Ohio State-Navy: A Fresh Examination

The Braxton Miller injury has changed the way a lot of national commentators see the Ohio State Buckeyes. Should it change the way the Navy football team sees Urban Meyer’s team? On a fundamental psychological level? No. In terms of focusing on certain game keys and details? Yes. A brief look at a suddenly more intriguing season opener, next in this week’s dispatch.


Being in the shoes of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo must rate as a fascinating experience in the present tense, because the Midshipmen know that Ohio State just suffered a significant loss at football’s most important position heading into the much-hyped season opener in Baltimore on CBS Sports Network. Navy, as everyone in and around the program knows, gave Ohio State a lot of trouble a few years ago in Columbus, but that was in 2009, when the Buckeyes were coached by Jim Tressel. Meyer is a very different kind of coach when compared to Mister Sweater Vest, even though both men have achieved richly in their careers. Navy knows it can compete with Ohio State, and playing on more friendly terrain in the state of Maryland will give the Midshipmen the knowledge that if they’re close in the fourth quarter on Aug. 30, they can feed off the crowd in a way the 2009 team was unable to experience. Just what should be different – and unchanged – about this reunion with Ohio State?

What shouldn’t be different is the psychology. Yes, Navy players have surely and inwardly (not outwardly or publicly) fist-pumped in light of the knowledge that Miller won’t play. It’s a terrible event, something no athlete ever wants to see. Yet, there’s an involuntary and natural, almost biological, inclination to be more excited about a game in which a heavy favorite loses a key weapon and therefore becomes more beatable. Navy’s opportunity to win this game has increased; it doesn’t mean Navy will in fact win, and it doesn’t even mean Navy will keep this game close, but it does mean it’s easier to envision the perfect scenario in which the Midshipmen pull off the upset.

Yet, while this natural “OH, WE HAVE A CHANCE NOW!” reaction is pouring through the locker room, the players need to immediately bring themselves back to the ground. Navy players can say they’re grounded, and they can say all the right things in public, but when gameday arrives, they really and truly have to focus on the play in front of them, and nothing more. That’s it. The line between natural competitive exuberance and distraction-based overexuberance can’t be crossed. Navy has to respect that.

What should be different about this game? One could come up with many legitimate answers, so this is not an attempt to say or suggest that other answers are wrong. However, the primary answer from this vantage point seems to be the following: Shut off the huge plays.

With Miller in the lineup, it was going to be extremely difficult to stop Ohio State’s offense on third and three or any short down-and-distance situation in which the Buckeyees needed just a few yards. Dealing with a blitz or an aggressive defensive maneuver was and is something Miller would have done quite well… at least, that’s what one line of analysis would reasonably have concluded. As Ohio State turns to (in all likelihood) J.T. Barrett as its fill-in quarterback, there’s less certainty about his ability to handle those thorny third-and-three kinds of situations. Navy might fare better in those short-to-medium-yardage scenarios.

Therefore, the Midshipmen have to make sure that a foolish gamble on a quick-out pass; a busted coverage; a dropped can-of-corn interception; simple missed tackles that lead to 70-yard runs; and other defensive miscues don’t occur. If Navy can keep those kinds of plays to a minimum – at least to the extent that Ohio State gets no more than seven free points from them – the Midshipmen can reasonably expect to be competitive in the final minutes of regulation.

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