Offensive line looks to repeat best game
In four short sentences, Isaiah Prince summed up how an offensive line must work.
Ohio State’s senior right tackle was asked about the line’s dominating performance against Michigan and how essential it is for a line to work cohesively, even when someone makes a mistake.
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“Five have got to play as one,” Prince said. “You’ve got to make me right when I’m wrong. That’s what we do. That’s our job.”
Ohio State’s line, criticized for its run-blocking at times this year, did it almost flawlessly against Michigan’s No. 1-ranked defense.
The line — Prince, right guard Demetrius Knox, center Michael Jordan, left guard Malcolm Pridgeon and left tackle Thayer Munford — paved the way to a 249-yard rushing day.
Its pass protection was even better. Michigan pass-rushers barely got a hand on Dwayne Haskins Jr. in the pocket, failing to record a sack.
“This was probably their best performance,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Prince said wanting to silence outside criticism of the line wasn’t a factor in its performance. The desire to shine in the biggest game of the year was.
Now the job is to continue the excellence on Saturday in the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern.
“There is no way our offense could have put up those numbers without our offensive line playing the way it did,” Prince said. “But that was last week’s game, and our focus is on this week.”
The line has an added challenge this week of breaking in a new starter. Senior Demetrius Knox suffered a Lisfranc foot injury at the end of the Michigan game, ending his Buckeyes career.
“I’ve played next to him the last two years,” Prince said. “I’m going to miss him a lot.”
Wyatt Davis, a redshirt freshman from Bellflower, California, will replace Knox. Davis, the grandson of Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis, is a former five-star recruit. He already had earned playing time this season, particularly in goal-line situations.
“Wyatt has really grown as a player over the whole season, and I do believe he’s ready to play,” Jordan said. “I trust him.”
Such a situation is not unprecedented for Ohio State. Five years ago, redshirt freshman Pat Elflein filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall at right guard in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State. Elflein wasn’t the reason the Buckeyes lost that game, and he went on to win the Rimington Trophy as a senior center.
Teammates and coaches describe Davis with the same adjective Elflein embodied.
“Wyatt is a tough dude, just like what our program represents — toughness,” Prince said.
Meyer said that Davis struggled with conditioning after arriving on campus, which is common for linemen.
“It takes them a minute — and it took him a long minute — to fight the fatigue factor,” Meyer said. “He has always been a tough guy. He’s a finisher now, and it’s fun to watch him play.”
On paper, the challenge for Ohio State’s line this week isn’t as imposing as it was last week. Northwestern is a middle-of-the-pack defense in most statistical categories. But the Buckeyes have respect for the Wildcats.
“They play hard,” Prince said. “They play physical. They play rugged. They’re sound defensively. They’re always in the right spot at the right time.”
Northwestern hasn’t allowed more than 16 points in any of its past three games, so its defense is peaking. So is Ohio State’s offensive line.
“It’s like a flight,” Prince said. “We’re taking off. We’ve got the momentum. We just have to keep it going and build off what we did last week.”