Defensive coordinator Buddy Green is the graybeard of the Navy football coaching staff.
He has been coaching college football since 1979 and the majority of that time has been spent as a defensive coordinator. The 63-year-old has pretty much seen it all during his 35 years in the business, but Saturday will provide a new experience.
For the first time in his career, Green will scheme against an offense designed by Urban Meyer, who has a reputation as one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football. Entering his third season as head coach at Ohio State, Meyer is recognized as one of the pioneers of the spread offense and his teams have always put up big numbers in terms of yardage and points.
"He's an outstanding coach and that is obvious just by watching how the Ohio State offense performs," Green. "Everything they do is like clockwork and they have so many different ways to attack you. They give you a lot of formations and make you defend the entire field. They give you a lot of problems. You can't circle any one thing and say this is what we have to stop. They can hurt you in so many ways."
Ohio State averaged 45.5 points and 511.9 total yards en route to a 12-2 record in 2013. With quarterback Braxton Miller leading the way, the Buckeyes averaged 308.6 rushing yards and 203.3 passing yards per game.
"(Ohio State) has one of the best offenses in the country in all phases. They've scored a lot of points against a bunch of good defenses last year," Green said. "They have tremendous speed and the offensive line is just massive. They can pound you inside for big yardage or beat you outside with their speed. They do a great job with the play-action pass game and have the speed to hurt you deep. They are very, very talented at every position. They have a great system."
But Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, so the Ohio State offense will now be led by redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. It will be interesting to see whether Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman scale back the offense for Barrett, who has not played in a real game in almost two years. He suffered a season-ending leg injury early in his senior season at Rider High in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Green said he's preparing the same way he would if Miller were starting since Barrett was a four-star recruit who possesses superb size (6-1, 225), speed and athleticism.
"You just have to get ready for what you've seen on tape. They have a great coaching staff that will have this kid ready. They know exactly what they're trying to accomplish as far as their package and they will get him ready to run it," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Meanwhile, Navy has a proven veteran at the controls of its own triple-option offense. Junior Keenan Reynolds is beginning his third season as a starter and owns a 15-6 record. He has engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks.
Reynolds, who set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 31 in 2013, has been mentioned as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. After amassing 2,403 yards from scrimmage as a sophomore, the Tennessee native has a chance to introduce himself to a national audience by performing well against a perennial powerhouse.
Most college football fans associate spread offense with finesse teams that rely on a short to intermediate passing plays. Niumatalolo has told anyone who will listen that Ohio State is an extremely physical club that will play smash-mouth football.
Ohio State left tackle Tayler Decker, who is 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds, will be going up against Navy defensive end Will Anthony (6-1, 246). Ezekiel Elliott (6-0, 225), who is expected to start at tailback for the Buckeyes, is bigger than most of the Midshipmen's linebackers.
"There are all sorts of different variations of the spread. Some guys get in the gun and throw the ball around. These guys will hit you in the mouth. That's always been Urban Meyer's mentality," Niumatalolo said. "They're going to come off the football and punch you in the mouth, they're going to mash you. First and foremost, they are a very physical team. This isn't one of those teams that comes out and slings 90 bubble screens a game."
Ohio State's defense, meanwhile, must find a way to contain Navy's triple-option offense, which produced 33.5 points and 411.3 total yards per game in 2013. Reynolds has plenty of options with fullback Noah Copeland, slotbacks Geoffrey Whiteside and DeBrandon Sanders and wide receiver Jamir Tillman leading the way.
USA Today rated Ohio State's defensive line, anchored by senior tackle Michael Bennett and sophomore end Joey Bosa, as the nation's best and Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper admitted that unit will be tough to block.
"They're physical, they're athletic, they're gifted… they check every box," Jasper said
"The tough thing is that we don't know how they're going to line up. We have a plan, but once we get into the game we'll find out what they are doing and may have to adjust real fast. We feel we have an answer for anything we see. It's going to be a challenge, but we have to find a way to move the football."