College Football

Saturday's matchup: Navy-Ohio State game breakdown

NAVY KEY: EXECUTE BLOCKING ASSIGNMENTS

Opponents with strong defensive lines have given Navy trouble in the past and Ohio State has one of the nation's best. Senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett, who has 17 ½ career tackles for loss, anchors the unit. End Joey Bosa was a Sporting News Freshman All-American last season.

By far the best way to disrupt the triple-option is for the defensive line to beat blocks one-on-one to get penetration and the Buckeyes certainly have a group capable of doing so.

"Everything starts up front for us and we're going against one of the best defensive lines, if not the best, in the country. We better come ready to play or it could get ugly," Niumatalolo said.

Navy has an experienced offensive line with five returning starters. Senior Jake Zuzek, who has made 26 consecutive starts at right guard, is the leader of the unit. Senior offensive tackle Bradyn Heap has played in 23 games with 15 starts. The Mids will likely start Blaze Ryder at center since he is more adept at going against a 4-3 defensive alignment.

Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson previously coached at Penn State, which Navy played in 2012.

"Larry Johnson's style emphasizes penetration. He preaches coming off the ball and getting upfield," Niumatalolo said. "We need to keep our negative plays to a minimum. We keep the sticks moving. We can't get into third-and-long situations because that's not our MO."

OHIO STATE KEY: CONTAIN THE TRIPLE-OPTION

Navy has shown many times before that it can move the ball and score points against powerful defenses. The Midshipmen marched up and down the field at will in almost upsetting Notre Dame last season, piling up 34 points on 419 total yards.

This will be the first time any member of Ohio State's defense has gone against a true triple-option opponent and it will no doubt take time to adjust to the speed at which Navy executes. Reynolds had the unique offense operating at a high level last season as the Mids ranked second nationally in rushing average with 325.4 yards per game.

"They're very, very good at what they do," said former Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, who watched Navy amass 342 total yards in the 2009 meeting between the schools. "They've run it for a long time and they're probably not going to make a mistake. The key for the defense is to not make any mistakes."

INURY REPORT: Navy – Reserve slotback Dishan Romine (ankle) is questionable. Ohio State – Quarterback Braxton Miller (shoulder) is out for the season, linebacker Trey Johnson (knee) is doubtful, running back Ezekiel Elliott (wrist) is probable, defensive linemen Noah Spence and Tracy Sprinkle are suspended.

SERIES HISTORY: Ohio State leads 4-0, having won the last meeting 31-27 in the 2009 season opener in Columbus.

OF NOTE: Navy's last victory over an opponent ranked top five in the Associated Press poll came in November, 1984 when it upset No. 2 South Carolina, 38-21, in Annapolis.

•Ohio State has the nation's longest regular season winning streak of 24 games.

•Ohio State boasts a 33-2 record in its last 35 season openers. Head coach Urban Meyer is 12-0 in season openers. Navy is 8-4 in season openers during the current triple-option era, but just 3-3 under current head coach Ken Niumatalolo.

•A victory on Saturday would be the 50th for Niumatalolo and tie him with Eddie Erdelatz (50-26-8 from 1950-58) for second all-time at Navy.

•Ohio State's offensive linemen have combined for just 20 career starts, second fewest in the country behind Tennessee (6).

•J.T. Barrett is just the second freshman to start a season opener at quarterback for Ohio State during the modern era (1950 on).

QUOTE-UNQUOTE: "I have such respect for the United States Naval Academy, and I played them every year when I was at Notre Dame. And we played Air Force every year when I was at Utah and Colorado State. It's typical back when Air Force was winning the Commander in Chief Trophy all the time like Navy does now, it's just incredible efficiency in offense and that odd three-four defense where they're all over the place. So they have good players. So there's anxiety a little bit more this year just because of who we're playing and the quarterback and the skill that they have."

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer

"This is the toughest opening opponent we've had in my 17 years here. Ohio State is super talented and extremely well-coached. It's a tough, hard-nosed football team that is really disciplined and loaded with great athletes. It is a very daunting task to prepare for a team of that caliber."

-Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo

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