COLUMBUS – Having moments of greatness and moments of collapse does not make Ohio State’s offensive line unique.
But being Ohio State’s offensive line means all of those moments will be seen by more people and analyzed, commented on, applauded and criticized more than with most teams.
The good times for OSU’s offense and its offensive line include 776 yards of offense and 77 points against Bowling Green, 669 yards and 58 points against Rutgers, back-to-back 62-point games against Nebraska and Maryland and scoring 45 at Oklahoma.
On the negative side, J.T. Barrett was sacked eight times by Michigan, six times by Penn State and the offense looked sluggish most of the Northwestern and Michigan State games.
Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring (42.7), total offense yards (479.5) and rushing yards (258.3), which ranks ninth nationally. Center Pat Elflein was a unanimous first-team All-American and won the Rimington Award as the best center in college football. Guard Billy Price was a first-team All-American and tackle Jamarco Jones was second-team All-Big Ten.
But the passing game produced few big plays and OSU was seventh in the Big Ten in sacks allowed (25).
In the Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes’ offensive line will be going against a Clemson defense that was second nationally with 46 sacks and permitted only one team, Louisville, to rush for 200 yards or more.
The Tigers, like Ohio State, were hit hard by players leaving for the NFL. Clemson had nine players drafted last season, second only to Ohio State, and seven of those were on defense.
“They have some pretty big boys up front,” Price said. “They’re athletic, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast.”
Elflein says consistency has been a concern and a point of emphasis throughout the year for the offensive line.
“At times we are inconsistent. Sometimes we look like the best O-line in the country and sometimes we look the opposite of that,” he said.
Right tackle Isaiah Prince, a sophomore in his first year as a starter, has been the target of much of the criticism after being beaten repeatedly for sacks at Penn State and in other games.
Price said it got so bad that he and some of the older players removed Twitter from Prince’s phone.
“We took Twitter off his phone after Penn State. We were like, ‘Hey, Zay, don’t look. Give us you phone,” he said.
Price says he has been targeted on social media, too.
“They tweeted at my girlfriend. I had people tweet at my girlfriend, saying stuff like, “Your boyfriend is trash. You should be embarrassed.’ Trust me, we all look. Everybody knows what goes on Twitter,” he said.
Elflein said, “It always seems to fall back on us if the offense isn’t doing well. It’s always our fault. Everyone wants to look at him (Prince) but it’s not just him. It’s all five people being on the same page.”
Elflein and Price have started together for 40 consecutive games on OSU’s offensive line. That streak could have ended at 28 if Elflein had chosen to enter the NFL draft after last season, but he felt he needed another year in college.
“I knew I was a good football player but I knew there was a lot of room for improvement and I could come back here and get better at those things. I wasn’t ready to go early and it paid off,” he said.
The more immediate concern for Ohio State is if Elflein and his offensive line teammates will be ready to go Saturday night against Clemson.
Reach Jim Naveau at The Lima News at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.