Well, at least the game’s at home.
The Navy Midshipmen have one of the toughest season-openers in all of college football this year, as they take on Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium on Aug. 30.
“Yeah, it’s a tough one,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said on The MoJo Show. “When I saw that schedule a couple years ago, it was a home-and-away with the Buckeyes. I’m like, ‘Holy smokes.’”
Ohio State is 24-2 under Urban Meyer, with both losses coming to teams that finished last season ranked in the top 10.
Still, it is worth noting that Navy almost upset Ohio State at the Horseshoe in 2009. Navy pulled to within 29-27 in the final minutes, but the Buckeyes held on for a 31-27 win.
That should give Navy hope, but Niumatalolo knows it’s not going to be easy.
“We know it’s going to be a tall order,” he said. “They’re a great football team. Braxton Miller is one of the best players in the country. Urban Meyer is arguably one of the best college football coaches of all time. It’s going to be tough. I’d say they’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Of course, it does help that Ohio State runs an offense with zone and option principles, but scheme is one thing; athleticism is another.
“If you’re drawing what they (do) on the board, (then yes, schematically, we see this a lot),” Niumatalolo said. “Unfortunately, you got to watch tape and see No. 5 (Miller) running around. The guy’s amazing. They’ve got good solid teams. There will be a lot of plays where people look like they got him boxed in and then he breaks loose for 30 yards, so it’s going to be tough. But like I said, I know our kids are looking forward to the challenge of playing against a great football team.”
Navy, to its credit, is coming off a 9-4 season and returns 15 starters – eight on offense and seven on defense. Its top player, without question, is junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, whom many believe is the best Navy quarterback since Roger Staubach.
What makes Reynolds so good?
“Well, first and foremost, it’s his decision-making,” Niumatalolo said. “I’ve been in the triple-option offense for 25 years and learned it from Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. (Reynolds is) as good as I’ve been around. He just makes great decisions.”
As a true freshman in 2012, Reynolds led Navy to a fourth-quarter comeback and a 28-21 overtime win against Air Force. Did we mention that he was a true freshman?
“I think then we realized that we had a guy who was mentally tough,” Niumatalolo said, “and he just continued to get better and better.”
Last year, Reynolds carried the ball as astounding 300 times for 1,346 yards and 31 touchdowns.
“I’m surprised he can still walk with that many carries as a quarterback,” Niumatalolo said, “but he’s a tough sucker – mentally and physically.”
In addition to Reynolds, Navy will rely on Noah Copeland, Chris Swain, Quinton Singleton and Demond Brown, among others, to carry the ball. The Midshipmen would love to equal – or surpass – the 436 points they scored a season ago.
“We’re as athletic as we’ve ever been, so hopefully that translates into some Ws,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re excited about those guys.”
Regardless of what happens against Ohio State, Navy’s most important game of the season is against Army on Dec. 13. Navy has won 12 straight in the series – in part because it has a distinct size advantage in the trenches. The Midshipmen, in fact, have not lost to Army since Niumatalolo has been on staff. He became the offensive coordinator in 2002 and the head coach in 2007.
“You got to have mass up front and you got to have speed,” Niumatalolo said. “That’s the name of the game. We’ve tried to get as big as we can be. There’s some military restrictions here, (but) we want to get as big as we can and try to be as fast as we can. The game is still about that. It’s about mass and speed.”