Falling Short of the Standard Set By Last Year's Offensive Line Could Still Be Good Enough

By Chris Lauderback on July 11, 2014 at 1:00p
Tackle Taylor Decker returns for the Buckeyes
18 Comments

Though Braxton Miller, the B1G's MVP the last two years returns for one last hurrah and there is much excitement about the plethora of weapons at his disposal, the fact remains Urban Meyer and Ed Warriner must adequately replace four of five starters on what was one of the best offensive lines in school history for the Buckeyes to have any shot of a national title. 

Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall might not be sexy names in Buckeye lore – such is the largely-anonymous life of a lineman – NFL scouts were aware of their talents as Mewhort and Linsley were both selected in the NFL Draft (2nd/5th rounds, respectively) while Norwell and Hall were signed as undrafted free agents. 

Over the last two seasons, Ohio State's version of the "core-four" anchored a rushing attack that carried the Buckeyes to 24 straight wins. Norwell and Mewhort were even good enough to start back in 2011, the same time Braxton was getting his first taste of big time college football. 

OHIO STATE'S OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION DURING BRAXTON MILLER ERA
YEAR RUSH YPC RUSH YPG (rANK) TOT RUSH YDS RUSH TD SACKS/YDS PASS YPG TOT OFF (RANK)
2011 4.4 191 (27) 2,485 20 46 / 251 127 (115) 318 (107)
2012 5.2 242 (10) 2,907 37 30 / 190 181 (101) 423 (47)
2013 6.8 308  (5) 4,321 45 22/ 136 203 (88) 511 (7)

The 2011 offense had flaws beyond a raw signal-caller allowing defensive coordinators to overwhelm the line with sheer numbers making it hard to fault the lineup of Mike Adams, Norwell, Mike Brewster, Mewhort and J.B. Shugarts. Well, except for Brewster's rash of bad snaps and a host of predictable false starts from the right tackle spot. Averaging a meager 318 yards of offense per game, the 2011 squad produced the 2nd-worst rush yards per carry over the last 11 years of OSU football at 4.4 thanks to predictable play-calling and Braxton's yet-to-be-developed ability to avoid sacks. Boom Herron playing in just eight games combined with Carlos Hyde not being quite the beast he would become didn't exactly bolster the cause. 

In 2012, with both Miller and Hyde a year better combined with the core-four's first season in the starting lineup along with Reid Fragel at right tackle, Ohio State put an additional 105 yards of total offense on their weekly resume, good for a 60-team jump in the total offense rankings. With the hogs up front starting to gel and Miller's passing acumen still not ready for prime time, Meyer and Tom Herman leaned on the rushing attack to the tune of 5.2 yards per carry for 242 yards per game. 

RUSH YPG - LAST 11 YRS
YEAR YPC
2013 6.8
2012 5.2
2011 4.4
2010 5.2
2009 4.5
2008 4.6
2007 4.6
2006 4.6
2005 4.7
2004 4.0
2003 3.3 

The line was so good the Buckeyes nearly had two 100 yards per game rushers as Miller finished at 105.9 per outing with Hyde clocking in at 97.0, with both finishing among the top 36 rushers per game nationally and combining for 29 touchdowns. 

Last season, with the core-four back for their swan song while adding Taylor Decker at the right tackle spot in place of the departed Fragel, the Ohio State offense went bonkers. 

Hyde blew up for 1,521 yards on a ridiculous 7.3 yards per carry for an average of 138.3 per game with 15 touchdowns. Despite those numbers, the most insane stat on his resume is the whole SIX YARDS he lost over 208 carries. Yes, Hyde was a beast but a number like that doesn't happen without a dominant offensive line creating consistent push. 

Miller went off for 1,068 yards on the ground on 6.2 yards per carry, to average 89.0 yards per game as Meyer and Herman dialed his carries back from 227 in 2012 to 171 in an effort to keep him upright. 

Amazingly, on the strength of the line, the Buckeyes had six different backs carry the ball at least 30 times with their individual yards per carry ranging from a low of 6.2 (Miller) to a high of 8.7 (Elliott). 

Though Ohio State's passing yards per game climbed by just 22, the Buckeyes rode 309 rushing yards per game (5th nationally) to post a staggering 511 total yards of offense per outing, good for 7th best in the land, with 45 rushing touchdowns.  

The incredible 2013 offense, particularly the rushing attack buoyed by the core-four should certainly be celebrated but the fact is, it shouldn't have to be duplicated in 2014 for Ohio State to have a legitimate run at a national championship. 

Lindsay gives Ohio State much needed experience up front

The reality is that title teams come in all shapes and strengths as evidenced by Ohio State's last national championship squad. The 2002 outfit relied on a stout defense as the offense averaged a hefty 118 less rush yards per game, 2.5 less yards per carry, 147 less total yards per game and 16 less points per outing than the 2014 Buckeyes. 

Of course, nobody would accuse last year's defense of being "stout" but with another year of seasoning, a defensive line that could be the best in the country, an influx of talented young players, and a more aggressive approach to stopping the pass, this year's Silver Bullets could pick up some slack while their offensive counterparts work to gel. 

Throw in the fact Miller is now in his fourth year with the program and third under Herman's direction and it's fair to expect an increase in his passing accuracy and overall decision making which should also take some pressure off the line to help generate 250+ yards on the ground on a weekly basis. 

The candidates to start up front this year don't want to hear any of that however, as they'll be focused on becoming a strength of the team. 

Taylor Decker will shift from right to left tackle and all signs point to him having a solid if not spectacular campaign. At left guard, the common thought has Antonio Underwood seizing the gig after not only switching from defense to offense upon Meyer's arrival but also overcoming a torn ACL. At center, the Buckeyes should be loaded with 'Bama transfer Chad Lindsay looking like the favorite to win the job with Jacoby Boren and Billy Price nipping at his heels. Worst case, both could provide depth along the middle three spots. At left right guard, Pat Elflein is a lock to start after filling in admirably for Hall following his double-bird salute in Ann Arbor. At right tackle, senior Darryl Baldwin will enter camp as the starter. 

Depth on the edges will be extremely youthful with names like redshirt-sophomore Kyle Dodson, redshirt-freshman Evan Lisle and true freshmen Jamarco Jones and Kyle Trout looking to solidify a reserve role. 

The lack of proven experience is rightfully cause for concern but with Warriner at the controls and a ton of talent to work with, the future in the trenches is as bright as ever. 

18 Comments

Comments

Jugdish's picture

It looks like we will have a solid line for this year. Urban has recruited well for the years to come and I believe our O line will be a real strength next year and beyond. One player that seems missing from your list is Meechy. I think he will get a great deal of playing time this year and possibly even working his way into the starting rotation.

Remember to get your wolverine spade or neutered. TBDBITL

+2 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

That first graphic, showing offensive production, the numbers seem off. Anyone else notice that? For example, 2011, Rush yds is listed as 191, passing is listed as 203, but total offense says only 308 yds. 191+203=394.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+2 HS
Chris Lauderback's picture

Thanks. I accidentally flip flopped 2011 and 2013 pass yards per game on the chart. Fixed. 

Killer nuts's picture

NFL scouts were aware of their talents as Mewhort and Linsley were both selected in the NFL Draft (2nd/5th rounds, respectively) while Linsley and Hall were signed as undrafted free agents.

I think one of those "Linsley's" was supposed to be a "Norwell"

+3 HS
Chris Lauderback's picture

Oops. Yes, Norwell was obvi the undrafted FA. Typo fixed. Thanks. 

1MechEng's picture

Where does Meechy stand in the 2 deep going into the Fall? I thought he was projected as a backup at one of the guard spots ...

+1 HS
Buckataltitude's picture

Apparently my picture of the Legion of Doom isn't showing up.

apack614's picture

It's hard to tell how well our offensive line is when you have Braxton and Hyde back there last year all I can think of is Hyde getting hit at the line and based off of strictly his own talant (and size) would make it a 3 yd gain, as long as Braxton can stay healthy I think we will be okay with a mediocre O line this year

"If we worked half as hard as our band, we'd be champions." - Woody Hayes

Hovenaut's picture

I can't put the words "mediocre O line" and Ed Warriner in the same sentence...

I think there may be some rough patches early on, but have a feeling the unit will be just fine down the stretch.
 

I am not the Last Dragon, therefore I do not possess the power of the Glow.

+7 HS
apack614's picture

You're right I agree with that completley I'm just stating the worst comes to worst scenario while pointing out we would still have an successful season based off of the athletic ability of B Miller

"If we worked half as hard as our band, we'd be champions." - Woody Hayes

Shangheyed's picture

Yes indeed, and there were some gaps in recuiting too not his doing... that will show up this year, I am confident Warner can work through it. 

Warner had all four of his seniors signed by Pro teams...would have had most likely just 2 linemen drafted with the not to be mentioned former OL coach...

Maybe someone knows... I don't think having 4 seniors signed to pro teams has ever happend before that I can recall... that says a lot.

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Biggest question mark on the team is Oline... and will be key to Miller's success too(and health).  

,Looking forward to see the incoming freshman play and see where they fit in.   Should have at least one if not two in the two deep.  Oline might also be in a state of flux till B1G schedule starts, where they might have to search for the right combination.  Oline is a worry but I have faith they will be good in the end, maybe not great.... that is for the following year. 

Bucksfan70's picture

i'm not concerned about the starting o-line, i think they will be dominant by early to mid season. but i am concerned about the lack of quality and inexperience, of the backups, in the 2 deep. imo that is the real issue here.

“Today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can't.” - Jerry Rice

whiskeyjuice's picture

NEVER FEAR, WE ARE BUCKEYE NATION!!!!!!! 

"You'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face." -- Wayne Woodrow Hayes

BuckInNashville's picture

5 years ago we had a mediocre line. T Pryor overshadowed the gaps left by a slower, less conditioned group in anunimaginative  offensive gameplan. Now we have three advantages over that period.   1. Warriner has proven that he can quickly form an inexperienced group.   2. The offensive scheme takes advantages of numerical mismatches.    And 3. The overall team speed enables success plays with Olinemen having to hold  blocks for a shorter time.  We're goid

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Upvoted but with a caveat... regarding your last sentence.

I think MSU Dline will give us fits... they have two very good Down linemen...  If we are blessed to be in the playoff that too would present us with a Dline that is elite .  

The rest, outside of MSU and a top 5 team, I would agree with you we should be OK. Against Elite teams they will have to play to that level, or other units will need to step up to make up for that. 

As the Oline goes vs Elite competition so goes the Buckeyes.

ToetotheFace's picture

The team in 2002 that won the championship was neither dominant overall or a very good offense. They had a dominant defense, a great workhorse RB, and a lot of "clutch" production from the offense when they absolutely needed it. Pure talent wise(at least for the college game) they probably aren't as good as the team on the field in 2014, but they came up big when it was important. They trailed or were tied in the 4th quarter in nearly half of their wins. They were conservative and played a lot of close games, but it always allowed them to stay in it long enough to cash in on the right opportunity to win.

Let's hope 2014-15 OSU can get some of that clutch play the 2002 had, they should be dominate this year, they just need to be able to finish the job. Their offense will still be among the best. Their defense is insanely talented and will improve tremendously from last year's horrendous showing.