Minus Miller, Meyer navigates new-look Ohio State

The Sports Xchange

August 26, 2014 at 12:38 pm.

Ohio State's playoff hopes may rest on the right arm of J.T. Barrett. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With so much attention focused on the season-ending injury to quarterback Braxton Miller and how his loss affects Ohio State’s Big Ten and College Football Playoff chances, the fifth-ranked Buckeyes now must put that aside and worry about the task at hand, which is the opener against Navy at noon ET on Saturday in Baltimore.

Ohio State begins the regular season with a road game for the first time since 1999 -when it travels to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Midshipmen.

With redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett starting his first game at quarterback and question marks on the offensive line, the Buckeyes will have something to prove against an opponent that figures to be a challenge because of its unique offense.

Coach Urban Meyer only has to flip the calendar back to 2009 to see why that could be the case. In the opener that season in Ohio Stadium, Navy rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull within 29-27 with 2:23 left. The Middies went for the two-point conversion and a tie, but the pass was picked off and returned the other way for a score and the No. 6-ranked Buckeyes escaped with a 31-27 win.

While Meyer has plenty of respect for Navy, he feels good about the talent on his team – despite the loss of Miller.

“I like where we’re at, especially after (Monday’s) practice, and I like how they responded to Braxton’s injury,” he said. “So I think we’re pretty ready.”

Entering the final days of preparation for the season, starting positions were still up for grabs at center, left guard, wide receiver and cornerback. That’s a good thing, Meyer said, because the competition is fierce for those spots.

“If they’re bad players, you got a problem. If they’re (two) really good players and they’re just battling and battling and battling, it means they’re both going to play,” Meyer said. “That’s kind of normal this time of year. Like I couldn’t tell you the starting receivers either right now. … And all of them could march in, and they all deserve playing time, so it’s just a matter of who breaks the huddle first. ”

The Ohio State defense will be focused on slowing down Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Another senior in Navy’s backfield with extra motivation Saturday is Geoffrey Whiteside, a Columbus native who rushed for 97 yards last year in a win at Indiana.

“I don’t believe I’ve been in this situation facing a team quite like this,” Meyer said. “I talked to about two or three of my colleagues who have been in this situation and there are some things, game management areas, where we’re going to adjust a little bit.”

Ohio State’s offense figures to attack Navy’s 3-4 defense with creative use of its playmakers and the power of its running game. Four running backs – Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, Rod Smith and Brionte Dunn – have looked good in preseason camp.

“They are all very involved,” Meyer said.