Ohio State coach Urban Meyer knows who is in line to start at right guard when the Buckeyes play Nebraska on Saturday, but he doesn’t want the rest of the world to know just yet.
A leader has emerged, Meyer said Wednesday, in what he previously described as a "wide open" competition between Matthew Burrell, Demetrius Knox and Malcolm Pridgeon to replace Branden Bowen as the Buckeyes’ starting right guard. Meyer declined multiple invitations, however, to reveal who that leader is.
“I kind of know, but we won’t announce it yet though,” Meyer said during his Wednesday press conference, smirking and saying nothing while giving a long pause when asked about it a second time.
The presumptive new starter at the position would be Burrell, who replaced Bowen in the lineup after he suffered a season-ending injury in the first quarter of last week’s game against Maryland. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said last week that Burrell would be the first offensive lineman off the bench in case of injury.
Now that injury has actually happened, however, Ohio State decided to give Knox and Pridgeon – who both competed with Bowen, along with Burrell, for the starting right guard job going into the season – another shot to seize that job.
Meyer said Ohio State’s coaches have also had conversations about potentially moving Billy Price back to right guard – the position he played last year – and starting Brady Taylor, who "is starting to make a move right now," at center. Meyer also said, however, that he believes it is important to have an experienced offensive lineman at the center position.
Price said he believes that could be an option if need be in an emergency situation, but that he has continued to practice at center this week with Burrell and Knox taking the majority of the first-team reps at right guard.
We might not know who the new starting right guard is until the Buckeyes take the field on Saturday, but Ohio State is confident that whoever steps in to fill the open spot will be able to get the job done.
"We’re very blessed to have some really good players," said Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "Matt Burrell’s played a lot, Demetrius Knox has played a lot, Malcolm Pridgeon’s been in some … They’ve had good weeks of practice, they’re ready to play."
Burrell has played 89 offensive snaps this season, all at right guard. Knox has played 53 snaps, all at left guard, while Pridgeon has played 46 snaps (36 at left guard, 10 at right guard). Taylor has played 113 snaps at center. Most of their playing time has come with the second-team offense in games that were already blowouts, but Wilson is confident in their readiness to play because of the competition they face in practice.
"They’re going against a great defensive front every day," Wilson said. "So they’re immune to going against talented players and multiple looks."
“We’re very blessed to have some really good players.”– Kevin Wilson on Matthew Burrell, Demetrius Knox and Malcolm Pridgeon
It does hurt to lose Bowen, Wilson said, because the coaches thought he was one of the team’s most consistent and best five offensive linemen, which is why they moved him inside from tackle to take the starting right guard job. He doesn’t anticipate making any changes to his game plan, however, in compensating for the loss.
"If you concentrate on trying to cover up a guy and hide a guy at the level we need to play with, there’s so many blitzes and twists and things that you got to account for, you just got to trust what you’re doing, count on the guys," Wilson said. "We’re pushing those guys hard, and I expect them to play well. And I keep pushing those guys to move forward."
It’s important for an offensive line to have five players who are all in sync and on the same page, which can be a challenge when forced to make a midseason replacement – especially when multiple players are splitting first-team reps and competing to be that midseason replacement. It does help the Buckeyes, though, that their other four starting offensive linemen – left tackle Jamarco Jones, left guard Michael Jordan, Price and right tackle Isaiah Prince – are all multi-year starters who have now started 19 straight games together.
"It was a battle all camp (at right guard), so it’s not like we’re not used to playing with those guys ‘cause during camp, we had all different guys in there. So I think they’ll be alright, we’ll be alright," Jones said. "(The new starting right guard) is in there with Billy and Isaiah, so he’s going to be in there next to two veteran guys, so I think that definitely will help out a lot."
Price acknowledges that it is a "difficult challenge" to have to replace Bowen in the middle of the season, but he feels confident that the offensive linemen competing to replace him have prepared themselves to be ready for this situation.
"You train all offseason, you train in the spring, you train in the winter for your moment to be called," Price said. "So the guys are going to be able to come in, whoever the coaches decide to end up picking between those three guys, those guys have that certain expectation to be up with us and be able to play with us and jell with us and be one adhesive unit."