The Army West Point Black Knights, a college football program in existence since 1890, will take on the Ohio State Buckeyes for the first time ever Saturday. For the third game of the 2017 season, the game has taken on more than just historical significance, especially for Ohio State.
Soundly beaten at home by Oklahoma in the second week of the season, Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer are trying to figure out what they are doing on offense. Completely lacking a downfield passing game, Meyer emphasized to beat reporters and fans that senior quarterback J.T. Barrett would remain the starter despite Barrett's struggles during the first two games of the season.
Army comes into Ohio Stadium with a 2-0 record for the first time since 1996 and fresh off of a 21-17 come-from-behind win over Buffalo. While Ohio State has struggled in the passing game, Army eschews it almost entirely. The Black Knights have attempted just 10 passes this season to this point. Army's success is predicated upon a Wishbone offense that has the Black Knights ranked second in the nation in rushing, averaging 417.5 yards per game.
Army West Point at Ohio State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Ohio State -30
Three Things to Watch
1. Army's running game vs. Ohio State's run defense
As mentioned up above, Army is averaging 417.5 rushing yards per game. Ohio State is allowing just 60.5 yards on the ground and has given up only one rushing touchdown this season. Something's gotta give. Ohio State has practiced against the Wishbone since the spring in anticipation for this game, but it's unlikely the Buckeyes can shut down the Black Knights entirely. It is one thing for a scout team to help prepare a team to play against an opponent, but it is often quite another thing for a scout team to be able to effectually simulate the opposition with accuracy.
2. Army's passing game vs. Ohio State's pass defense
Ohio State's secondary ranks dead last statistically after being shredded by Indiana and Oklahoma to open the season. Army has thrown only 10 passes all season (completing two of them for 17 yards), but it would not be shocking if the Black Knights attempt some quick play-action passes off a run fake after getting Ohio State to successfully commit to stopping the run.
3. Ohio State's passing game vs. Army's pass defense
Army is giving up only about 216 yards per game through the air. Ohio State's struggles with the passing game are well-documented. If ever there was an opportunity for the Buckeyes to begin trying to gain some confidence and positive momentum with their passing offense, this is it. Look for the Buckeyes to throw deep on Army if and when the opportunities present themselves.
Urban Meyer has tremendous respect for the service academies but is always reluctant to schedule against them. In his Monday press conference, Meyer said, "[There are] very unique issues you deal with. They are very good on offense. Second in the country, I believe, [in] rushing. The Wishbone creates its own identity of issues and unique issues. And then on defense, like some of the service academies I've coached against before, they're 3-4, all over the place and play extremely hard and a very good team. They beat Navy last year."
The biggest hurdle for Ohio State is developing a consistent passing game. Playing against Army, the Buckeyes should be able to take some positive steps forward toward that goal, but we could still be questioning if the problems have been fixed after this game is over.