COLLEGE PARK, Maryland – There may not a position group in the country happier to see October end than the Ohio State offensive line. Heck, if we’re being real – and I’m all about being real – that group was a major area of concern following the Buckeyes 24-21 loss at Penn State.
You remember that game, right? Specifically, the second half of that game? If you’ve managed to forget, please allow me the honor of refreshing your memory. Following the loss, Urban Meyer and his starting center, Pat Elflein spoke plainly about the struggles at Happy Valley.
“Offensively,” Meyer said, “we didn’t control the line of scrimmage. [Barrett] was under pressure all night when we threw it, and then we didn’t move them off the ball in the run game.”
Sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince was, in a word, bad for the Buckeyes on Saturday night, but as you’d expect, captain Pat Elflein said the blame fell on the entire offensive line, not just one player.
“We just didn’t do our job, we didn’t play very good” Elflein said. “We like to say nine units strong where every unit is operating at maximum capacity and we weren’t doing that tonight.”
That night was, for all intents and purposes, rock bottom for The Slobs. J.T. Barrett and Mike Weber, the most regular parts of the Buckeyes vaunted running attack, collected only 97 yards on 38 carries. Penn State sacked Barrett six times. Following that loss, a challenge to refocus the unit went out from its leaders, Elflein and Billy Price.
The Buckeyes have responded.
Over the three games since Penn State, Ohio State has surrendered a combined three sacks. J.T. Barrett, with time to throw, has put 767 yards while completing 67 percent of passes. The Buckeyes running attack has bounced back as well, gashing Northwestern, Nebraska and Maryland for 699 yards on 126 carries. Mike Weber, on 37 attempts in those three games, is averaging 6.81 yards a carry and as a team, Ohio State has rushed for 10 touchdowns. After not scoring a touchdown on their opening drive all season, the Buckeyes have done that in each of the last three contests.
The offense appears to be running on all cylinders again after that October slowdown. The Buckeyes have scored 60-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since September of 1996 when they outscored Pitt and Rice 142-7.
Make no mistake about it, despite Barrett’s consistency being a key, the catalyst is the offensive line.
“The one thing that I’m – and going to find out now,” Urban Meyer said Saturday in Maryland, speaking of the upcoming tests against Michigan State and Michigan. “Our offensive line is playing much better these last two weeks.”
That improvement is giving Ed Warinner and Tim Beck a chance to open up the offense.
“I think we have good balance right now,” Warinner said Saturday. “We’re spreading the field and guys are making plays. (It’s) high execution from our players.”
Billy Price, speaking following the game, agreed that things seemingly are meshing.
“We’re executing on a high level,” Price said. “We always talk about execution and having confidence up front. We’re hitting at the right moment in November.”
Price says the focus was right where it needed to be in the first road game since Penn State. More important for Ohio State, the offensive line seems to be heading in the direction is needs to: back to dominance.
“We didn’t take anything for granted,” he said. “We talk about at Penn State and we took things for granted because we were just so used to winning. A win is not given to you in the Big Ten, at all. The team focused again and we’re happy to see it.
“For us, it’s all about effort, execution and dominance. As an offensive line, if your five guys can’t take care of the defensive line, your offensive line isn’t executing the way it should be. It goes back to respect for our coaches and the preparation each week.”
The regular season schedule shows just two games left, against two of the best defensive lines in the country. Are there still questions about whether or not the Slobs are back? If there are, they’ll find a final answer in the next 14 days.