Despite its lackluster showing against Navy, Ohio State proved that it’s still a contender for Big Ten – and possibly national championship – honors this fall.
Make no mistake about it: the Buckeyes were far from perfect today. Navy’s ground game dominated this contest at times, rushing for 370 yards and an average of 5.9 yards per carry. Things didn’t look much better on the other side of the ball for Ohio State, as the Midshipmen defensive line got pressure on J.T. Barrett in the first half, disrupting a few plays and forcing an interception on first-and-goal from the Navy eight-yard line.
While all of those stats sound really bad, they’re not really that unexpected. Navy ranked fourth in the nation in runs longer than 10 yards last season, doing it an amazing 134 times. Similarly, Ohio State’s struggles with pass protection weren’t a complete surprise, as the Buckeyes have the second least experienced offensive line in the country, returning only 20 career starts. Only Tennessee – with six – has fewer.
On the other hand, Ohio State saw exactly what it needed to see in order to compete for the Big Ten crown this fall. Sure, Barrett isn’t the second coming of Braxton Miller, but he did prove that he could throw the home run ball when needed, and was surprisingly accurate (12-for-15). Likewise, the members of the Buckeye backfield played just fine without NFL-bound Carlos Hyde, combining to run for 190 yards and a respectable 4.9 yards per carry. That’s hardly a bad effort for the first game of the year with an offensive line that’s still trying to figure things out.
More importantly, the defense showed signs of improvement. Sure, the numbers weren’t perfect, but the front seven did a great job of taking Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds out of the game, holding him to a paltry 42 yards on 23 carries. And, even though the Buckeyes gave up some long drives, it’s worth noting that 30 percent of Navy’s drives were three-and-outs, and 50 percent of them were 20 yards or fewer.
In other words: that’s a relatively decent showing against a Navy attack that’s very difficult to duplicate in practice. That’s why so many defensive coordinators burn the game film from contests against triple option opponents.
Overall, it’s safe to say that based on today’s action Ohio State is still a contender in the Big Ten and for a spot in the College Football Playoff. It wasn’t a flawless effort like the ones turned in by fellow top contenders Michigan and Michigan State this weekend, but at the end of the day, Urban Meyer has to like what he’s seen so far. As long as the team continues to get better at the aforementioned areas – something that typically happens between games one and two – there’s no reason to count the Bucks out just yet.
It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against Virginia Tech next Saturday.