With the Ohio State football team’s season opener just two days away, The Lantern sports editors picked five of the top storylines to watch for when the Buckeyes face-off with Navy.
1. Will redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones see the field?
When an OSU spokesman released the team’s week-one depth chart on Wednesday, it became 100 percent clear that coach Urban Meyer plans to start redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett at quarterback.
Barrett, who overtook Jones as the backup quarterback just days before senior Braxton Miller went down with a shoulder injury, has not played a meaningful snap since his senior year of high school. That senior year at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, was cut short by a torn ACL.
Regardless of potential durability concerns, Barrett hasn’t separated himself from Jones enough to be confident of keeping his job. At the first sign of adversity, don’t be surprised if Jones is warming up on the sidelines.
Meyer has even said he’s open to the idea of playing both signal-callers against the Midshipmen.
2. Can the OSU defense step up after dismal 2013?
It’s been said before and it will be said again: the 2013 OSU defense did not play up to the “Silver Bullet” squads of years past.
In lieu of dissecting the numbers for the thousandth — OK, maybe not that many — time, let’s just remember that a California Golden Bears squad that finished the season 1-11 posted 34 points against the Buckeyes on Sept. 14.
Meyer has billed this year’s team as one of the fastest around, and that might need to be the case if OSU wants to rebound after getting beat deep down the field numerous times last year. The test for week one against Navy won’t come against an average offense, which will force OSU to be even more prepared than it will need to be for arguably any other game this season.
Navy runs an unusual triple-option offense and has had success with its gameplan against the Buckeyes before. The last time the two teams met, OSU survived, partially thanks to OSU’s Brian Rolle interception return for 2-points off Navy’s Ricky Dobbs’ pass back in 2009. OSU ended up winning the closer-than-expected game, 31-27, to open the season.
3. Will OSU defense be able to slow down Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds?
Even though defending the pass was an issue for the OSU defense in 2013, defending the run will likely be stressed week one as it faces a Navy team that averaged just 11 pass attempts per game last season.
Despite the lack of passing production, Navy’s triple-option offense attack, led by junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, is one of the most productive rushing offenses in the country.
Reynolds broke the NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in 2013 as he racked up 31 rushing scores to go along with a team-leading 1,346 yards on the ground.
Considered by some to be a Heisman Trophy dark horse, Reynolds still has proven that he can be a productive passer as he threw for 233 yards on 10 of 13 passing including two scores in a game against Delaware last season.
4. How disciplined will the Midshipmen be?
In 2013, Navy committed 34 penalties. In comparison, the Buckeyes committed 73, but weren’t far off from the rest of the nation.
The Midshipmen’s discipline was no fluke either, as they have been in the top three in the NCAA for least penalties committed since 2007.
Navy was the most disciplined team in the nation in 2009 with 48 penalties committed, and again in 2011 when it committed just 28 penalties.
In 2011, those 28 penalties put the Midshipmen 12 ahead of San Jose State, which finished second best in the country.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s ability to keep his team disciplined has been a big reason for its success in the past few seasons.
As fast, athletic and generally talented as OSU is, they’ll also have to be disciplined this week because you can all but guarantee Navy won’t make more than a couple of mental errors.
5. Will four new starters on offensive line be able to protect Barrett?
The Buckeye offense, which has produced 7,228 rushing yards — a 278 yards-per-game average — and 82 rushing touchdowns in two seasons under Urban Meyer, returns just one starter on the offensive line.
That starter, junior Taylor Decker, has 14 career starts, all of which came last season. The rest of the offensive lineman have combined for just six starts.
Redshirt-sophomore Pat Elflein impressed while filling in for Marcus Hall in games against Michigan and Michigan State last season, but the rest of the offensive line remains truly unproven.
While Meyer named redshirt-senior Darryl Baldwin the starter at right tackle, the left guard and center positions are still up in the air. OSU’s week one depth chart lists redshirt-freshman Billy Price and senior Joel Hale as co-starters for the left guard spot while junior Jacoby Boren and redshirt-senior and Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay are listed as co-starters at center.
Whoever the starters end up being, the offensive line will have to protect Barrett in his first career start if the Buckeye offense is to have success.