Twice in the past month, second-year starting center Josh Myers has brought up the early-season criticism of Ohio State’s rushing attack.
He did so once after beating Northwestern to capture the Big Ten championship, pointing out some statistics he made sports information director Jerry Emig fetch before doing his postgame interview. Then he brought up the disparagement from earlier in the fall again Friday night following the 21-point Sugar Bowl win against Clemson.
“When we do well, Trey (Sermon) does well. When Trey does well, we do well,” Myers said. “It's a whole lot of fun. Especially after the start of the season that we had and people just being like, ‘What's up with your run game?’ even though we were like leading the Big Ten in rushing yards.”
Nobody’s asking that question anymore.
The only thing left to wonder is whether the Buckeyes can continue their domination up front for one more game to finish this off. The offensive line, despite shuffling guys in and out in a fractured season, has somehow managed to steadily improve, and that crescendoed in the Sugar Bowl with Ohio State’s mauling of Clemson’s front seven.
“I attribute it to practice, which our guys did a great job of,” head coach Ryan Day said. “You've got to give a lot of credit to the guys. Got to give a lot of credit to the position coaches for getting them ready.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes don’t have a Chase Young or a Bosa. No top-of-the-first-round pick disrupting things on a play-by-play basis. Yet the front four have remained stout against the run and gotten pressure on quarterbacks all season, which were trends that reappeared on Friday with Clemson averaging two yards per carry and Trevor Lawrence constantly throwing off his back foot.
With such strong play up front, I thought it would be worth taking one last look at the domination of Clemson to highlight the play of four Buckeyes who might not have received a ton of individual acclaim for their Sugar Bowl performances yet were understated key to the 21-point win. Quite frankly, several others could've ended on this list including Matthew Jones and Tyreke Smith, but here are four who stood out.
The fifth-year senior's style of play fits his personality: Low-key. He's not out there scoring a touchdown every game, or even every other game. He's not pancaking guys on every single play. He's not doing anything crazy.
He just gets the job done again and again and again. This season, only three players have graded out as champions in all seven games: Tommy Togiai, Jonathon Cooper and Farrell. The tight end who caught his first touchdown of the season on Friday shows up on that list time after time largely due to his consistency as a run blocker.
The Ohio State coaching staff trusts his strength, leverage and technique to essentially use Farrell as a sixth offensive lineman, lining him just outside of offensive tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere to take care of a defensive end or standup rush linebacker. He stays low, stays square and always drives his feet, helping to open up lanes for Trey Sermon to go off once again. Farrell also is adept at kicking out defenders, as seen on the early second-quarter quick-hitting run that ended with Sermon 30 yards down the field.
Against Clemson, Farrell also drove a cornerback into the bench area to spring Chris Olave for an 11-yard gain on a wide receiver screen. If the Buckeyes can get a two-on-two matchup with him blocking for Olave in space, they have to always like the odds.
Combined with Jeremy Ruckert – who has developed into one heck of a complete tight end – Ohio State has an impactful tight end duo that gets most of its headlines when the upperclassmen catch touchdown passes yet have constantly gotten the job done as blockers this season.
If we're trying to keep this to unsung heroes, Togiai might be a bit of a stretch. Anyone watching on Friday night surely noticed him a couple of times. But his play against Clemson deserved further inspection.
Long regarded as the strongest player on this team, he's nearly impossible to push around unless offensive lines are willing to dedicate multiple 300-pounders to deal with him. And over the years, he's become increasingly adept at using his underrated agility, endless motor and ever-increasingly "toolbox" of moves – did you see the swim move? – to penetrate and make plays in the backfield.
Togiai accounted for four tackles against the Tigers, including one of them coming for a loss. He batted down a pass and was one of the main reasons why Clemson (or any other team this season) couldn't get much going in the run game this season. He made sure Lawrence didn't run wild on the Buckeyes either, keying on him and forcing a fumble.
In a sense, Munford's night against Clemson was almost boring. And that's a good thing.
The four-year left tackle took care of his assignment the entire game, almost never making any errors or having miscommunication issues despite playing alongside Jones for the first time ever for a full game. You hear football coaches use the tired cliche of "do your job" all the time, and what Munford did was the epitome of that.
In these five clips below, Munford kick-steps to block five different Clemson defenders. None of them got any pressure on Fields, which was a theme on Friday. Both Munford and Petit-Frere, as they've done with remarkable consistency all season, prevented outside pass-rushers from getting to the quarterback.
Fields put forth nothing less than a legendary performance in the Sugar Bowl. But that might not have happened if he felt pressure all night. Munford, playing every left tackle snap in the game, was one of the reasons why the quarterback felt so comfortable.
This might have been Myers' best game of the 2020 season, and it came at the perfect time. The redshirt junior center had a new left guard beside him, was facing a defense that has liked in the past to blitz creatively and was tasked with getting movement on a talented group of defensive linemen to allow Sermon to off once again.
As it turns out, Myers was well-prepared for the moment. Along with Jones and Wyatt Davis, he and his fellow interior offensive linemen thrived with their combo double-teams in the run game and communicated well in pass protection to deal with several stunts Brent Venables threw at them.
Myers is hitting his stride as the end of the season nears, and Ohio State needs one more big game out of him with Alabama looming.