Perhaps when kicker Aaron Pettrey strikes the ball off the tee around noon on Saturday, attention will be shifted to the opposition actually on the field that day.
Despite the buzzing anticipation surrounding a certain adversary scheduled to trek to Columbus on Sept. 12, the Buckeyes must first handle their season-opening opponent, Navy. The Midshipmen are no walkovers either, having won at least eight games in each of the past six seasons.
Coach Jim Tressel ensures that his squad isn’t looking past a solid Navy team.
“The only distraction we have right now is Navy and figuring out how to stop that option,” he said.
The option that Tressel refers to is Navy’s unique offensive attack, the triple-option. The Midshipmen led the nation in rushing thanks to a gameplan that calls for the quarterback, running back and fullback to all motion toward the line of scrimmage before one of the players carries the ball forward.
Navy ran the ball 715 times last season, while only passing it on 93 occasions.
Opposing defenses, struck with mass confusion, often find it difficult to determine which potential ball carrier to stop. Sprinkling in fake handoffs and infrequent passes make containing the attack even trickier.
“[Our defense] will never have seen so many guys flying at them at the speed at which it happens here,” Tressel said.
Few teams execute the triple-option, and perhaps none as efficiently as Navy. They averaged more than 27 points per game and finished the season with four players totaling at least 480 yards rushing.
“I don’t think you know what you’re in for when you face this offense until you’re out on the field,” Tressel said. “It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. Our guys are going to have to stay on their feet, because if they’re not on their feet, they’re in trouble. But our guys are preparing hard- our defense, I think, has a good plan.”
On the other side of the ball, Navy must sketch out a blueprint to contain Terrelle Pryor, the Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The sophomore quarterback has evolved into the leader of the Buckeye offense, an important factor since the team will rely on many inexperienced athletes to contribute.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys that we’ve got high hopes for and they’ve been working hard and let’s see how they do,” an optimistic Tressel said. “Maybe you assume that they’ll progress, but still that’s a question. We have a lot of practice, but it’s different when you get over there.”
As for Pryor, the first OSU freshman to start at quarterback in 30 years, Tressel expects a steady progression from his rookie campaign to his second year.
“A year ago this time, he was getting 15, 20 percent of the snaps and just doing a very limited amount of things, trying to figure out what the formations meant,” Tressel said. “He’s still a sophomore but he’s got a tremendous amount more vantage point than he had a year ago.”
The Buckeyes enter the season amid the typical high expectations. They’ll carry the nation’s No. 6 ranking into The Shoe on Saturday, and if they can contain the triple-option, then the team can finally focus on the contest against USC.