Buckeyes Know Navy Game Will Be Won or Lost Up Front

By Tim Shoemaker on August 26, 2014 at 8:35a
Taylor Decker

It would be quite difficult to find a college football fan who isn't familiar with Navy's style of offense.

The Midshipmen's triple-option attack has been successful for years and in a sport that is changing predominantly to the spread, Navy brings a challenge to the table some schools may only see once every four or five years.

"It's just incredible efficiency in offense and that odd 3-4 defense where they're all over the place, so they're good players," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Monday during his first weekly press conference of the season. "So there's a little — I use the term anxiety a little bit more this year — just because of who we're playing and the quarterback and the skill that they have."

So, how do the fifth-ranked Buckeyes plan to attack a Navy offense that ran for over 325 yards per game on the ground last season and a defense that runs a tricky 3-4 scheme? Well, they've got to win the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

“It’s Navy, and they’re a hard-nosed team. They’re very disciplined and it’s gonna be a dogfight up front," tight end Nick Vannett said. "We understand that and I think the O-line understands that. For us to win this game, we’re gonna have to win up front and we’re just gonna have to out-battle them. In our preparation this week and last week, I think we’re doing a good job of that.”

Ohio State does have an advantage in terms of size up front. At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds, right guard Jake Zuzek is Navy's biggest starting offensive lineman listed on the team's depth chart. And whether it be Tanner Fleming or Blaze Ryder who starts at center for the Midshipmen, the Buckeyes' pair of defensive tackles — Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington — will have more than a 20-pound advantage up the middle.

All five linemen for Navy, however, started at some point during last year's 9-4 season.

“Those guys are guys who are trained to be fearless and they’re trained to be relentless all the time," Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry said of the Midshipmen. "We know that we have to go full-go the whole game.

"Are we prepared to play 60 minutes? Yeah. The way we practice, it’s ridiculous. We don’t run gassers or anything after practice, but our whole practice is conditioning. Obviously the speed of the game might be something for guys, but not getting tired and being in shape, I don’t think that’ll be too much of an issue.”

It's not like Ohio State hasn't seen this Navy attack before. The Buckeyes defeated the Midshipmen, 31-27, in the 2009 season opener at Ohio Stadium.

While Ken Niumatalolo was in his second year as Navy's head coach that season, this is Meyer's first go against the Midshipmen. The only member of Ohio State's coaching staff who was part of that contest is co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell. 

The Buckeyes' defense held Navy's ground game in check that game, limiting the Midshipmen to just 186 yards on the ground on 44 rushes. But it wasn't until Brian Rolle's interception return on a two-point conversion that Ohio State clinched a win.

Although none of this year's Buckeyes were on that team, they are well aware of the game.

“They play disciplined ball, they’re a hard-nosed team and we understand that even if we get up on them early, we’ve gotta keep full throttle," Vannett said. "We can’t let up because we saw here four, five years ago they came in our place and almost shocked us so we understand how they are as a football team and I think we’ve done really well preparing for that.”

Unlike Navy, Ohio State's offensive line has a few question marks. Meyer said the team still has a competition going for the starting left guard and center positions, and whoever earns those starting nods up front will be challenged.

“Any service academy, those guys are gonna play hard," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "I know that they’re gonna play hard and they’re gonna be gritty so it should definitely be a battle.”

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