By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: Urban Meyer has a dynamic quarterback in Braxton Miller, powerful tailback in Carlos Hyde and several strong receivers.
Yet the Ohio State coach gushes about the unheralded guys on offense.
“I feel good about the line and that’s where winning football, certainly offensive football, starts,” Meyer said after the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ 34-24 win over Iowa on Saturday. “They’re my favorite players on the team.”
In the din of the winning locker room, Meyer did something rare: He called up each of the five linemen for special acknowledgement from the rest of their teammates.
The front wall for the Buckeyes consists of four seniors — left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall — along with sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker.
They average 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds. Most have shoulder-length hair. Squint your eyes and they look like a younger version of the cast of Duck Dynasty.
In a way, that analogy works. Just like the Robertson clan of bayou-dwellers who run a duck-call manufacturing company in Monroe, La., the linemen are distinct people, each with a good sense of humor, who sometimes get angry but work together to be successful as a unit.
“It’s fun. We’ve got all kinds of different personalities in there,” said Decker, who said he favors the offbeat Uncle Si character on the hit reality-TV series. “There’s some goofballs. They are some pretty funny guys. But when it comes down to it, they all get the job done.”
It’s hard to argue with the results.
Heading into Saturday night’s game against Penn State (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), the Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) line is paving over the record book. The Buckeyes are averaging 493 yards and 45 points a game.
The line might be the biggest reason why Ohio State has won 19 games in a row, the longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The group has a good time, but they are serious about blocking and opening holes. They’re not occupied with polls, the Bowl Championship Series or what people outside the program are saying.
“I know it sounds cliched and corny, but we really are concerned about ourselves and our game-plan preparation. We’re not worried about anything else,” said Linsley, who co-coordinator and line coach Ed Warinner calls the point guard or quarterback of the group. “That’s what makes us a really good team. Week in and week out, we’re concerned about that opponent — we’re not concerned about anything outside of that opponent or any controversies that may spin off of that.”
Linsley was hampered much of last year with a foot injury that held the line back. He’s been healthy this season. With four starters back — and with Decker filling the crucial right tackle spot — everyone expected the unit to be strong.
“We’ve had lofty goals set for ourselves since the season ended last year,” Mewhort said. “As far as comparing ourselves to other Big Ten teams’ lines, of course we want to be the best at what we do.”
The offense has flourished this year even with a backfield in flux. Miller missed almost three games with a sprained knee ligament, Hyde was suspended for the first three games and Jordan Hall has just one carry in the past three games after a knee injury.
No matter who’s been back there, they know what to expect when they get the ball.
“Any time you have a veteran offensive line that is playing with the quality that they are right now it instills all types of confidence in the running back,” said Stan Drayton, Ohio State’s running backs coach. “That forces that running back not to worry about the first level of the defense, just trust that the linemen are going to get their job done.”
Each time the linemen feel someone deserves to be singled out, they’ve devised their own way of showing it.
“In our [meeting] room when you get three claps, that’s a big deal,” Warinner said. “If somebody comes in, it’s ready, set, go, we give them three claps, and it’s all in unison. When you do something really good, that’s how they acknowledge it.”
That applause you hear at Ohio Stadium? That’s the linemen getting three claps times 105,000.