Although Ohio State has struggled to move the ball in the running game, the Buckeyes haven’t made any changes to their starting lineup on the offensive line, and as of now they don’t plan to.
With the exception of the final 25 snaps against Minnesota, on which Joshua Alabi replaced Thayer Munford after Munford left that game in the third quarter with an injury, the Buckeyes have used the same offensive line combination on all of their meaningful snaps this year: Munford at left tackle, Malcolm Pridgeon at left guard, Michael Jordan at center, Demetrius Knox at right guard and Isaiah Prince at right tackle.
As the Buckeyes haven’t had a blowout win since their fourth game of the season against Tulane, that means Pridgeon, Jordan, Knox and Prince have each played all of Ohio State’s offensive snaps in its last four games. For the season as a whole, those four offensive linemen have already played 607 offensive snaps, while Munford has played 582.
Following four straight games in which the Buckeyes have rushed for less than 3.3 yards per carry, and in which the offensive line hasn’t been able to clear a lot of holes for running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, there have been calls from Ohio State fans for the Buckeyes to make changes to their lineup up front. Ohio State offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson said this week, however, that they don’t expect to replace any starters yet.
“I don’t think the plan right now is to look to move anybody at this point,” Day said. “But the competition's always there, and if those guys are playing better, then we’re going to consider it.”
Jordan and Prince are both third-year starters, while Pridgeon and Knox are both fifth-year seniors, and Wilson said the Buckeyes feel most comfortable starting experienced veterans up front. That said, he singled out redshirt freshman interior offensive linemen Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers as younger offensive linemen who have impressed in practice, and he expects them to see some playing time down the stretch of the season.
“You’ve got a comfort level of game experience, in some of these big games you like the veterans, but some of those young guys are kind of knocking on the door," Wilson said. "And competition is a great ally of a coach, and great ally of a unit, as we go through this week in practice, those guys are getting a lot of good work. Not that there’s jobs up for grabs, it’s just nice having the more players you play, the more competition you have, I think the greater the environment and vibe of your team, and on the offensive line.
“I think it would be nice to continue to enhance our line and play some of these guys down the stretch,” Wilson continued. “We’re going to need them, to tell you the truth.”
“I don’t think the plan right now is to look to move anybody at this point. But the competition's always there, and if those guys are playing better, then we’re going to consider it.”– Ryan Day on the possibility of making offensive line changes
If anyone is going to push for a spot in the starting lineup, it could be Branden Bowen, who started the first six games of last season at right guard before breaking his leg. Bowen underwent a third surgery on that leg in September after it didn’t heal properly, but he has gotten back into doing some individual work in practices. It’s still uncertain whether he will be able to play this season, but his coaches say he is getting close.
“We’re hopeful that he can get back and get into full practice here pretty soon,” Day said of Bowen. “He’s coming along, and making some good progress. But not quite ready to play yet.”
Fifth-year senior interior offensive lineman Brady Taylor, who began the year as the Buckeyes’ backup left guard before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, is also expected to return to the offensive line competition soon.
With Bowen and Taylor sidelined, Ohio State’s second-team offensive line has consisted of Alabi at left tackle, Gavin Cupp at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Wyatt Davis at right guard and Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle. Outside of Alabi, however, none of those players have seen the field on offense since the Tulane game.