October 4, 2012

Buckeyes' line emerging as strength of offense

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -As Urban Meyer listed the statistics for Ohio State's offensive player of the week at his Monday press conference, none of the numbers seemed to match the stat line of any one individual Buckeye from the team's 17-16 win over Michigan State two days earlier.



"Our offensive player of the week ran for 210 yards had 15 knockout downs, scored 17 points and on the last drive of the game killed four minutes, 30 seconds running a ball against a very good defense," the first-year OSU coach explained.



What?



Quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 136 yards. Both wide receiver Devin Smith and running back Jordan Hall scored touchdowns. Kicker Drew Basil made a field goal. None of these players recorded knockdowns.



"Our offensive player of the game is our offensive line," Meyer revealed. "Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Reid Fragel and Jack Mewhort. Very proud of their effort and what they did."



Heading into the Buckeyes Big Ten battle with the Spartans, it would've been hard to imagine that any collective OSU offensive unit could have won the player of the game award, let alone the offensive line.



A season ago, the Buckeyes surrendered nine sacks in their 10-7 loss to Michigan State. And with four Buckeyes playing new positions on the offensive line this year, a repeat performance against MSU defensive end William Gholston wasn't out of the question.



Obviously, given the award that the offensive line walked away from the game with, that didn't happen. In fact, the Buckeyes only allowed Miller to be sacked once- a six-yard loss that came at the hands of MSU linebacker Chris Norman.



The Buckeyes center, Linsley, said that the difference between last year's line and this year's can be attributed to what Meyer and his staff brought to Columbus this offseason.



"It was just an attitude thing and a revamped program," Linsley said. "As Coach Meyer puts it, if you get kicked enough times you are going to respond eventually. That was us today. I am proud of our guys."



Oone of the biggest reasons for the improvement of the OSU line is that its weak link through the season's first three games, is no longer just that. After going through the growing pains that one can expect when converting from playing tight end to offensive line, Fragel has emerged as one of the the Buckeyes' offense's elite players at right tackle, grading out with a champion performance in each of the past two weeks.



"Reid Fragel has become an offensive linemen. He wasn't an offensive linemen at first. Who are we kidding? He was a tight end, trying to figure it out," Meyer said. "His last two games he's now an Ohio State offensive line. When you say that around here, that's powerful stuff."



Although keeping the Spartans' defense off of Meyer was perhaps the key to the OSU line's success, it wasn't until the final drive of the game that it truly made its mark.



With the Buckeyes leading by a point and four minutes and ten seconds in the game, Meyer called for six consecutive rushing plays. Three of those rushes went for OSU first downs, which was good enough to run out the clock on the Spartans- something that Meyer admittedly wasn't confident that his offense could do.



The rushing stats on the drive were credited to Miller and Hyde, but both players and coaches after the game made it clear who deserved the praise for the final drive of the game.



"Our offensive line, they played a heck of a game," Miller said. "I give all of them the credit."



After years of players not living up the legacy set forth by former Ohio State offensive linemen such as Jim Stillwagon, Jim Lachey, and Orlando Pace, the Buckeyes' front five on offense seems to finally be in a good place. It may just be two weeks of consistency, but with four of the five starters expected to return for 2013 and its toughest test behind it, Meyer is happy with where the unit currently stands.




"There have been some great offensive linemen throughout the year. Those five guys are locked and loaded," Meyer said. "Together, well coached, and they've found a way to rush for 200 yards against a stout team that doesn't give up much rushing yardage. So that's the group right now that I'm most pleased with."







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