Offensive line creates path to success for OSU

COLUMBUS — They are an unquestioned strength now.

But it wasn’t always that way for Ohio State’s offensive line. A year ago, there were a lot of questions.

After quarterback J.T. Barrett was sacked seven times and OSU’s running game struggled in last year’s 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, the offensive line was the target of much criticism.

But by the end of the season, after dominating the defenses of Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon in the postseason, the line underwent a nearly complete image makeover.

Ohio State averaged 47 points, 544 yards total offense and 292 yards rushing per game in its last three games last season.

With tackle Taylor Decker, guards Pat Elflein and Billy Price and center Jacoby Boren back, the expectation is that the offensive line will play its role that well or better this season.

The improvement was steady and gradual. “I don’t think there was one moment where we were like, ‘We have it.’ I don’t know if I can give you an exact game,” Boren said.

“Obviously, we struggled early. By probably halfway through the season we were firing on all cylinders. And, obviously, we were at the end of the season,” he said.

Elflein said, “I think it was just confidence in ourselves. As the season went on, we saw we could run the ball. I think it was just the confidence that we can do this, we can play well, we can score touchdowns and pass protect.”

Elflein, a two-year starter, was first-team All-Big Ten and Decker, a three-year starter, was on the second team. Boren is also a three-year starter and Price is in his second year as a starter.

Chase Farris, who came to Ohio State as a defensive lineman, will start at the tackle position departed senior Daryl Baldwin played last year.

“I’m really buying a lot of stock in Chase Farris,” Decker said. “You always know what you’re going to get from him.”

For Decker, the success of the line starts with an attitude. And having athletic teammates helps, too.

“We’re just tough. That’s the nature of the program. I think the guys in the (offensive line) room uphold that standard. And, obviously, we have a great running back and we have threats all over the field who can run the ball on whatever type of play it may be,” he said.

Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, who has been the team’s offensive line coach since 2012, said, “They’re about 12 months more experienced, they have 12 months more of being together. They’re a mature group, a very close group, a very veteran, weathered group.

“Last year we were teaching them how to play, how to practice, how to get lined up and execute assignments. We’re going into more detail now of how to take it to the next level.”

If the next level is repeating as national champion, OSU’s offensive line will be one of the big reasons it gets there.

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Ohio State center Jacoby Boren blocks Navy’s Bernard Sarra while quarterback J.T. Barrett looks for a receiver during OSU’s 2014 season opener in Baltimore. (AP Photo)
http://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/09/web1_JTBarrett.jpgOhio State center Jacoby Boren blocks Navy’s Bernard Sarra while quarterback J.T. Barrett looks for a receiver during OSU’s 2014 season opener in Baltimore. (AP Photo)

By Jim Naveau

[email protected]

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.

Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.