Navy-Ohio State preview: Three story lines to watch

The Post Sports Live crew predicts which four college football teams will make the first playoffs for the new system. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
August 29, 2014

Three story lines to watch in the Navy football team’s season opener vs. No. 5 Ohio State at noon Saturday at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium:

Avoid the hype

Despite the storied tradition and national prominence of their opponent, Navy players have been trying to keep Saturday matchup in perspective. It is only Week 1, after all, and while an upset to what the team hopes will be one of the most memorable seasons in program history, there are other long-term goals that remain regardless of the outcome.

“We can’t make the game bigger than it is,” starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds said. “We’ve just got to focus on doing what we do.”

Reynolds watched on television the last time the teams met, in the 2009 season opener at Ohio Stadium. The Midshipmen lost, 31-27, after their two-point conversion pass to tie in the closing minutes was intercepted and returned the distance.

Keep it moving

Winning time of possession and extending drives have been staples for Navy during the triple-option era and are in part how the Midshipmen have been able to be competitive against power-conference schools despite a disadvantage in size, speed and depth.

Controlling the clock figures to be of paramount importance against the Buckeyes, who still have aspirations to reach the BCS playoffs after losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the season.

Navy finished sixth in the country last season on third-down conversions and 11th in fourth-down tries, but the coaching staff also has faith in place kicker Nick Sloan, whose 84 points in 2013 were the third most in school history. The junior needs 38 points to become Navy’s all-time scoring leader among kickers.

Play mistake-free

The Midshipmen consistently have been among the most disciplined teams in the country when it comes to limiting self-inflicted errors. They’ll have to continue that trend in order to have a shot at claiming their first win against a top five opponent since 1984.

Last season Navy had an FBS low 10 turnovers and was first in fewest penalties per game (2.6) and fewest penalty yards (21.7). Since 2008, the Midshipmen have been no lower than second in both fewest penalties and penalty yards.

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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