With variables such as a rare season opener away from the Shoe, being forced to face an offensive scheme they won't see again for years, if ever, and breaking in a freshman starting quarterback in game one for just the 2nd time in 64 years, it was expected Ohio State would encounter some turbulence. Despite a few bumps including surrendering 370 rushing yards, the Buckeyes still had more than enough talent to run away from Navy in yesterday's 34-17 win.
The win sets up a Saturday night clash in Columbus as the Buckeyes welcome Virginia Tech to the Shoe. Before we turn our heads to that more conventional foe, we take a look back at five things from yesterday's 17-point decision over the Middies.
THERE'S A NEW J.T. IN TOWN
With Braxton Miller's injury giving J.T. Barrett just 10 days of preparation, the kid who had yet to take a collegiate snap made some mistakes but the pros far outweighed the cons as he completed 12 of 15 throws for 226 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. And while he won't be mistaken for Miller on the run, Barrett's 50 yards rushing paced the team, giving him 276 total yards of offense, or 65% of the team's total output.
Barrett got off to a bit of a slow start which was aided by the offensive line's sluggish performance in the face of Navy's consistent pressure. He took a sack on the 2nd possession after holding the ball too long in a collapsing pocket and nearly threw a pick-six two possessions later on a ill-fated screen. Following that near miscue, he found Dontre Wilson for 30 yards upon reading his progressions but on the next snap, he made a ridiculously bad decision and got picked off at the goal line. On the next possession, though it was a terrible play call, Barrett poorly executed an option on 3rd and 2 at the Navy 4-yard line and Ohio State lost seven yards before kicking a field goal to make it 7-6 Middies. To his credit, he still finished the half 8/11 through the air.
Barrett settled into a groove in the 2nd half. Trailing 14-13 early in the 3rd quarter, he hooked up with Devin Smith for an 80-yard touchdown strike turning both the score and momentum in Ohio State's direction for good. On the next possession, he found Evan Spencer for 19 yards and OSU scored two plays later to make it 27-17 good guys.
His best drive of the day soon followed as he ripped off a 19-yard run and a 15-yard run on 3rd and 11 before finding Michael Thomas for a 9-yard touchdown toss and a 34-17 lead.
Overall, Meyer has to be pleased with what Barrett was able to do and what he can do down the road as both he and the offensive line gain seasoning.
A PAIR AND A SPARE
Life after Carlos Hyde began yesterday and the results were mixed as the Buckeyes managed to rush for 194 yards on 4.8 yards a carry a year after averaging 308 yards per game on 6.8 per carry.
The good news is four guys ran for at least 40 yards while the bad news is Barrett paced the attack with 50 yards. Ezekiel Elliott found tough sledding early but things opened up a bit later as he peeled of a 20-yard gallop and a 10-yard burst for six to finish with 12 carries for 44 yards. As the starter, I expected better numbers and at least on this day, Curtis Samuel (7/43) and Dontre Wilson (6/44) looked like the best rushing options. Samuel also threw a nice block to spring one of Barrett's runs. Those two are going to be lethal on the jet sweeps and speaking of, I would've liked to see Jalin Marshall get some more touches. He turns the corner in a hurry.
The combo of Barrett, Samuel, Elliott and Wilson combined to receive 37 of the 40 total carries while names like Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn were on the outside looking in again. Dunn was stapled to the bench and Smith had just two carries for six yards. It seems Meyer talks about them just enough to hopefully keep them both interested but it's hard to imagine either will have a meaningful impact on the 2014 squad. Beyond his two carries, Smith also completely whiffed on a lead block to start the 2nd half.
It will be interesting to see how the carries are distributed next week. I have a feeling Samuel could be headed for 10+ carries, teaming with Elliott as the top two guys.
STEPPING UP LATE
The most exciting takeaway from the win is how the offense responded after Navy's field goal to cap an 11-play drive cut Ohio State's lead to 20-17 early in 4th quarter.
Needing to at minimum give the defense a chance to rest, the Buckeyes went on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 27-17 lead and chew up five minutes in the process. Samuel got things going with three straight carries for a total of 26 yards, moving OSU close to midfield. Three straight conventional runs set up a 4th and 1 that Elliott converted by a matter of inches. Likely expecting an 8th consecutive running play, Navy stacked the box on 1st and 10 and Barrett flicked a 19-yard toss to Spencer to put the Buckeyes in business at the Navy 25-yard line. Wilson went for 15 one snap later and Elliott burst threw a huge hole for a 10-yard touchdown.
Refreshed from the offense's long drive, the Bullets took the field and promptly forced a 3-and-out. With the game now nearly on ice, Barrett removed all doubt as he engineered an 8-play, 70-yard touchdown drive spanning 4:48 and highlighted by four plays of 15+ yards with three of those coming from the young quarterback.
After popping a 19-yard run on the drive's 2nd play, he scrambled for 15 huge yards on 3rd and 11 from the Navy 46 and three plays later he hooked up with Michael Thomas for a 9-yard touchdown toss to put the game out of reach at 34-17.
The two drives combined to span 9:48 of the 4th quarter, generating 150 yards on 18 plays, to effectively step on the necks of the Middies.
BUYER BEWARE ON REBIRTH OF BULLETS?
Playing Navy sucks. I really have no idea why Ohio State schedules a team that runs such a one-off offense. As such, I'm inclined to let the jury continue deliberating on just how effective the retooled Silver Bullets will be once they face more familiar offensive attacks. That said, it was tough to watch the talented Keenan Reynolds run the same three plays over and over for a total of 370 rushing yards on 5.9 per carry.
Tyvis Powell turned in a career high and team leading 13 tackles but was anyone overly impressed with his performance? I wasn't feeling his work on the option and felt Vonn Bell (7 tkl) should have seen more time ahead of Cam Burrows.
Up front, Adolphus Washington was active with six stops including a pair of TFL's to lead the defensive linemen who didn't play as well collectively as many expected. At linebacker, Josh Perry had nine stops nd Curtis Grant though Darron Lee was the most impressive on this day with seven stops, two TFL and a 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown. His compadre at the walkout, Chris Worley, had five stops.
Again, as painful as it was to watch, I'm still not sure we have much idea of how good or bad this defense is yet. I'm looking forward to next week so we can finally get a glimpse of what the offseason schematic changes in the back seven will bring.
Working off the basic belief that the loss of Miller's incredible knack to make something out of nothing – especially on 3rd down – will have a meaningful impact on the TD/FG ratio this year, it was nice to see true freshman placekicker Sean Nuernberger turn in a perfect 2/2 day on field goals and 4/4 on extra points.
His first try as a collegian came on the road and from 46 yards but Nuernberger split the uprights to make it 3-0 Buckeyes late in the 1st quarter.
With Ohio State struggling to move the ball, Nuernberger also came through with 2:04 left in the half, converting a chip shot 28-yarder to cut Navy's lead to 7-6 at intermission.
I get that neither kick occurred with the game on the line but considering OSU could find itself in closer games than maybe envisioned a month ago, it's nice to see the kid is as advertised thus far.