In case you’ve repressed it from your memory, let’s rewind to September and what was perhaps the worst performance by an Ohio State offensive line in the last three years.
In a stunning 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in a game that was supposed to be the foundation for another national title run, the Buckeyes’ front five — a unit charged with replacing four starters — was obliterated and humiliated by the Hokies. They gave up seven sacks and failed to establish any sort of run game before what’s easily the worst loss under head coach Urban Meyer.
Now go ahead and fast forward two months to what’s probably the best win under Meyer after Ohio State outmuscled Michigan State and its vaunted defense in East Lansing Saturday night.
Of course, there’s a lot of factors at play here: redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is playing out of his mind, sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott seems to get better with each game and the perimeter skill players — be it Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Jalin Marshall or Dontre Wilson — have emerged as playmakers compared to the space-fillers they were last season and at the beginning of this year.
But most of all, what might be kindling an explosive offense that’s averaging 46 points and more than 500 yards a game is an offensive line that’s leaps and bounds better than the one that took the field in Week One.
“That's what we needed to do — what we had to do. We had no choice. But that comes with time. Everybody wants a finished product three weeks before the first day of training camp opens in August, and unfortunately that's not really how it works,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said Monday.
Prior to Saturday’s triumph against the Spartans, Meyer’s lamented the unit since the season opener against Navy. After beating the Midshipmen, he said its performance fell well-short of his expectations. A week later, after the Hokies eviscerated the group, Meyer looked sick to his stomach. Even after a double-overtime win against Penn State less than three weeks ago, Meyer said the offensive line remained among his chief concerns.
When the Buckeyes dominated the line of scrimmage and dropped 49 points and 568 yards on Michigan State’s top-ranked defense, it served as a true barometer for how far the unit has come since that loss to Virginia Tech. The difference is night and day.
“We're starting to play well as a full team at all positions. We're starting to get confidence. We have a lot of young guys playing and/or inexperienced guys if they're not young. So the whole thing is coming together as we planned when we need it to,” Warinner said.
And a lot of that is thanks to Warinner, who’s already responsible for molding one of the school’s most-dominant units in 2013. This year’s squad is his latest project.
“That why they call me Coach. That's my job. I mean, help guys go where they can't take themselves. My job as a coach is to take players where they can't take themselves,” he said.
“So if they're willing to work hard to train, to listen, to be coached, then we help them get that last step. Like I said, it's a combination of how we practice, how we prepare, how we teach, and then are they willing to take that and absorb it and can they take it to the field. And experience helps you take that to the field.
“Because all those things were in place early but it takes a while to learn how to take what you practice and how you train and your mind and your body and take it to the field. So it's starting to occur on the field and that's our expectation for those guys.”
And for Ohio State to sustain momentum that’s vaulted them firmly into the playoff picture, the offensive line will remain a critical factor in the team’s development.
As the unit grows, so do the Buckeyes.