily a burner, speedwise, but he has really good vision and he knows where the seams are. Once he puts his foot on the ground and he gets vertical, that’s what he likes to do. We have to take really good angles. We can’t overrun anything.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is aware of and wary of Reynolds.
“The Navy coaches and some people I’ve talked to think that he’s the best that they’ve ever had,” he said. “That takes your breath away a little bit.”
The Buckeyes defense has a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
Many considered Ohio State a strong contender to make the initial College Football Playoffs this fall. Then quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a shoulder injury that will cost him the season.
Now, with freshman J.T. Barrett in command of the offense, there are a lot of people saying the Buckeyes no longer belong in the title discussion.
The defense believes it has to dominate — even against a volatile offense like Navy’s option — in order to give its own offense time to adapt to Barrett.
“Oh yes, we’ve got to,” linebacker Curtis Grant said. “Defense wins championships. We’re going to come out each and every day, high energy and just do what we need to do to keep moving forward.”