First up, this is our chance to finally end the speculation and see exactly what Ohio State has in mind for the offense. It’s been long speculated that 3 WR sets will be the preferred set for Ohio State in 2009 and any comments from Darrell Hazell seem to confirm it. Currently, the 3 wide receivers are DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher and Taurian Washington, the last of whom will make his much awaited appearance into the fold against Navy. Washington has had great springs for the past two years now, but the first of it didn’t translate to anything useful on the field. Hazell says that it was a confidence issue, and that Washington has done enough to convince Hazell that he’s ready. While we’re certain that we’ll be seeing 3 WR sets, we don’t seem to know right now whether Pryor will be under center in an ace formation, if he will be operating mostly out of the shotgun, or if there’ll be a healthy balance of both. I’ll be watching for this on Saturday.
This will also be our opportunity to see the offensive line play under the much maligned offensive line coach Jim Bollman. The starting five, going left to right, will feature Andy Miller, Justin Boren, Michael Brewster, Bryant Browning and Jim Cordle. Justin Boren is fine and no one is expecting any adverse effects from his MCL tweak a few weeks ago. Andy Miller will be starting in a game situation for the first time. Further, we’ll get to judge other important offensive line questions, such as:
- How much did Michael Brewster improve now that he has (basically) a full season as a starter under his belt and was able to do winter conditioning and spring training for the first time?
- Will moving Cordle from guard to tackle and Browning from tackle to guard pay dividends?
- How will Ohio State pass block against a 3-4 defense that invites some confusion in pass protection?
Long story short, expect some very loud groans of disapproval if the offensive line is not able to prey on Navy’s defensive front. It’s not clear what the offensive strategy for Ohio State’s offense will be, but I’m guessing the Buckeyes will try to break in the season by establishing things on the ground and allow Terrelle to throw liberally later (as opposed to 3rd and long situations). The game plan will be worth watching.
Of course, any preview for Navy would be remiss for omitting the flexbone triple-option offense that the Middies run. I know I’ve said it elsewhere, but I’m a big fan of Navy and service academy football in general. I’ve watched Navy for several years now and very much admire the offensive philosophy that Navy ran under current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and run today under Ken Niumatalolo. It’s a delightful relic of plains state strategy that remains as vibrant and effective today as it did 30 years ago. It’s a ball-control philosophy. Indeed, Navy doesn’t feel forced to throw the ball and has demonstrated they can actually go a game without doing so. They’ll throw the ball approximately 10 times in any given game2 because, by sheer force of will, they find themselves in manageable down and distance scenarios that will allow them to continue running the ball. After all, nothing hides an undersized defense quite like keeping the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands.
What makes the offensive attack so unique is, by virtue of its isolated use, no team is really prepared for it. Blowing it up is tricky and requires the defense to be alert, aware of where the ball is, aware of what the guards are doing, what the WB/SB and tight ends are doing, and aware of their individual responsibilities. So what is there to consider regarding the showdown between Ohio State’s defense and Navy’s offense?
- It’s not simply just “assignment football” that you’ll hear people like Bob Davie mention when they erroneously refer to Navy’s formation as the Wishbone. If Niumatalolo and the offensive coordinator is watching the defense carefully, they can just as easily change the assignments. If you’re an opposing defensive coordinator, all hell can break loose if you don’t come up with an adequate response. Watch this clip of one of my favorite beatdowns that I got to watch on TV while in college — Navy v. Rutgers in 2004 (I believe). “Assigning” a safety to the pitch back doesn’t seem so bright when the fullback is running behind you, with ball and lead blockers in tow.
- In these types of offenses, the more you make the offense do, the better. You want Navy to make sure it doesn’t feel they can keep handing off to the dive back. You even want them to pitch the ball. There’s greater probability of error when the offense has to do more than it’d like.
- Further, the last thing you want to do is invite Navy into plays that get it 3-4 yards every time. Navy will 3-yard you to death if you let them. Establishing the fullback is something Navy wants to do. It’s a triple option, and Navy wants opposing defenses to respect all three elements of it.
- It’s important for outside linebackers to not get caught in no-man’s land. Watch this clip from Georgia v. Georgia Tech in 2008, and watch the critical error that the outside linebacker for the Bulldogs makes. With the talent discrepancy Navy faces against Ohio State, I think you would want your playside linebacker teeing off on the pitchback, especially if the wide receivers are going to be on the short side of the field as they are in this clip.
Hell if I can put together an adequate defensive game plan. I don’t claim to have the answers, but those are some things that immediately jumped out to me. I’m fascinated with what LSU was able to do to Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl last year. As no fan of LSU, I was anticipating their demise in that game but was disappointed when I got none of it. Still, I think LSU revealed a lot of interesting things in that game. I’ve never seen backside pursuit emphasized so much in containing the triple option out of the flexbone. It was astonishing to watch what LSU did to Georgia Tech’s offensive line, especially the interior of it. You can render a lot the triple option’s second-level blocking assignments moot if the defensive line up front is dominating. Actually, you can render any offense’s blocking assignments moot with a dominant defensive line. Ohio State will probably ask a lot of its defensive line, and Rolle in the middle as well, to make Navy’s offense as one dimensional as possible.
- This is the 4th meeting between the two schools. Ohio State is 3-0, with the last meeting being in the 1981 Liberty Bowl.
- Ohio State has not lost a season opening game at home since 1978 against Penn State. This was the infamous game where Woody, master of suspense, sent both Rod Gerald and highly-touted freshman Art Schlichter in the same huddle. Gerald became a split end and Schlichter became the interception machine this game.
- Tressel has a history with this offense. It didn’t end so well when Tressel’s Youngstown State Penguins played Paul Johnson’s Georgia Southern squad.
- I’m hoping the refs pay careful attention to Navy’s offensive line and how they block. I’m not accusing Navy of playing dirty, but chop blocks are a recurring problem with the Midshipmen. It happens in this type of offense when you don’t have elite offensive linemen that are able to watch their pad level in accordance with their blocking assignment.
- Navy has 8 Ohioans on their roster.
- Astro-Senator John Glenn, a man I got to meet on several occasions in college (for a period, he even knew my name), will join an elite fraternity when he dots the “I” during Script Ohio. I’m very happy for him; he’s a very cool guy if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting him.
- Ohio State is listed as a 21.5 point favorite. It would be great if it worked out that way, but I’m not expecting the Buckeyes to cover.