COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to playing on the offensive line, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Ohio State’s three new starters — junior left tackle Jamarco Jones, true freshman left guard Michael Jordan and sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince — have varying degrees of experience, but none had started a game prior to the 2016 season opener against Bowling Green. The difference between practice reps and game reps are a gulf few navigate quickly, said former Ohio State All-American LeCharles Bentley, who now runs a company that trains and coaches offensive linemen.
“It’s the difference between dating and being married,” he said. “The person you’re dating isn’t going to be the person you’re married to, it just is what it is. It’s the same thing with offensive line play. What you see in practice, that’s just dating. Once you become a starter, things change. Over the course of actually playing games, you learn how to adapt to situations. I think that’s how you grow as a young offensive line.”
Through two games, the Ohio State offensive line has shown flashes of what it can be down the road, but there have also been occasional hiccups along the way. After demolishing Bowling Green, 77-10, the Buckeyes struggled against Tulsa in a first quarter that produced nearly as many punts (two) as points (3).
Tulsa defensive coordinator Bill Young — who coordinated Ohio State’s defenses from 1988-95 — dialed up a bevy of blitzes and different looks designed to confuse the young offensive line, and it worked well early on. The Buckeyes’ first four drives gained just 40 yards on 14 plays and ended with a field goal (after taking over in opposing territory and gaining 4 yards), a fumble and two three-and-outs.
Ohio State regrouped from there and went on to score four offensive touchdowns in a 48-3 rout of the Golden Hurricane. And while Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said he typically worries about everything this early in the season, both he and center Pat Elflein believe the first quarter against Tulsa will serve the Buckeyes well going forward.
“We had a lot of stuff thrown at us last week, and it was good to get some experience with that stuff,” Elflein said. “I’m sure Oklahoma will see that and try to throw some of that at us because it caught us off balance a little bit. It’s a work in progress. It was good film to learn from and make those adjustments and improvements. I think it was good we saw all that with how young we are.”
Oklahoma’s three-man front will present a big test for the Buckeyes, but everyone looking at the big picture believes Ohio State’s line could be poised for big things — even against an opponent the caliber of the Sooners. Meyer said the group is further along than he thought it would be by this point, and Elflein said he has no worries about the Buckeyes’ ability to generate some offense via the inside running game.
And, as Bentley notes, some in-game growth on the offensive line could prove essential as the Buckeyes prepare to face the 14th-ranked Sooners on the road.
“They’ve looked solid,” Bentley said. “They look like a unit that’s working through some kinks. This isn’t just Ohio State. This is every offensive line in the country. That’s why you have these early games before you get into your conference season, to kind of work through some of these issues.”
If Ohio State’s big men show they can handle Oklahoma, they’ll know who to thank.