Buckeye’s Quarterback JT Barrett had a very solid first game throwing 12/15 for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns with one “young mistake” interception. He also carried the ball 9 times for 50 yards, surprisingly leading all OSU rushers. Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel, and Ezekiel Elliott all carried for 44 yards a piece, in a great display of offensive balance. Elliott was the only one to also notch a touchdown. The passing game was also a demonstration of balance with most receivers getting a pair of looks. Devin Smith led all recievers with 94 yards and a touchdown, while Michael Thomas was also able to cross the endzone.
For Navy, Keenan Reynolds was 2/4 passing for 20 yards, and carried 23 times for 42 yards and a TD. Ryan Williams-Jenkins led all rushers with 118 yards on just 7 carries. DeBrandon Sanders also scored for the Midshipmen one one of his 6 carries.
The Buckeyes got the first opportunity to operate with the football. JT Barrett came out firing, delivering a nice screen pass for a first down on the first play from scrimmage. Unfortunately, a slightly misthrown (and uncaught) pass to Wilson started a sequence that ended with the Bucks being forced to punt. The major positive, however, was what looked like excellent decision making from the young OSU QB in his first series of the game.
Navy found themselves pinned on their own one yardline after a fantastic punt from Johnston. Keenan Reynolds, Navy’s QB, did a good job of reading the OSU defense and was able to work the Academy out from the shadow of their own goalpost, helped by excellent blocking up front. This was no surprised to anyone who has followed the Naval Academy’s football team the last few years. These guys will get their yards regardless of what you do to stop them. Luckily, the drive stalled on the 20 when Reynolds struggled with his ball handling on second down.
JT Barrett quickly got his offense moving with excellent field position near the 50. The Bucks showed a primarily running attack on this drive, using Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalin Marshall out of the backfield to move the football. An impressive sack, followed by an unfortunate holding call, stymied the otherwise impressive Buckeyes. This gave the freshman placekicker Neurnbeurger an opportunity to show his stuff on a 46 yard field goal attempt that he drilled straight down the middle.
The triple option attack proved to be particularly effective today against the Buckeye defense. Reynolds was able to swiftly move the Midshipmen into scoring position inside the 5 yard line by dinking and dunking their way down the field. However, once they got to the one, the Buckeye D-line wasn’t having any more of it. They engaged in an impressive goal-line stand that forced Navy into a 4th and short. A toss play to the left side was nearly pushed out of bounds by the linebackers, but the runningback did a nice job stretching out to tap the pylon for the TD.
Both teams traded 3-and-outs on their next couple series. JT Barrett engineered a very good drive all the way down the field after a stupid Eli Apple block-in-the-back penalty ruined what could have been excellent field position. Using Jalin Marshall in both the running and passing game, the Bucks found themselves inside the 10 yard line. Unfortunately, JT Barrett made his first freshman mistake of the game when he broke away from a potential sack and attempted a pass to Dontre Wilson – with a Navy defender standing exactly between them. The interception was the first turnover of the game, but put Navy on their own two yard line for the resulting drive.
The Bucks were able to force another three and out inside the 10 yard line, and earned great field position following Dontre Wilson’s return to the Navy 40 yard line. Unsurprisingly, the Buckeyes elected to keep it on the ground for the majority of the drive, getting a nice first down on a broken pass play when Barrett was forced to scramble for 10 yards. However, Navy’s defense stiffened at the right time to stop the Buckeyes and force another field goal.
A poor kick following the field goal gave Navy stellar field position to work from with only two minutes to go in the half. Navy took advantage and drove down to field goal range. With only seconds left on the clock, they took a shot for three and missed wide right. This left the Buckeyes down only one going into the locker room after what can only be described as a rough first half.
It didn’t take long after the half for the Bucks to finally break the goalline, but it wasn’t the offense that did it first. Reynolds was hit by Joey Bosa as he pitched the ball on an option run, causing it to bounce off his target. Darron Lee was in the right place at the right time to scoop up the resulting fumble and truck it 60 yards into the endzone. This gave OSU their first lead since the opening field goal of the game.
Things were looking grim for Navy on their next drive, having to start deep in their own territory. However, Ryan Williams-Jenkins broke a huge gain to get the Midshipmen inside the 20 yard line. That allowed the offense to shake off their previous mistake and swiftly put themselves into position to score another touchdown to retake the lead. A Reynold’s QB sneak from the 1 yard line was all that was required to finish the job.
The offense tried to get a drive going, demonstrating some nice passing from JT Barrett to Mike Thomas to get the team to midfield. Unfortunately, on third and a few, Ezekiel Elliott appeared to earn the first down by leaning over a Navy player. He was called short, and the Buckeyes rushed to try to run a fourth down play that was ultimately unsuccessful. This gave Navy more great field position to work from, which they tried to exploit. However, the Buckeye defense stood tall and managed to force a 3rd and 23 (and eventually 4th and 28) after catching Reynold’s in the backfield twice.
The Buckeyes offense finally notched one on the scoreboard late in the 3rd quarter. On first down from their own 20, JT Barrett ran a play-action fake to perfection and delivered a well thrown ball deep to a wide open Devin Smith. Smith needed only to high step out of an attempted tackle before he could run the remaining 40 yards uncontested to the endzone.
Navy wasn’t going to allow OSU to completely steal the momentum. Following the touchdown, Navy attacked on the ground repeatedly, finding no trouble moving the football on the Buckeye defense. It took no time for Reynold’s to get inside the 20, but the moment they got there the Silver Bullets stiffened and forced Navy to kick a field goal. This time, Nick Sloan was able to knock it through the uprights to close the differential to three.
The Buckeyes stepped up and responded to the Navy score. OSU used a nice mix of passes and runs to keep the ball moving. Some nice tackling from the Middies forced the Bucks to go for a 4th and short with an Ezekiel Elliott run that was awfully close, but ultimately successful. Three plays later, involving a nice wheel route to Evan Spencer, a great run up the gut from Wilson, and finally another run from Elliott, gave the Buckeyes a much needed touchdown and a 10 point lead.
The OSU defense gave Navy no running room on their following drive, and the Buckeye offense was able to come out and eat clock like candy . The Bucks kept the ball on the ground, running with Wilson and Elliott, but also with JT Barrett more than a few times. Barrett is by no means the same quality of runner as Braxton Miller, but he is good enough to keep defenses honest, which is exactly what OSU needs. The drive ended with another touchdown, this time on a screen pass in the flat to Mike Thomas which he was able to run in from 9 yards out.
Ultimately, this football team shows a lot of promise. They are by no means a finished product, as there are obviously plenty of opportunities for them to learn. That said, they made great adjustments in the second half and continued to play their style of football. The receiving corps looks good and spent a fair amount of the game wide open, making things easy for Barrett, who connected on a few good passes. Also, the running game, while not as amazing as last season, was quite effective. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on it as the year progresses.
The defense deserves its own focus. The linebackers look flat-out good. This is a huge step up for the Bucks after the last few seasons. The secondary didn’t get tested nearly enough, and the D-line was schemed out of the game by the triple option, so we’ll have to wait to evaluate them better. That said, both units made plenty of good plays, and it’ll be exciting to see how they perform in upcoming matchups – particularly next week.
The Bucks will next face the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday, September 6th. You’ll be able to see that game in Columbus, Ohio at 8 PM Eastern time, and will be covered by ESPN.