BALTIMORE — Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman was at a loss.
In the first half of the fifth-ranked Buckeyes’ 34-17 win over Navy on Saturday, their remodeled offensive line had shrunk his usually thick playbook to about a page.
A front replacing four starters could neither protect quarterback J.T. Barrett nor generate any push for the running game. OSU had only 66 yards on the ground before intermission.
In search of a jolt, coaches even went with a rotation at guard, swapping starter Billy Price for senior defensive line convert Joel Hale.
“It was very concerning early,” Herman said. “I was reaching into the calls trying to figure out any throws or runs we could do to mask the deficiencies we had.”
Coach Urban Meyer called the unit’s early returns “very disappointing.”
“There's a standard of offensive line play that’s been set for many years and it's been enhanced by [offensive line coach] Ed Warinner the past two years,” he said. “That didn't resemble an O-line at Ohio State.”
And, then, suddenly, it did. The second half gave coaches something to work with heading into next weekend’s primetime showdown against Virginia Tech.
A front five of junior left tackle Taylor Decker, sophomore left guard Pat Elflein, junior center Jacoby Boren, Price, and senior right tackle Darryl Baldwin never resembled last year’s overpowering group. Yet they gave Barrett time and the running backs room as Ohio State pulled away. The Buckeyes rushed for 128 yards in the second half.
“We hear all the time about how we have four new starters, how we’re so inexperienced,” said Baldwin, who replaced St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort, now of the Indianapolis Colts.
“It was great to get things rolling and show what we can do.”
Meyer said the starting five remains to be determined going forward, with competitions likely continuing at center and guard. Price, who returned to play in the second half, is listed as a co-starter with Hale, while Boren and graduate transfer Chad Lindsay are tagged as equals at center.
“We have to settle on a starting five, and we have to play much better to make a dent in the Big Ten conference,“ Meyer said.
Coaches said the second half offered hope that they can.
“We challenged them at halftime,” Herman said. “Taylor Decker is a bit of a leader, and he rallied the guys. ... The second half, we hopefully had some areas that we can grow on, because they certainly came out and played much better.”
NEW FACES: The Buckeyes unveiled five new defensive starters — including two surprises.
Freshman Chris Worley opened at outside linebacker over incumbent starter Joshua Perry, while sophomore Cam Burrows started at safety over Vonn Bell. The safety spot opposite Tyvis Powell was presumed to be Bell’s to lose after he earned the start in the Orange Bowl last year.
Asked about Bell and Burrows, Meyer said, “I think that they’re co-starters, like our group of receivers. You’ll see a rotation [of] guys running in and out.”
Perry and Bell were among the Buckeyes’ most productive players Saturday. Perry had nine tackles, while Bell added seven. Powell led Ohio State with 13 tackles.
EXTRA POINTS: Of the 1,232 games in Ohio State history, the Buckeyes had played only one of them in the state of Maryland — a 27-0 win over Navy at Baltimore's Municipal Stadium in 1930. Saturday’s game was their first of two forays into the Old Line State this season. OSU visits Maryland on Oct. 4. ... Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman traded his usual No. 86 for No. 5 as a tribute to injured quarterback Braxton Miller. ... The Buckeyes extended their regular-season winning streak to a national-best 25 games. ... Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo gave credit afterward to OSU. “Hats off to coach Meyer and Ohio State,” he said. “They did a great job of battling and finishing us off at the end of the game. I am super proud of our kids. We had some uncharacteristic mistakes. ... We knew coming in that we had to play perfectly.”