Preview: Ohio State at Navy
When senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller went down with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder Aug. 18, so did the realistic hopes of Ohio State winning its first national title since 2002. The No. 6 Buckeyes, though, will still play the season, which begins Saturday in Baltimore against Navy. "I like where we're at ... and I like how they responded to Braxton's injury," Ohio State third-year coach Urban Meyer told reporters. "So I think we're pretty ready."
Meyer said he thought Miller would be ready to go after suffering the original injury in a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but instead hands the keys to the offense to J.T. Barrett. "He's been taking the reins of the offense," left tackle Taylor Decker, the only returning starter on the offensive line, told reporters about the 6-1, 225-pound freshman. "He's stepped up, he's voiced up and he's kind of taken control." Navy, one of four independent teams along with Army, Brigham Young and Notre Dame, will be led by junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 31 last season.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (2013: 12-2): Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott (30 carries, 262 yards, two touchdowns last season) will attempt to fill the void left by Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 1,521 yards and 15 TDs last season before he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. Without Miller and Hyde, the Buckeyes - who own the nation's longest regular-season winning streak at 24 games - return only 11.5 percent of their offense. Ohio State's offensive linemen have combined for 20 career starts (second-fewest in the country to Tennessee's six) with the 6-7, 315-pound Decker responsible for 14 of them.
ABOUT NAVY (2013: 9-4): The Midshipmen finished second in the nation with 325.4 rushing yards per game last season, which culminated with a 24-6 victory over Middle Tennessee in the Armed Forces Bowl, and return six of their top seven rushers. "Talent-wise, I know we're as skilled as we've ever been," coach Ken Niumatalolo told reporters. "But that doesn't mean anything unless you produce on the field. We like our pieces, and hopefully they fit together." The 5-11, 195-pound Reynolds rushed for 1,346 yards while throwing for only 1,057 as Navy owned the nation's second-lowest passing attack at 85.9 yards per game.
1. Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday performed the surgery on Miller, who completed 63.5 percent of his passes while throwing 24 touchdowns.
2. Niumatalolo, who is 49-30 in six-plus seasons at Navy, needs seven wins to pass George Welch and become the school's all-time leader.
3. Ohio State won all four meetings, including a 31-27 victory in the last encounter.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 31, Navy 27
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