Line Play Could Give OSU Big Advantage

Many games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. If that is the case this weekend when Ohio State travels to archrival Michigan, the Buckeyes could have a big advantage.

It has been said many times over the years that football games are won at the line of scrimmage. Whichever team on any given day gets the better of the line play will likely have a large advantage.

If that old adage is true, that advantage will likely go to Ohio State when the third-ranked Buckeyes battle archrival Michigan Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State went into the season with its offensive line a presumed strength, and that has definitely been the case. The quintet of Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Taylor Decker has provided the best OL combination in several years, while OSU's defensive line has gone from possible question mark to a very capable unit.

Conversely, Michigan's offensive line play has been frankly in flux for much of the year. The Wolverines have used five different OL combinations this season – primarily because of struggles on the interior of the line between tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Quarterback Devin Gardner has spent much of this season under pressure from opposing defenders, and U-M quarterbacks have been sacked 32 times.

Michigan has also allowed a Football Bowl Subdivision-most 103 tackles for a loss this fall. Ohio State junior linebacker Ryan Shazier expects to see U-M offensive line play its best game of the season against the Buckeyes, however.

"We're always going to get their best," Shazier said. "I know they've probably given up a thousand tackles for loss this season, but I know going into this game that they're going to try to give up as little as possible."

Added OSU junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett: "Watching film, they have a good group of O-linemen. ... I know they will be motivated against us. I know we have to come ready to play, too."

The Buckeyes will bring a defensive line to Michigan Stadium that has become a solid unit. For the most part, Ohio State's defense has been solid all season – and the defensive line play has been a big reason why. Freshman end Joey Bosa (31 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks) has been a revelation, while Bennett (31 tackles, 10 TFL and 5½ sacks) has impressed leading the interior. End Noah Spence and tackles Joel Hale and Tommy Schutt have also played well – and Adolphus Washington is coming off his best game of the season after moving from end to a tackle position alongside Bennett for much of the game.

"I think they're doing an amazing job right now," Shazier said. "Those guys, they're opening so many lanes for us to run through. They're making plays in the backfield. Just causing so much destruction to the offense, it just makes it easier for the back half of the defense to play. With them guys just making all that noise in the front, it's making it a lot easier for us."

If the trends of the season continue, Michigan will struggle to find any rushing success against the Buckeyes. The Wolverines rank No. 101 nationally in rushing offense with 128.2 yards per game. U-M is also coming off a season-low 158 yards of total offense in its 24-21 loss at Iowa last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have allowed only five rushing scores this season and 95.3 yards on the ground per game.

On the other side of the coin, the Ohio State offensive line has led a ground attack that averages 314.7 yards per game – fifth best in the nation. The Buckeyes will face a challenge from U-M's defense, however, as the Wolverines have allowed 116.4 yards rushing per game. That ranks No. 14 in the nation.

"We're going into it with a smash-mouth mentality," Mewhort said. "If you want to go on the road and win a big rivalry game in the Big Ten, you have to bring your rushing attack. That's something we take pride in and hopefully when we go up there, we're prepared for everything they have."

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