Even with little continuity, Ohio State's offensive line has flourished
More than any other position group on a football team, an offensive line needs to be in sync.
Five players must work in unison, more if you count the tight ends as quasi-linemen, as Ohio State does. That requires cohesion, which requires continuity, which requires time.
The Buckeyes’ line hasn’t been afforded any of that in this pandemic-ravaged season. Yet it hasn’t stopped the line from producing when it has been needed most. Despite constant shuffling forced by COVID-19, Ohio State’s line has dominated.
Against Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship Monday, the line — whatever its composition — will have to be at its best.
Against Michigan State, COVID forced the absence of left tackle Thayer Munford, right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and center Josh Myers. Dawand Jones, Max Wray and Matt Jones filled in and the Buckeyes missed barely a beat in rolling up 52 points. Against Clemson in the CFP semifinal, left guard Harry Miller was out. Matt Jones played well again, with an impressive cameo by freshman Paris Johnson Jr.
Myers isn’t quite sure how the line has been able to flourish with all the changes.
“Cohesion within an offensive line group is really important, and we haven't been able to do it a whole lot this year,” he said. “Just so many things getting shifted around, so many people in and out. I think we just got used to not having it, not used to the same five guys always being there, just doing what we have to do to get it done. I don't know. It's a good question.”
Right guard Wyatt Davis credited offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and his intensity.
“I feel more nervous to make mistakes in practice than I do in games,” he said, “just because he expects a lot out of us and he pushes us to get to points where we're at now, to have success, for yourself as well as for the team.”
Davis is a unanimous All-American, but that doesn’t earn him any slack.
“I will just say the thing he does the best and that I've noticed is whether you're a walk-on or a starter, when he gets into you, it's the same as everybody else,” Davis said. “No one is held to a different standard. That standard is excellence, and that's what he demands out of us.
“I want to play so hard because of him and how he pushes us because I know he's doing everything in his power to put us in a great position to succeed. I feel like I have to return the favor.”
Ohio State football:Tackles Thayer Munford, Nicholas Petit-Frere took different journeys to success
All five linemen earned all-Big Ten honors, with Davis and Munford making the first team, Myers and Petit-Frere second team and Miller third team.
“Those guys are great up front,” said running back Trey Sermon, who ran for a school-record 331 yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship and 193 against Clemson. “They make my job easy. They control the line of scrimmage. They get great push. Just being able to just get in sync with them, it's gotten easy over time just because of how great they've been.”
The line will have to be at its best against an Alabama defense that is talented and fundamentally sound.
It’s unclear whether Miller will be available or if he even starts if he is. Jones has played well enough to merit starting.
“I think Matt has done a great job, and that's huge,” Myers said. “They haven't been two easy games, either. They've been really important games.”
No game will be more important than this one. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson praised the way the line has played, but reserved judgment on a final grade.
“Those linemen are really playing solid to me,” Wilson said. “You don't know if it's a good line until the end of the year and you can look back and see what you did so we'll wait until Monday night to see how good a line it is. They're going to get their strongest test Monday night with Alabama's front because they're the best we've seen.”
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Ohio State vs. Alabama
What: College Football Playoff championship game
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)