One expects discipline of the service academies. Even so, Navy’s streak is impressive. Since 2004, they’ve always ended the season as one of the three least penalized* team’s in the country. And back in 2003 before that streak started? Well, then they dropped all the way down to fourth.
With that type of self-command, Navy tends to be the type of team the Buckeyes saw in 2009: A pesky squad that just won’t go away. That season, OSU relied on an intercepted two-point conversion that was returned for two points in the final minute to hold on 31-27.
More than just putting a scare into teams, though, the Midshipmen are known for pulling off the occasional upset. Since 2003, Navy has racked up 21 victories over the members of the so-called Power 5 conferences.
Keenan Reynolds, who owns a 15-6 (.714) career record as the starting quarterback, already has two wins over a Big Ten opponent. (Both times it was Indiana.) Five of his wins involved fourth-quarter comebacks, including the 2012 match-up with the Hoosiers.
Plus, Reynolds has a little extra motivation Saturday. He told The Baltimore Sun the first time he ever saw the Midshipmen play was that close call in 2009.
On top of that, “Growing up I was a Gator fan, when Urban Meyer was there,” Reynolds explained. “So I always wanted to be a Florida Gator and play for him. Now I get to play against him, so I think that’s pretty cool.”
Reynolds’ 31 rushing TDs last year were the most ever in the NCAA by a quarterback. In fact, he’s just the fourth player in NCAA history to rush for 30-or-more touchdowns in a season. He’s scored a rushing touchdown in 8-straight games, and if he adds another against OSU, it will tie the school record of nine set by Chris McCoy.
While the signal caller does most of his damage with his feet, he is capable of throwing one long. (One Buckeye player said the thing that stands out most about Reynolds is how much he can overthrow a pass.) Combine that with the fact that Navy runs the triple-option offense, which can tempt defensive backs to be overaggressive or lull them to sleep, and last year the Midshipmen averaged 15.1 yards a completion (6th in the country).
Make no mistake, though, the run game is Navy’s offensive staple. They had the second-ranked rushing offense nationally last year, rolling up an average of 325.4 yards per game. (They were just 122nd in passing offense.) In addition to Reynold’s carries, they’ll hand the ball to slotback DeBrandon “Bug” Sanders, who’s very generously listed at 5’7″. He romped for an average of 10.2 yards every time he he was handed the ball. The team’s other starting slotback is a poised senior out of Columbus, Ohio named Geoffrey Whiteside, who averaged 7.4 yards a carry last season.
One last thing about the offense? Navy has been working in some no-huddle into their scheme, so despite their reliance on the ground game, they ran a respectable 921 plays last year.
As far as the Middies defense, they return 7 starters, who all helped the team rank 40th last season in terms of the number of points they gave up per game (24.4 points).
Gone, though, are the team’s top two tacklers. On the other hand, they had three players record three interceptions each, and they’re all back. Chris Johnson, Parrish Gaines and Brendon Clements are all hoping to cause problems for the Buckeyes.
In addition, keep an eye on Paul Quessenberry. The defensive lineman has already earned two varsity letters, and he’s heavily motivated this season. His brother David was playing for the Houston Texans until just recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Finally, note that Navy returns both their punter and placekicker. So their special teams should be solid.
*In terms of penalties per game.