Billed as one of the top units in the nation before the season, the Ohio State defensive line anchored a defense that helped the Buckeyes to the first-ever College Football Playoff.
But regardless of the 27.5 sacks by the Buckeye line this season, No. 4 OSU (12-1, 8-0) is set for a fresh test when matching up with the offensive line of No. 1 Alabama (12-1, 7-1) in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday.
“We haven’t really matched up with someone like this before, this athletic, this big,” sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa said Tuesday in New Orleans. “But like I said yesterday, I don’t think they’ve seen someone — a D-line as consistent as us and as physical as we’re going to be.”
Along with Bosa’s praise of the Crimson Tide offensive line, Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Buckeye defensive line can cause problems for his offense.
“Up front on defense, they’re very physical and what makes defensive players good is they’re hard to block,” Saban said Tuesday in New Orleans. “And they certainly have some guys up front that are hard to block and they played very well and have been difficult to score against.”
Through 12 regular season games and the Big Ten Championship, OSU gave up an average of 21.2 points per game. Opposing teams averaged less than four yards per carry, while the defense as a whole registered 40 sacks and another 20 quarterback hits to go with an even 100 tackles for loss.
But the guys up front on the Alabama offense have found their own success on paper as well, helping pave the way for 2,968 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns as a team this season. The Crimson Tide also allowed just 13 sacks all season.
OSU senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett noted Alabama’s success in all facets of the offense and said the offensive line plays a big role in that.
“Like you said they’re a very balanced offense,” Bennett said Tuesday in New Orleans. “They have a fantastic O-line who is very big and actually very athletic. And that’s a hard combination to achieve at O-line. They’ve got a quarterback who can throw the ball and is really good with his legs.”
On top of paving the way for junior running back T.J. Yeldon to gain 965 yards and 10 touchdowns in addition to sophomore running back Derrick Henry’s 928 yards and 10 more scores, the Alabama line helped redshirt-senior quarterback Blake Sims take his time in the pocket, leading to 3,250 passing yards and 26 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
Unlike the Buckeyes — who Bosa stressed are facing a fresh test in the Crimson Tide — Sims said his team has had tests similar to OSU already this season.
“Their defensive line reminds me of Missouri,” Sims said Tuesday in New Orleans. “They’ve got great defensive linemen (and) they’re good at all spots.”
But regardless of whether either team has faced a similar opponent this year, Bennett said the battle in the trenches — especially when Alabama has the ball — will be key to the outcome of the game.
“I think the biggest challenge would be stopping their offensive line,” he said. “It’s going to be a great challenge, because I’ve said it early on in this season. But the games that are going to be the biggest battles are the most fun because you find out who is tougher.”
But with the game on the horizon, Bennett added he feels the Buckeyes will be up to the challenge.
“I think we have a good game plan involved,” he said. “We have the right personnel to stop them. It will be a fun game to see how it goes.”
The Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide are set to play at 8:30 p.m. in New Orleans on New Year’s Day in the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup.