At Big Ten Media Days, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said this season's No. 1 concern was the offensive line as the Buckeyes had to replace four starters from last year's team.
One game into the 2014 season and that appears to still be the biggest issue for the fifth-ranked Buckeyes, who defeated Navy on Saturday, 34-17.
"I'm very disappointed. There is a standard set for offensive line play for many, many years and it's been enhanced by our line coach Ed Warinner over the past few," Meyer said. "The first two quarters didn't resemble an offensive line of Ohio State."
"I'm being hard on them, but they played much better in the second half. We'll evaluate the film and have to settle in on a starting five. We'll have to play much better if we want to make a dent in the Big Ten conference."
There were two spots still to be determined entering Saturday's game against the Midshipmen and those went to Jacoby Boren at center and Billy Price at left guard. Joel Hale, however, replaced Price in the game.
As a unit, the Buckeyes' offensive line struggled in the first half as redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was under constant pressure in almost every passing situation. The group played better in the second half, but it's still nowhere close to the level it was at a year ago.
“I think the first half we made some mistakes and didn’t play as well as we would have liked. A lot of young guys and just some things happen," Warriner said. "Then we settled in and I thought we played really well in the second half and started to control the line of scrimmage better. A good defensive team, though, gave us some looks and some pressures and things and so we just had to hang in there and regroup at halftime and came out and played a much better second half.”
To the surprise of almost everyone, junior Joshua Perry did not start the game with the first-team defense at his WLB position where he had been listed as the starter. Chris Worley started in his place. Perry did play in the game, but it was at the MLB spot when he rotated in for Curtis Grant.
Against Navy, the move made some sense. Perry and Grant are bigger linebackers while Worley and Darron Lee have more speed so they started on the outside. Armani Reeves, who was listed as the team's starting nickel, also saw some reps in an outside linebacker position, while Cam Williams saw some playing time, as well.
“It was a unique situation, it was a unique game. We had guys playing some different spots," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "We asked a lot of guys to some different things and you see that they all rolled through there so some guys played positions they didn’t normally play.”
Fickell said after the game it was a special game plan just for Navy to have Perry in the middle and that in future games he will return back to his starting spot at the WLB. Nonetheless, it was an interesting rotation against the Midshipmen.
Options at Running Back
It's clear Ohio State doesn't have a go-to running back like it did last year with Carlos Hyde. In order to replace that production, the Buckeyes are going to use a bevy of backs and that was on full display against Navy.
Including Barrett, Ohio State had four players rush for at least 40 yards as they racked up 194 as a team. Barrett was the leading rusher with 50 yards on nine carries, but Curtis Samuel (seven carries, 45 yards), Ezekiel Elliot (12 carries, 53 yards, TD) and Dontre Wilson (six carries, 44 yards) also carried some of the load.
Elliot struggled as the starter in the first half, but gained 50 of his yards after halftime. Samuel, who only got his seven carries, made the most of his playing time. It was easy to see why Meyer had raved about him all throughout camp as he looked like Ohio State's best option at running back.
"He has a special future here," Meyer said of Samuel.
Without a Hyde to carry the load, the Buckeyes will need to have consistent production from their multiple options in the backfield.