Urban Meyer and Tom Herman may not be wizards, but they just might be the closest thing we’ll see anytime soon. It’s never easy playing the United States Naval Academy (see Ohio State circa 2009) and it’s even more difficult to do so on an “away” site with a Redshirt Freshman Quarterback and a brand new offensive line with a brand new retinue of running backs.
Yet here we are, the Sunday after yet another opening win of the season, a definitive win if you look at only the box score and not the play on the field for four quarters. The freshman showed poise under pressure. The offensive line finally found a way to protect him and get him time to throw the ball and the new stable of tailbacks found holes and rumbled and stumbled their way towards a Buckeye 34-17 win. Yet anyone who watched the game can tell you that doubling up on Navy was never a sure thing, for most of the game.
J.T. Barrett came onto the field for the first time in the Scarlet and Gray and promptly completed a 14-yard pass to Devin Smith (keep an eye on that name) to shake off the jitters from jumpstreet. Despite a couple of nice passes to Jalin Marshall and even making a few broken plays last a it longer with his feet, he was unable to get any points on the board in the first half, instead just getting able to get kicker Sean Nuernberger into range. And the man’s range seems to be at least 46 yards from the right hash.
Whatever Meyer and Herman said in the locker room to Barrett at the half must have had an impact, because the team came out firing. His first two passes of the second half went for 22 and 80 yards, respectively, with one culminating in a Devin Smith touchdown (see, I knew we’d get back to him). All was magically well in Buckeye Nation, not only for the beautifully crafted touchdown pass, but for the knowledge that Ohio State is undefeated in games in which Smith catches a touchdown pass.
That play may not have been possible if not for the confidence boost that another freshman provided by doing what Ohio State historically does well. Play stifling, punishing defense.
Do well not to forget the name Darron Lee. This young man is Special. He was all over the field, reminiscent of some of the recent great linebackers of Ohio State. Undoubtedly the MVP of the defense on Saturday, despite the fantastic play of the entire defensive line, Lee was responsible for two huge plays that folks are still talking about more than 24 hours later. The scoop and score and the obliteration of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
The 61 yard fumble scamper for a touchdown sparked the Buckeyes in the second half and got things rolling towards the supposed foregone conclusion, but his hit on Reynolds is Shazier-esque. We’ll let the tape speak for itself.
I’m not sure we’ll see a full time starting running back for Ohio State this season. Of course, one will always be the first one to get a carry, but the way things played out on Saturday, I can foresee a tandem or even trio of tailbacks to get significant carries in games all season, barring unforeseen circumstances. Ezekiel Elliott, the “starting” running back, made his statement on the day for why the job should be his and his alone, as he ran roughshod over the Midshipmen for an average of 3.7 yards (and a cloud of dust) and a touchdown to seal the deal on the day.
Yet Curtis Samuel also made quite an impact. Together the tandem had only 99 yards, but they were quality yards when desperately needed to extend drives and break the will and spirit of the Naval Academy. Then you add Dontre Wilson. The speedster added 43 yards of his own, throwing his name into the ring as well. The embarrassment of riches that Meyer has in the backfield has to make opposing coaches both jealous and nervous. There are fresh legs and fresh looks on just about every play of the game, forcing defensive coordinators to defend not only against the punishing style of Samuel and Elliott, but also the speediness and hole finding abilities of Wilson.
The only unit we didn’t see much of this past Saturday was the secondary, given that Navy attempted all of 4 passes, connecting on only two for a total of 20 yards. 2 yards fewer than J.T. Barrett’s final touchdown pass for Michael Thomas.
You’re going to hear the label/title “Distributor” quite a bit this year, and for good reason. Barrett’s ability to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers is quickly showing to be his strongest suit. It might just be the very thing that Urban Meyer needs him to do this year. If the trend continues, it might just get him into the playoffs. That’s when the fun begins.