SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The spotlight can be an intimidating setting for a first-year starter, especially for a first-year starter at Ohio State. Redshirt freshman right tackle Isaiah Prince has melted a few times under the spotlight, most notably in the loss against Penn State and versus Michigan when the offensive line allowed six and eight sacks, respectively. Prince was responsible for several of those.
With such a large fan base behind them, OSU players are often thrown into the line of fire with just one mistake. Redshirt junior guard Billy Price is no stranger to that and has coached Prince through his struggles this season.
“Billy has been through it before with his criticism, especially after his game against Virginia Tech so he’s definitely been someone to guide me through all the criticism I’ve taken this year,” Prince said. “To be honest, I really don’t pay attention to criticism. The fans aren’t my coaches. They really don’t know what goes on between us so I don’t really pay attention.”
Meyer said before the team left for Phoenix that Prince had been working harder in bowl practice than any player he has ever coached. For good reason, too.
Per College Football Film Room, Prince has allowed 25 quarterback pressures combined in Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State games. Clemson ranks fourth in the country with an average of 3.5 sacks per game.
Tigers’ defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, who will line up across from Prince on Saturday, has excelled in his second year with the Tigers. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound sophomore was named a first-team Freshman All-American in 2015 and an Associated Press third-team All-American this season. Wilkins has registered 3.5 sacks through 13 games and leads the team with 12 tackles for loss.
The OSU offensive line will likely see several different looks from the Clemson defensive front that has two freshmen and redshirt senior second-team All-American Carlos Watkins. Senior linebacker Ben Boulware and redshirt sophomore linebacker Kendall Joseph also have a knack for getting to the backfield, and Boulware rushes primarily on Prince’s side. He leads the team with 114 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and four sacks.
“That’s just our DNA — tackles for loss, sacks, just getting after the quarterback,” Wilkins said. “We’ll just stay within our game and do what we do best.”
OSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is at the end of his first season with the Buckeye program, taking over for Ed Warinner after co-offensive coordinator became his sole responsibility. Prince said Studrawa’s coaching style differs from Warinner by the amount of time spent on technique. So, when Prince was putting in extra hours outside of the practice schedule, he was working on the fundamentals — footwork and hand placement.
“You could have a really good play and look really good, but if the technique isn’t good, you’ll still get a minus,” Prince said. “It definitely helps us get better.”
Studrawa said that Prince’s attention to detail and practice habits have significantly improved since OSU’s last game against Michigan on Nov. 26.
“We’ve really studied the mistakes he’s made,” Studrawa said. “We’ve studied why they were made, and he’s put the time and effort into trying to improve the little things that can make him a better player.”
One benefit Prince has in his development ahead of Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal is having the ability to face OSU’s defensive line in practice. Defensive ends like redshirt sophomore Sam Hubbard, redshirt junior Tyquan Lewis, junior Jalyn Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa have combined for 17.5 sacks this season, which makes Prince believe they’re the best unit in the country.
For the past few weeks, Price has noticed Prince take accountability for his mistakes rather than “pointing the finger.” To Price, that is vital to the redshirt freshman’s development ahead of his biggest game of his young career.
“They’re a really good football team, and their front-four is very good,” Prince said. “Definitely important to go out there and be nine (units) strong.”