When Ezekiel Elliott finally returned his AT&T Stadium locker following Ohio State's 42-20 victory against Oregon to win the inaugural College Football Playoff Jan. 12, one of the first topics he discussed was how great the Buckeye offensive line performed in front of him against the Ducks.
"I think everyone in the stadium knew that we were going to run the ball," Elliott said. "I think in the third quarter I was feeling it come on. I was feeling the O-Line getting better and better and I just knew they were going to have trouble stopping the run and Coach (Tom) Herman was seeing the same thing. He just kept grinding it out."
Elliott roasted the Ducks for 246 yards and four touchdowns that night, a final exclamation point to a ridiculous three-game post-season romp put forth by the running back when he raced for 696 yards and eight scores against Wisconsin, Alabama and finally Oregon.
The big guys up front had plenty to do with that, obviously, coming together under Ed Warinner's watch and meshing following the team's loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2. We also know the group was only called for two holding penalties all season, a testament to Warinner's belief in fundamentals and each player taking them to heart.
What follows, though, provides yet another explanation for the unit's growth in 2014 — and even further shows its potential this fall.
Top teams in returning OL starts in '14: App St, UTSA, IU, Minnesota, Wash, UNT, Lville, UNLV, Idaho, FSU. Who was 126th in FBS? Ohio State.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) June 4, 2015
There are 128 programs in FBS competition. If you're scoring at home, that means the Buckeyes had the third fewest number of starts on the offensive line entering 2014.
That stat will naturally change entering 2015, with Taylor Decker, Billy Price, Jacoby Boren and Pat Elflein all returning. But the figure is pretty remarkable when you consider where the unit came from when the Buckeyes kicked off the 2014 season to where it finished with Elliott reaping the benefits of its dominance at the line of scrimmage.
It's a luxury not many teams have to look forward to in the offseason, but is one that's helping put Urban Meyer's mind at ease a bit considering the Buckeyes don't know what their quarterback depth chart looks like at this time.
"We have a good group around them coming back, which is key," Meyer told The Dan Patrick Show April 28. "Especially four out of five offensive linemen coming back, too."
Meyer lamented the lack of depth up front this spring because guys like Decker and Boren missed time with either injuries or being a member of the 2,000-rep club. Warinner, though, didn't sound too worried following the spring game April 18.
"Let the younger guys develop," Warinner said. "That's been the challenge and I think spring ball's over and I think we'll see a lot of young guys got a lot of work and hopefully we can see that they made a lot of progress."
The starters made a lot of progress throughout 2014 allowing Elliott to do some special things against three of the top defenses in the country by season's end.
That bodes well for 2015 with 80 percent of the starters back, and things are always going to look greener than they appear with Warinner as the driver of The Slobs.
"I think at the end of the day, we're trying to make sure our best players have their best when we get to the season and need them," Warinner said.