If you ask Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell about the 2009 season-opener against Navy, he can almost give you a play-by-play from that game. He seems to remember it like it were yesterday.
“If you really look back at it, it was 20-7 at half and I think with about six minutes to go in the game I think it was a 17-point game, but unfortunately, we might have been a little bit too comfortable at that point in time," Fickell said Wednesday. "We got a turnover, thought we probably had it in the bag with six or so minutes to go and then we turned the ball back over, they hit a 78-yard touchdown and drove it back now and got another touchdown."
"What you realize is that the game is never over. They don’t care who they’re playing. They’re not gonna bat an eye whether it’s the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Green Bay Packers.”
Perhaps that's the reason why this year's Buckeyes and head coach Urban Meyer did something they normally don't during fall camp: They began preparing for the Midshipmen on the very first day.
“On the first day of training camp I said, ‘We’re going.’ Usually you install, install, install and then we get busy, but we started Day 1," Meyer said. "I think we have a handle on it I just think who we’re playing is really, really good at it. This is one of the better ones I’ve seen over the years as far as efficiency and production out of their quarterback I think they’re really good.”
Meyer and the fifth-ranked Buckeyes have been preparing for one of the most unique offenses in all of college football: Navy's triple-option.
The Midshipmen were second in the country last year in rushing yards per game with 325.4 and their attack is led by one of the best running quarterbacks in the game, Keenan Reynolds.
Containing Reynolds and Navy's triple-option requires preparation and an extremely disciplined defense. Having the game being played Week 1 as opposed to in the middle of the season could benefit Ohio State.
“I think the really good thing for us is we’ve had all of camp to prepare whereas you would come in in the typical game week and you’d really only have four or five days to prepare," junior linebacker Joshua Perry said. "Obviously, there are gonna be some butterflies for the first game, some jitters and guys are gonna want to make plays, but we also know as a defense you have to be selfless in this game. The D-lineman might make one tackle in this game and the Mike Linebacker running sideline to sideline might have a lot more than that, but you’ve gotta play your assignments in order to succeed.”
While Ohio State's pass defense was one of the worst in the Big Ten, its rushing defense actually ranked second only to Michigan State's. The Buckeyes allowed just more than 116 yards per game on the ground last season, but Navy's offensive rushing attack brings something totally different to the table.
“This will be a big test for how disciplined we are, how fundamentally sound we are and what kind of execution we can have," Fickell said. "Joey Bosa can tackle the fullback 25 times in the game and have zero tackles, but as long as he’s doing that then we’ll be in good shape. Sometimes you can’t look at the stats in these kinds of games because it’s guys doing their job.”
So, is there such a thing as being over-prepared for a game like this one?
“You think you've got a handle on something, but then there will be something different. As soon as you think you’ve got it then that’s when you really got a problem," Fickell said. "It’s a work in progress and I know it’s only a couple days away, but we’ll be working on the sideline in between each series and we’ve gotta stick to our guns. We’ll be fundamentally sound, we’ve gotta execute and we’ve gotta play Buckeye-style defense.”