HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. OHIO STATE

HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. OHIO STATE

Navy meets Ohio State on Saturday in Baltimore. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

The Navy Midshipmen and fifth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will meet on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium (71,008) in Baltimore. This will be the fifth meeting between the two programs with Ohio State winning the previous four. Navy gave Ohio State a scare in 2009. Former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs rallied the Mids with two late touchdowns only to have his two point conversion attempt to tie the game picked off and return for two in Ohio State 31-27 win.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
OHIO STATE PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: OHIO STATE
REMARKS: Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is on his way to establishing himself as the best passing quarterback in the option era. Last season Reynolds completed 68 of 128 passes (53.1%) for 1,057 passing yards with eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He had a streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass in six straight games last season. Reynolds will be working with a new group of starting wide receivers this season. Senior wide receiver Brandon Dudeck is expected to start at X-WR and has the most experience. He is a solid blocker and has good hands but lacks speed. Last fall he made five receptions for 48 yards. The other new starter at wide receiver is sophomore direct admit Jamir Tillman Tillman (2 rec., 12 yards in 2013 ) played in seven games last year and saw more action later in the year. Tillman is the son of a former Denver Bronco receiver Cedric Tillman. He is a big receiver at 6-4”, 206 pounds who runs solid routes. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said this spring that Tillman reminds him of former Navy wide receiver Brandon Turner. DeBrandon Sanders led all slotbacks with 13 receptions for 223 receiving yards an a touchdown. The Mids have struggled to protect Reynolds at times last year. Navy ranked 123rd in the nation in sacks allowed. Reynolds will probably have to make at least a few big plays through the air like Ricky Dobbs did in 2009 for Navy to have any chance of pulling the upset.

Ohio State's pass defense was ranked just 112th in the nation last season Due to their high powered seventh ranked offense other teams threw a lot against the Ohio State defense because they often found themselves playing from behind. Still this group struggled more than it should have and new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash needs to get his defensive backfield to play at a higher level. The only returning starter in the defensive backfield is senior cornerback Doran Grant (58 tackles, 3 interceptions). The new strong safety is sophomore Tyvis Powell (48 tackles) who had a huge game saving interception against Michigan. The good news for Buckeyes fans is the return of the best defensive lines in football. Senior nose tackle Michael Bennett (42 tackles, 7.0 sacks) is a impact player. Defensive end sophomore Joey Bosa (44 tackles, 7.5 sacks) can really comes off the edge. He was a freshman All-American during a 2013 season. Ohio State will be without starting junior defensive end Noah Spence (52 tackles, 8.0 sacks) who is serving a two game suspension. Last year Ohio State posted 42 sacks and picked off 16 passes. If Ohio State can force Navy into third and long passing situations their talented defensive line should dominate the Mids.

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
OHIO STATE RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Navy's rushing offense finished second in the nation in rushing averaging 325.4 yards per game. It was their best showing since leading the nation in 2007. Keenan Reynolds finished last season with 1,346 rushing yards and a quarterback record setting 31 rushing touchdowns. He scored 188 points which shattering the old school record set by Bill Ingram way back in 1917. Reynolds ability gives the Mids a punchers chance in this game. The B-backs rushed for a combined 1,187 yards and nine touchdowns as they averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Expect to see the same rotation of Noah Copeland (339 yards, 4.9 APC, 2 TDs), Chris Swain (420 yards, 3.9 APC, 4 TDs) and Quentin Singleton (361 yards, 5.6 APC, 2 TDs) as last year. Navy will again use a deep slotback rotation featuring Geoffrey Whiteside (363 yards, 7.4 APC., 3 TDs), DeBrandon Sanders (340 yards, 8.1 APC, TD) and Demond Brown (220 yards, 9.6 APG., TD). Talented sophomore Dishan Romine, the fastest player on the team, injured his ankle in practice and is questionable for the opener. In a rarity Navy returned all of last years starting bowl offensive line. Senior right guard Jake Zuzek and senior left tackle Bradlyn Heap both earned All East honors last season.

Ohio State defense was ranked 12th in the country against the run last year. They allowed just 114 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. The front seven is loaded with size and speed. The Buckeye leading returning linebacker is junior Joshua Perry (64 tackles). The Ohio State defensive line is one of the best in the country even with Noah Spence missing the opener due to a suspension. Navy center Tanner Fleming will have his hands full with nose tackle Michael Bennett. Its one of the key matchups of the game. Ohio State should benefit from the extra time they had to prepare for Navy's option attack. Head coach Urban Meyer and former Army coach Ed Warinner understand the option and can help prepare the defense.

OHIO STATE PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: OHIO STATE
REMARKS: Ohio State's national championship aspirations took a huge hit when their superstar senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Braxton Miller suffered a season ending injury. Since this is Ohio state there is a former four star quarterback recruit in redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett ready to take over the helm. Barrett isn't nearly the athlete that Miller was but has been praised by Urban Meyer for his accuracy and work ethic. He has a number of terrific targets in senior Devin Smith (44 receptions for 660 yards, 8 TDs) who has game breaking speed. Explosive sophomore slot receiver Dontre Wilson is a dual threat as a receiver and runner in Urban Meyer's system. There is plenty of talented options at wide receiver for Ohio State but not much experience. At tight end senior Jeff Heuerman (26 for 466, 4TDs) is one of the better receiving tight ends in Ohio State history. Ohio State quarterback threw a combined 38 touchdown passes last season.

Navy is ranked 38th in pass defense last season. The Mids allowed a very high completion percentage (68.8%) and gave up 23 passing touchdowns. While those numbers aren't pretty the Mids allowed just 219 passing yards a game which is respectable and they intercepted 13 passes.The Mids don't get a lot of pressure on quarterbacks but do a good job of keeping the play in front of them in their bend-but-don't break scheme. The Navy defense held eight of its 13 opponents below their scoring average last season. The secondary's best player was junior Parrish Gaines ( 65 tackles, 3 Ints) who started every game. Gaines opened last year at right cornerback but was moved to free safety after the safeties tackling meltdown against Toledo. He started the final seven games at free safety. Gaines move to free safety stabilized a defense that allowed 14 points or less in three of its final four games. Gaines was named to the FBS All independent team. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green moved Kwazel Bertrand to Rover with Quincy Adams and Myer Krah in a battle to replace him at cornerback. I believe its a good move since Kwazel is such a heady player and more reliable tackler than senior Lonnie Richardson.

OHIO STATE RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: OHIO STATE
REMARKS: Ohio State ranked fifth in the country in rushing last year. The Buckeyes lost 60% of their rushing yards and touchdowns with the graduation of running back Carlos Hyde ( 1,521 yards) and the injury to quarterback Braxton Miller (1,068). There will probably be less read option from Ohio State with J.T. Barrett at quarterback. Barrett moves well but he's not the explosive runner Miller was in this offense. Ohio State will probably have a running back by committee to start the year. Ezekiel Elliott (262 yards), Rod Smith (117 yards), Dontre Wilson (250 yards) are all talented but will likely split time till one emerges. Ohio State returns only one starter from last year in left tackle Taylor Decker. Ohio State fans are concerned about the lack of experience up front but their size and athleticism will test Navy's defense.

Navy's rushing defense ranked 79th in the country last year. They allowed 178.8 rushing yards per game. They will be tested by the Buckeyes running attack. If Navy is to have any success in slowing down the Buckeyes running attack they will need a big game from 303-pound nose guard Bernie Sarra to keep Ohio State's guards off Navy's new inside linebackers. Navy has two of the their most athletic players as outside linebackers in their 3-4 defense. Chris Johnson is a very athletic defender with range to drop in coverage and make plays all over the field. He earned honorable mention All East recognition last fall. His backup William Tuider was moved over to the other outside linebacker because he's too fast and talented to be kept on the bench.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Ohio State is breaking in a new kicker with freshman Sean Nuernberger and senior kyle clinton competing for the spot leading up to the game. Cameron Johnston led the Big Ten last fall with a 44.0 yard average. He led the nation in percentage of punts downed inside the 20 (31 of 49; 63 pct.). Donte Wilson is an speedy returner who averaged 24.9 per return on 21 kickoffs last year.

Navy kicker Nick Sloan hit 10-of-14 field goals last season. Sloan did miss four extra points. Punter Pablo Beltran had a tremendous year averaging 41.4 yards on his 40 punts with 12 placed inside the 20-yard-line last fall. Beltran earned honorable mention All-East for his play. Look for DeBrandon Sanders and Demond Brown to return punt and kickoffs respectively. Navy's coverage teams were outstanding last year. It probably can he attributed to the depth and overall improved team speed. It was the best coverage units, allowing 19.8 on kickoffs and 6.5 on punt returns, that I can remember Navy fielding. .

COACHING
EDGE: OHIO STATE
REMARKS: Urban Meyer is the best coach in the game and has done a great job recruiting talent. Meyer is a two-time national champion coach who has the highest winning percentage. (837 pct; 128-25) of any active coach with at least 10 years of experience. Since accepting the Ohio State job his record is 24-2 and 16-0 in Big Ten Conference games. The Buckeyes set a school record with a 24-game winning streak under him. Meyer became the first coach in major college history to win 20 or more consecutive games on three different occasions. Ohio State had the summer to prepare for Navy's option offense and Urban Meyer and former Army coach Ed Warinner probably assisted the defensive staff in sharing their understand of how to defense the option attack.

Navy's football goals are the same each season; Beat Army, win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, win at least eight games and make a bowl game. Ken Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 49-30 (.620) record since being named head coach. Last fall he moved up to third all-time at Navy in career wins. Niumatalolo's team does not beat themselves. Navy has the fewest penalties per game (2.67) and in fewest penalty yards per game (22.00 yds/ gm) in the nation since 2008 when Ken became the head coach. Niumatalolo won his second bowl game as Navy defeated Middle Tennessee State 24-6 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces last season. He has done a tremendous job recruiting talent the past few years.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Any chance that Ohio State might overlook Navy ended with the season ending injury to quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes should rally around redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. Ohio State lost it last two games last year. Meyer wasn’t here but he will remind his team how Navy gave the Buckeyes a battle in 2009.

Navy will be pumped up to kick off the season in M&T Bank stadium in a other marquee early season game against a top opponent. Navy has since 2009 lost by four points or fewer in three of these five marquee games and beat Big Ten Indiana on the road last year. Ken Niumatalolo will have the Mids ready to compete.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Navy 28. I believe Navy's veteran offense will compete and play well but I do not think the Navy defense will get enough stops against the Buckeyes high power offense.

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