Army coach Jeff Monken set a praiseworthy tone early this week when he previewed Saturday’s matchup at Ohio State.
“Getting ready for an unbelievable opponent,’’ Monken said. “They may be the most talented football team Army has faced in program history.’’
Program history! Lofty words, indeed.
Somehow, it doesn’t feel that lofty for the Buckeyes (1-1), who must rebound from a 31-16 home loss against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Unquestionably, the Black Knights (2-0) present a challenge. Here are five storylines to watch when Army faces Ohio State.
1. Stopping The Option
Ohio State’s defense has been torched through the air (allowing an average 403 passing yards per game, ranking 130th and worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision).
That average will plummet. Army has attempted 10 passes (completing two) this season. But rushing? A different matter. After finishing second in FBS rushing last season, the Black Knights are at it again, averaging 417.5 yards on the ground through two games.
Army’s triple-option offense usually drives opposing coaches to distraction. It requires attention to assignments, fundamentals and discipline. Black Knights quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw is a magician, so the Buckeyes must take every play seriously. One slight mistake on a routine play and Army could have a touchdown.
After nerve-wracking performances against Indiana and Oklahoma, the Buckeyes could use a breather. Not this week.
2. Regaining The Swagger
Let’s keep things in perspective. Ohio State still has 10 regular-season games remaining. Plenty of time. The Big Ten Conference championship remains very much in play.
But the loss against Oklahoma has knocked the Buckeyes back on their heels. What does Ohio State need? A crisp, mistake-free, well-played effort. And a victory, of course.
If the Buckeyes take care of business from start to finish, it would be a welcome boost to the program’s confidence.
3. Turnaround For J.T. Barrett
Barrett, Ohio State’s senior quarterback and three-time captain, remains under fire. Some fans are clamoring to see backup Dwayne Haskins. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer quickly and decisively said Barrett’s benching isn’t going to happen at this point.
Barrett’s regression dates to the latter part of last season. Things weren’t clicking then and they aren’t clicking now. Of course, part of the issue might be a retooled offensive line and an inexperienced receiving corps.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson — also under fire by fans — needs to dial up some plays that put Barrett in the best position to succeed.
One of football’s cornerstones, and an aspect that has not been well-executed by the Buckeyes.
It’s paramount that things improve against Army. Last week against Oklahoma, Meyer said too many Buckeyes were caught out of position or trying to do too much.
Everyone on defense must simply do their job. That means getting the Black Knights on the ground quickly and efficiently.
5. The Running Game
Buckeyes freshman J.K. Dobbins is averaging 6.0 yards per carry (on 42 rushes), while sophomore Mike Weber is at 9.7 (on just three carries against Oklahoma).
Somehow, the Buckeyes got away from running against the Sooners. Whether it speaks to play-calling or game situations, the Buckeyes must stick with it.
Feeding Dobbins (and Weber, a 1,000-yard rusher from last season, who has been somewhat lost in the shuffle due to an injury in the opener) should lead to success.
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