Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer announces the team’s offensive and defensive players of the week during his weekly press conference, but this Monday, he did something different. His offensive award was not to a single player, but to an entire unit: the offensive line.
“Our offensive player of the week ran for 210 yards, had 15 knockdowns, scored 17 points and on the last drive of the game, killed four minutes and 30 seconds running the ball against a very good defense, so our offensive player of the game is our offensive line,” Meyer said of the unit’s performance in the Buckeyes’ 17-16 victory against Michigan State on Saturday.
That offensive line consists of redshirt junior left tackle Jack Mewhort, junior left guard Andrew Norwell, redshirt junior center Corey Linsley, redshirt junior right guard Marcus Hall and senior right tackle Reid Fragel. Each has started all five games so far this season.
Meyer expressed his satisfaction with the performance and progression of the offensive line through the season’s first five games, and especially in its most recent game.
“Those five guys right now are locked and loaded, they’re together, they’re being well-coached, and they found a way to rush for 200 yards against a very stout team that doesn’t give up much rushing yardage,” Meyer said. “That’s the group right now that I’m most pleased with.”
Coming into the season, however, the Buckeyes had less certainty with their offensive line, as they had to replace three starters from 2011.
Norwell is the only returning starter in his same position from 2011, while Mewhort moved from right guard to left tackle. Hall had started five games at right guard in 2011, while Linsley and Fragel, the latter of whom was a tight end in his first three years with the Buckeyes, had never started a game as an offensive lineman at OSU.
Mewhort said this year’s starting offensive line has come together well.
“We’re really gelling well, and we’re getting better every day, so we’re really excited about the places we’re going,” Mewhort said.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner said the unit has “continued to grow” over the course of the season thus far.
“They’ve played together for five games … we’re not a finished product there … we still have a lot of things to continue to grow and clean up and get better at, but I think they’re really playing hard, they’re starting to understand what we want in the spread offense, we’re trying to be physical up front,” Warinner said. “They practice that way and they’re starting to carry it to the game field and it was good, it was good to be able to finish off that game the way we did, and for them to be recognized by the head coach and the offensive staff as a unit that made the big impact, that was great.”
Warinner said Meyer’s stamp of approval is meaningful to the offensive linemen because of the work they’ve put in.
“I think it validates the hard work that they’ve put in, and just how hard they’re playing,” Warinner said. “There were four starting offensive linemen in this building at 6:30 this morning without anybody telling them they had to be here, without anybody making them have to be here. That tells me right now that they’re pretty all in.”
Meyer specifically pointed out the progression of Fragel as a first-year offensive tackle for the Buckeyes.
“Reid Fragel has become an offensive lineman. He wasn’t an offensive lineman at first, who are we kidding? He was a tight end playing offensive line that was trying to figure it out. His last two games, he’s now an offensive lineman, an Ohio State offensive lineman, which is, you say that around here, that’s pretty powerful stuff. We’ve had some great offensive linemen throughout the years,” Meyer said.
While Meyer did praise the five starters, he expressed concern about the offensive line’s depth.
“Unfortunately, we only got five (starting-caliber offensive linemen),” Meyer said. “(We) should have eight of them, we don’t. We have five guys right now.”
The next test for the No. 12 Buckeyes’ offensive line is scheduled for Saturday in a home game versus No. 21 Nebraska at 8 p.m.
Warinner said his unit will have to “be at our best” while going up against the Cornhuskers’ defensive front.
“They have big defensive tackles that try to knock the guards back, they have defensive ends that are aggressive, quick,” Warinner said. “It’s a challenging defense … They are good up front. We’ll have to take it a notch up from last week.”