Junior quarterback Braxton Miller and senior running back Carlos Hyde were the offensive stars for Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) once again in the Buckeyes’ 63-14 win against Penn State (4-3, 1-2). However, five players who, on paper, appear to have made less of a dent in the win, also played a crucial role in OSU’s 686-yard offensive performance against the Nittany Lions. So well, in fact, that even a former Buckeye was impressed.
Miller (252 passing yards, 68 rushing yards) and Hyde (147 rushing yards) accounted for 467 yards, or 68.1 percent, of OSU’s total offense in the victory.
But in order to achieve that success, they needed effective blocking from the offensive line.
The starting five offensive linemen — redshirt-senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, senior left guard Andrew Norwell, redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley, redshirt-senior right guard Marcus Hall and sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker — were praised by their coaches and teammates following Saturday’s win.
“I see an offensive line that’s one of the best in the country,” coach Urban Meyer said during a post-game press conference. “I’ll take my offensive line anywhere. Those guys are playing very well.”
That offensive line led an effort that amassed 32 first downs, averaged 8.9 yard gains per offensive play and converted seven of 10 third downs.
“Offensive line did a hell of a job,” Miller said of the unit’s performance Saturday.
Miller said the offensive line was “aggressive throughout the week of practice,” and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said the way OSU’s offensive linemen have practiced has led to their success this season.
“When you practice the same way — high level — your fundamentals get better, your technique, your understanding and just the whole cohesiveness up front,” Warinner said.
Through its first eight games, the OSU offense ranks eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense with an average of 517.3 yards per game and fifth nationally with a average 47.3 points scored per game.
That offensive success has been a team effort, Warinner said.
“(The offense) has the ability to horizontally stretch the field in the run game, and we do it in the pass game, and then vertically stretch you and so we’re putting defenses in a bind,” Warinner said. “They don’t know exactly where to try to load their defense. When you have good players at a lot of positions playing at a high level, which we do right now at receiver, quarterback, running back, O-line, tight end … we can be explosive. We are an explosive outfit right now.”
The OSU rushing offense ranks ninth nationally with an average of 295.6 rushing yards per game. Miller said the offensive line’s ability to block on the perimeter has played a key role in OSU’s success running the ball, much like Hall did on a Miller scramble early in the game where he leveled a Penn State defender.
“Getting guys the ball on the outside frees up the inside,” Miller said.
Warinner said OSU’s success as a rushing offense has been a “credit to a lot of people.”
“Running the football is important to us as a program, as a team,” Warinner said. “So that makes it important to the running backs, the O-line and all perimeter guys as well. And then we have the ability to run the ball outside as well as inside and we’re throwing the ball well so we’re just keeping people off-balance.”
Norwell said the offensive linemen have “great chemistry” with one another.
“We’re all on the same page,” Norwell said. “Coach Meyer knows how many reps we need to get in practice, and we just went hard every play.”
One reason for that chemistry might be the experience the offensive linemen have with playing with one another. Mewhort and Norwell are both third-year starters on the offensive line. Hall came into the season with 18 career starts, while Linsley is also a second-year starter.
Warinner said he thinks the experience of the offensive line has helped that unit play as well as they have this season.
“That it’s helped us a lot, because we can lean on those guys when we need to and they can be productive when they need to,” Warinner said.
Warinner said Decker, the only new starter on the offensive line, has fit in well.
“His talent level is really high,” Warinner said. “Experience and confidence were the two things he lacked. Now that he’s played eight games and played well these last three or four games, his confidence level is high along with talent level.”
Mewhort, Norwell, Linsley, Hall and Decker have each started all eight games for the Buckeyes this season, but with the result of Saturday’s game well in hand by the middle of the third quarter, OSU was able to get playing time for many of its backups, including the offensive line. Warinner said there were 11 offensive linemen in total who received playing time for the OSU offense Saturday.
Current OSU coaches and players are not the only Buckeyes impressed by the play of OSU’s offensive line this season. Orlando Pace, who played left tackle at OSU from 1994-96 and was honored on the field during Saturday’s game for being selected to the College Football Hall of Fame, said the OSU offensive line plays “really well together as a unit.”
“Those guys, they do a great job in protecting Braxton, and they run the ball well,” Pace said at halftime Saturday.
Pace said he expects Mewhort to follow in his footsteps from being an OSU left tackle to playing in the NFL, in which Pace played for 13 seasons.
“You’re definitely going to see him play on Sundays,” Pace said. “He moves well, footwork and hand placement and all those things, I think he’ll be fine.”
OSU will be looking for another impressive effort from its offensive line when it plays Purdue (1-6, 0-3) Saturday at noon in West Lafayette, Ind.