Matthew Jones Making Push to Be Among Best Five Ohio State Offensive Linemen: “The Kid Deserves to Play”

By Griffin Strom on October 21, 2021 at 10:10 am
Matthew Jones

Preseason experimentation aside, Greg Studrawa never intended to have a six-man rotation on his offensive line.

Matthew Jones has simply been so good that the Ohio State coaching staff has been forced to reconsider.

Injuries to Thayer Munford opened the door for Jones, a fourth-year guard, and the Brooklyn native has run with the opportunity. Already experienced in stepping into big roles after starting in both College Football Playoff games for the Buckeyes in 2020, Jones currently has the highest Pro Football Focus grade in the country at his position and is likely to continue getting reps despite the high-profile names Ohio State has up front.

“I thought that it would be settled on a five,” Studrawa said Tuesday. “You think about that stuff all summer long in preparation, and I’ve never been a guy that has had the opportunity to rotate guys like that. You want to get those five in there, you want to get them comfortable with each other and you want to play them. But the fact that there’s some younger guys that have come along so well, and Matt Jones’ growth and improvement has made me do it, because the kid deserves to play.”

Jones feels deserving as well.

The former top-100 recruit in the class of 2018 was aiming to lock down a job as a regular starter in 2021, given the departure of Wyatt Davis and Harry Miller’s apparent move from left guard to center ahead of the season. Jones said Sept. 22 that it was “very hard” and “hurt a lot” when he found out he would not enter his redshirt junior season a starter, given what he showed at the end of last year.

“I just thought last year, playing in the biggest two games really put me in a steady mindset to compete at the highest level against great teams,” Jones said. “So I just felt like that was a big accomplishment for me.”

Miller missing time due to COVID-19 in 2020 allowed Jones to start against Clemson, and a similar circumstance prompted his return to the starting lineup this season. When Munford, a fourth-year starter for the Buckeyes, suffered an ankle injury against Tulsa, Jones filled in at left guard and was the only offensive lineman to grade out as a champion.

With Munford out, Jones started the next week against Akron, once again earning a champion grade. In fact, even though he played special teams only during the first two weeks, Jones is one of just three Buckeye offensive linemen to be named a champion on three occasions through six games, alongside Luke Wypler and Nicholas Petit-Frere.

"When I got injured during the Tulsa game, that was his chance to actually step up," Munford said Wednesday. "Coach Stud saw that, he’s like, ‘Oh, we can’t let this slip. Did you see how Matt Jones played against Tulsa? Did you see how he played against Akron?’ Yes, I know it’s Akron and Tulsa of course, but the way he came out, just ran people off the ball, pass blocked, everything. You can’t pass him up. You can’t just not put him with the starting offensive line.”

Munford returned to the starting lineup against Rutgers, but Jones has still managed to force his way into the lineup for significant snaps. Munford, right guard Paris Johnson Jr. and right tackle Dawand Jones have all been subbed out for injury or illness at one point or another in the past two games, allowing Matthew Jones to get reps at both guard positions.

“When other guys are banged up and maybe can’t go to 80 or 90 plays, it gives you an opportunity to get them out and get them rested and keep them healthy for the long haul,” Studrawa said. “It’s halfway right now, we’re headed into the storm now. And so they got to be as healthy as they can, and the ability to rotate them. Then if something does happen – like you saw we lost Dawand that last play (against Rutgers) – Thayer goes back to tackle, Matt jumps in, Nick (Petit-Frere) goes (to right tackle), boom, we don’t skip a beat. So those things are nice problems to have.”

But Matthew Jones is also seeing his practice reps split at another position, as Studrawa said he’s pulling “double duty” as Ohio State’s backup center. Injuries have kept Miller off the field altogether in the first four games of the season, and since returning in the past two, he hasn’t played at center at all.

Wypler has handled starting duties at center all season as a redshirt freshman, logging the most snaps on the entire team for that matter. Studrawa said he’s considered putting Jones in for late-game reps at center on more than one occasion this year, but always stops short due to the potential injury risk.

“You sit there on the sideline and you look at the score, you think Matt Jones goes in there and somebody falls on his knee and rolls him up. It’s 50 to whatever, why’s Matt in the game?” Studrawa said. “As soon as I want to do it, something grabs me in the back of my head and I stop doing that. So I try to get him that work in a little bit of a safer environment in practice during the week when we’re staying up and doing those things so that he still stays sharp at that position. But in those kind of situations, I really wouldn’t want anything bad to happen.”

Jones might not end up overtaking Munford or Johnson as an outright starter at guard this season, but Studrawa said if he had to choose the top five offensive linemen on the team at the moment, “it would be a very hard decision, because he’s in the mix now.”

It could take until 2022 for Jones to get the snaps he feels like he deserves for a full season, but his coaches and teammates think Jones is poised to continue making an impact with whatever opportunities he receives before then.

"He knows he can do it, we all know he can do it, he just needs to keep staying the course," Munford said. "Because mark my words, he’s gonna be a problem later on this year and possibly when he comes back for next year. I don’t know, that’s his personal decision. But he’s gonna be a problem."

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