Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford each had the option earlier this year of following Jonah Jackson and Branden Bowen out of the door to take their shot at the NFL.
All three would have been drafted. Yet all three opted to stick around Columbus for at least one more year.
Thus, as Ohio State nears the kickoff of its abbreviated eight game-regular season, it does so knowing it might have college football’s best offensive line.
“To be honest, last year everybody says we were one of the best offensive line groups that Ohio State has ever had,” Munford said on Wednesday. “But I personally think what I have seen and what we have been doing during practice all this time, I do think that we are going to be the best offensive line in the whole country.”
A high bar? Sure. But by combining the talent of the five projected starters with their experience, and you quickly realize that what offensive line coach Greg Studrawa has in his room isn’t normal.
At left tackle, a healthy Munford returns for his third season as a starter. Davis, a first-team All-American, bolsters the line as right tackle, and he will line up beside Rimington Trophy candidate Josh Myers. The two first-time starters – Harry Miller and Nicholas Petit-Frere – were each once five-star recruits and played the most snaps among all of the Buckeyes’ backup offensive linemen last season. This year’s second-string line features highly-rated recruits, physical marvels and
Again this week, Studrawa reiterated that he thought Ohio State had one of the country’s most top offensive lines in 2019. But he says he recently gave the linemen on this year’s team a message: “I think you guys can be better.” That, he said, is the goal.
“The potential for this group to be a great offensive line is right there,” Studrawa said. “Now they've got to go out and they've got to do it. Last year's group did. You take it game by game, you go out there and you give everything you can for that game and let's move on the next one, one game at a time. So far, that's what they're doing.”
Munford added: “We are a force to be reckoned with right now.”
A new Tuf Borland?
Tuf Borland, it has long felt safe to say, is a known commodity. He enters his fifth season as a Buckeye and third year as a team captain once again slated to start at middle linebacker. One of the team’s most experienced players, Borland has started 34 games and twice been listed as an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. He’s the savvy veteran who can get the defense lined up correctly and plays physically against the run but doesn’t have overwhelming athleticism.
Co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, however, challenged the notion this week that everybody should know what to expect from Borland as a redshirt senior.
“I've been very fortunate to have over the years been involved with some pretty good linebackers,” Mattison said. “The thing I've noticed about Tuf, this year he is a totally different linebacker in my opinion than last year. He's faster. He's quicker. He's stronger. And he is so much more vocal because, I believe, he is so confident.”
Does what Mattison said he’s seen of Borland translate into a completely unrecognizable player? That’s unlikely. But any additional athleticism would help the middle linebacker. We’ll get the first glimpse of this version of Borland when he lines up next to Pete Werner versus Nebraska on Saturday.
Along with some improved physical traits, Mattison – like most who deal with him on a day-to-day basis – also touted Borland’s leadership.
“He reminds me of the guys you had in the NFL where they're going to say, 'Hey, the ball is coming here. This is where we should be.' When things don't go exactly like you want, he comes off the field and he goes right to the coach and says, 'Coach, this is what's happening. What do you think we should do?' And you've got that kind of confidence where you have a true, true leader in him. I think the sky's the limit for him.”
Not until the Big Ten made it official that a season would get played this fall did Davis finally settle on staying at Ohio State. On Sept. 11, the right guard went as far as to opt out of the season due to a lack of understanding of whether the Buckeyes would actually play before deciding to stay in Columbus for one more season five days later.
“I kind of felt for him,” Munford said. “He even said it. It was like no communication from the Big Ten at all. I kind of understood where he was coming from.”
On Sept. 16, Davis officially declared his intention to play a fourth season at Ohio State. Within less than two weeks, Ryan Day said he and Shaun Wade – who had also opted out – were “good to go” this fall.
“There might have been a Hallejuah in there,” Studrawa said.
Along the way in his process, Davis had plenty of people throwing their opinions out there about what he should do. Star quarterback Justin Fields made sure the All-American heard his voice.
“I was calling Wyatt,” Fields said a few weeks ago. “I think I was kind of annoying him a little bit. But that's just what comes with it because I think a quarterback is only as good as his O-line. I'm trying to have the best line in the country because I know that's only going to make my job easier.”
Slowing Down Wan’Dale Robinson
The Cornhuskers only have a few players on their roster who would even make Ohio State’s two-deep depth chart. Wan’Dale Robinson, however, is one of them.
The second-year playmaking wide receiver was once a recruiting target of the Buckeyes as a top-100 prospect out of Kentucky. He initially committed to play for the Wildcats before choosing to attend Nebraska. As a true freshman last year, Robinson moved around in the offense to record 40 catches for 443 yards and two touchdowns, adding 340 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
In his second year, Robinson is primed for even greater output, and Ohio State understands slowing him down will be key to preventing Nebraska’s offense from getting rolling.
“With him, he's such a great athlete,” Borland said. “Last year, we saw him at receiver. We saw him in the backfield. Without getting into specifics, there's multiple ways he can hurt you. We've got to prepare for it all. That's our job. That's what we've been doing.”
Robinson’s versatility makes him perhaps the most dangerous Cornhusker on the offensive side of the ball.
“We're really well aware of that, and you never know in an opening game what somebody's going to do,” Mattison said. “So you really want to make sure you try to cover every base. But the fact that they did that a lot last year with him and they did a lot of things throughout the season with him, we have really tried to make sure we've covered every base and really had a lot of walkthroughs with it, a lot of different periods of practice to make sure we're in charge of all those different things.”
The Fire Inside
Don’t worry: Ohio State hasn’t forgotten how last year ended. The coaches and players remember the devastating Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson. By posting the score in the weight room and keeping it a topic of conversation, the Buckeyes plan to avenge their College Football Playoff semifinal loss later in the upcoming season.
“That motivation comes from not finishing the job,” Borland said. “Not finishing the way that we would like to last year. Obviously, it's a new season, new people. But that fire's still there and we still remember that. That's something we talk about frequently as a team and something we carry with us.”
The chase for redemption begins on Saturday.
“There's a great responsibility with being an Ohio State football player,” Borland said. “A long history of much success. We're just trying to do our part. But we're not really focused on what's to come in the long run. We know we have to take it day by day, practice by practice, game by game. Just being in a present moment. That's what our preparation has been. It's been completely focused on Nebraska and going 1-0 this week.”