The Buckeyes and Navy appeared equal for 40 minutes, but the young Buckeyes found their gear over the last 20, pulling away to a 34-17 win in the season opener in M&T Bank Stadium.
Navy ran for 370 yards, becoming the first OSU opponent to top 300 in nearly 20 years, but Ohio State countered with three long touchdown drives in the final 20 minutes to salt away the win.
The last was eight plays, 70 yards and ended when redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett completed his standout debut by hitting Mike Thomas for a 9-yard TD pass on a screen to set the final margin with 2:09 to play.
Barrett finished 12 of 15 with 226 yards passing while throwing for two second-half touchdowns. He had 50 yards rushing as well.
The game turned early in the second half. Navy looked to be asserting itself and adding to its one-point halftime lead when, on third-and-3 in OSU territory, Joey Bosa forced Navy QB Reynolds to make a poor pitch on an option play. The ball popped right up to Darron Lee, who raced untouched 61 yards down the left sideline to give the Buckeyes a 13-7 lead after Sean Nuernberger’s point-after try.
But the Mids responded immediately. On the first play, senior Ryan Williams-Jenkins took a dive up the middle, cut left behind a block and found nothing but open space, motoring 67 yards before finally being brought down inside the OSU 20. Three plays later, Reynolds snuck over the line for a touchdown that gave Navy the lead right back at 14-13.
The big blow for Ohio State though came when Devin Smith pulled in a touchdown catch with 4:11 to play in the third quarter. Smith got behind the Navy defense and pulled in a game-changing 80-yard touchdown, pulling through a tackle from Kwazel Bertrand and going the distance to make it 20-14.
Navy answered with an 11-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard field goal by Nick Sloan that pulled the Midshipmen back within three, but Ohio State did what it had to do on its next drive, marching 80 yards to increase the lead to two scores. OSU barely converted a fourth-and-1 near midfield but overpowered Navy from there, with Ezekiel Elliott taking the ball the final 10 yards untouched to give OSU a 27-17 lead with 8:54 left.
The first half was balanced, with Ohio State taking a 162-155 edge in yards to the locker room but Navy holding a 7-6 lead.
Ohio State opened the scoring on its second drive of the year, taking over at its own 43 and moving 28 yards – the last 16 on a third-down pass to Dontre Wilson after Barrett was sacked – before Nuernberger booted a 46-yard field goal that made it a 3-0 lead.
Navy replied with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead. The Mids moved efficiently until hitting the goal line, as the first three plays gained just 2 yards and set up fourth-and-goal at the 1. On fourth down, Navy pitched the ball left to slot back DeBrandon Sanders, who raced to the corner, dove and applied the faintest of touches to the pylon while being chased by Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell.
That gave Navy a 7-3 lead with 14:04 to play in the second quarter, but Ohio State looked like it would answer midway through the frame. Barrett hit a 30-yard pass over the middle to Wilson to set up first-and-goal at the 8, but on the next play, Barrett avoided the rush but threw the ball right to Navy safety Parrish Gaines.
A Navy fumble on the ensuing drive was overturned when it was ruled by review to be a forward pass, but the Buckeyes still got the ball at the Mids’ 41 after forcing a punt. Two quick rushes by Curtis Samuel gained 19 yards and the Buckeyes eventually had third-and-goal at the 4 before Elliott was stopped for a 7-yard loss on an option play. Nuernberger came in and drilled a 28-yard field goal, which set the halftime score when Sloan missed a 36-yarder to end the half.
Samuel paced the OSU running backs with 45 yards on seven carries while Smith had two catches for 94 yards and a TD.
Reynolds, a preseason Heisman candidate, ran for 42 yards on 23 carries but often had the Navy attack purring. Williams-Jenkins had 118 rushing yards for Navy.
OSU will return to the field with a prime-time contest next Saturday in Ohio Stadium vs. Virginia Tech.