No Unit Single-Handedly Cost Ohio State the Fiesta Bowl but the Struggle was Real for the Slobs

By Chris Lauderback on January 1, 2017 at 8:45 am
Curtis Samuel and company had little room to operate against Clemson.

Looking to be "nine strong" against Clemson last night in a College Football Playoff semifinal, Ohio State was maybe three strong during the 31-0 rout

With so much domination going on by Clemson it isn't fair to pin the loss on any one positional unit (or coach) however the performance turned in by the offensive line – especially when you consider the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage – was about as lopsided as any positional matchup. 

Going into the game, all of the talk focused on right tackle Isaiah Prince and his struggles against stiff competition in pass pro – and he was certainly beat like a drum on more than one occasion – but he wasn't alone as the Slobs were simply outmatched nearly across the board. 

A harbinger of things to come, left guard Michael Jordan went down with an injury on Ohio State's second possession and two plays later, on 3rd and 1, his replacement, Demetrius Knox, looked to (best case) not know the snap count or (worst case) be so slow to get off the ball that his man was in the backfield so fast J.T. Barrett took a six-yard loss setting up a missed 47-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin. 

Strong enough all season up front to rank 9th nationally in rushing at 258 yards per game, Ohio State ran 88 yards on 23 carries with 64 of those yards coming on one Curtis Samuel run when the game was already a laugher. 

Ohio State averaged 3.8 yards per carry versus Clemson despite coming into the game ranked 15th in the land averaging 5.54 yards per carry. 

The Buckeyes sat at 14th nationally ahead of the game with 33 rushing touchdowns but failed to find the endzone versus the Tigers; the first time that's happened all year. 

In total, Ohio State ran 56 plays with 11 of those resulting in lost yardage. 

Turning to pass pro, we already knew Ohio State was leaky at Prince's spot and despite all the blather from Meyer about how he worked and how he had improved in during bowl prep, he was still severely overmatched. Clemson tallied three sacks and that honestly felt a bit like a moral victory. 

Overall, if the staff's grades are ever announced, I'd guess only Jamarco Jones graded above average as even All-American and Rimington Trophy winner Pat Elflein and fellow All-American Billy Price had their hands full all night. 

That would be fitting because I continue to believe Jones was the rock on the offensive line this season, not Elflein or Price. Those two weren't bad, don't get me wrong, but Jones played the most physically difficult position on the line and as a first-year starter, outpaced realistic expectations by a wide margin. 

The good news is Jones will be back to anchor the line, as will Jordan who turned in a pretty amazing season considering he did it as true freshman, and Price, who will slide to center. That's a solid threesome but Ohio State will be challenged to figure out the right side. 

Could Prince slide inside since asking him to control the edge rush of upper-tier defensive ends doesn't seem realistic unless he becomes Taylor Decker 2.0 and makes a quantum leap before next September? 

If he does slide inside, is Malcolm Pridgeon the answer at right tackle or someone else? 

Digging even deeper, is Greg Studrawa the right guy to be charged with developing the offensive line? Ed Warinner certainly seemed to have the magic touch – a touch he doesn't seem to possess as a play caller – so could something happen on that front? 

The sky isn't falling on Ohio State's program because it got humbled last night and again there are other positional unit issues to sort out – in particular, wide receiver due to ineffectiveness issues and the secondary assuming most of them declare for the NFL Draft – but knowing how important an offensive line is to a team's success, Meyer needs to start with some of the questions posed here in short order if the Buckeyes want to be back in the College Football Playoff next year. 

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