Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in college football, while Oklahoma has one of the best offensive lines in college football.
Those two units will go toe-to-toe on Saturday when the No. 2 Buckeyes play the No. 5 Sooners at Ohio Stadium.
Entering the 2017 season, Ohio State’s defensive line was ranked as the second-best defensive line in college football (behind only Clemson) by multiple media outlets, including Phil Steele and Athlon Sports.
Both units had strong showings in their first games of the season. Ohio State’s defensive linemen combined seven tackles for loss, including five sacks, and held Indiana to only 17 rushing yards on 29 attempts. Oklahoma put up 676 yards while allowing only one sack in its season opener against UTEP.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano says the matchup between Ohio State’s defensive line and Oklahoma’s offensive line will be "a battle of strength on strength."
Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy believes that matchup will be a big factor in the outcome of Saturday’s game.
"At the end of the day, the big games like that, that’s where it won," Gundy told reporters at Oklahoma on Monday. "It’s won in the battle of the trenches, and whoever can control the line of scrimmage and move somebody, keep people off the quarterback, get to the quarterback."
Ohio State’s defensive line had the upper hand for the most part in last year’s game, when the Buckeyes beat the Sooners at Oklahoma, 45-24. While the Sooners put up 404 total yards of offense and allowed Ohio State’s defensive line to account for only one sack, the Buckeyes put frequent pressure on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who avoided most sacks with his elusiveness and quick release but was still affected by the pressure.
Oklahoma’s offensive line should be better this year, having returned all five of its starters from last year. That’s a rarity in college football, and some of those offensive linemen have performed among the nation’s best at their positions.
That said, Ohio State’s defensive line should also be better than last year, having returned all of its top players from last season.
Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown, who stands out for his size at 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds, is the reigning Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who had two sacks and was named Ohio State’s defensive player of the game in its season opener, is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Oklahoma right tackle Bobby Evans was named to Pro Football Focus’ national offensive team for Week 1 for performing as one of the best offensive linemen in the country in the Sooners’ season opener against UTEP on Saturday. Sooners right guard Dru Samia was likewise named to PFF’s Big 12 offensive team.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa and defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, meanwhile, were named to PFF’s Week 1 national defensive team for their season-opening performances.
All five of Oklahoma’s starting offensive linemen are highly regarded; while Brown was the Big 12’s top offensive lineman last year, the Sooners’ other four starters up front were each all-conference honorable mentions. Left guard Ben Powers and center Erick Wren did not start against Ohio State last year, but they did start every game for the Sooners from that point forward, and the Sooners’ offensive line play ended up improving significantly.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano expects his defense to be in for a tough test, describing the offensive line of Brown, Powers, Wren, Samia and Evans as "outstanding."
"They have incredibly talented linemen. And then they’re coached well. They have a very good scheme," Schiano said.
Ohio State’s defensive linemen themselves are likewise impressed by the Sooners’ offensive line, but they say they are looking forward to the challenge.
"They got bigger guys on the O-line and they’re well-conditioned," said Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes. "They have a great offensive line, a great offensive coordinator and they do what they do pretty well, so you just got to look forward to the one-on-one matchups and win your one-on-one."
Ohio State’s defensive line should look forward to the challenge considering its talent and depth.
Lewis, Bosa, Holmes and Sam Hubbard give the Buckeyes a quartet of defensive ends who are all among the best in the country, while Jones is also regarded as an elite talent. As Ohio State showed in its season opener, the Buckeyes could put all five of those defensive linemen on the field at once in their new five-man defensive front as one way to challenge Oklahoma up front.
Beyond them, though, the Buckeyes have plenty of other players who have shown they can be difference-makers up front, including defensive tackles Tracy Sprinkle, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell and defensive ends Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young. Oklahoma has taken notice.
"They’re as good as it gets," said Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "Most teams are going to have one, two, maybe three really good D-linemen. They have eight to 10 really good D-linemen, and when the next guy comes in, there’s no drop-off. So that’s obviously the challenge."
Brown made comments that drew some scrutiny earlier this week when he compared Ohio State’s defensive line to that of Kansas – because it’s not usually a compliment to be compared to Kansas in football – but in context, Brown actually had nothing but praise for the Buckeyes.
"I think they have a great defensive line," Brown said. "I think it’s definitely going to be one of the best that we see. Last year, they were one of the best we’ve seen, obviously up there with KU. I mean, they got a ton of talent across the board."
“They have eight to 10 really good D-linemen, and when the next guy comes in, there’s no drop-off.”– Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator And offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, on Ohio State's defensive line
Both units will have their opportunity to prove they are among the best in the country when they face off against one another on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. In a game that will be nationally televised on ABC, the matchup between Oklahoma’s offensive line and Ohio State’s defensive line should draw widespread attention from NFL scouts and college football fans alike.