The offensive line was the heart and soul of the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes. It paved the way for a rushing attack that was quite possibly the best in Ohio State history.
The 2014 version started off with a severe dip in production. As the season went on, though, it began to enforce its will on opposing defenses and Urban Meyer once again called the Buckeyes an offensive line-driven team.
Despite the high praise, there was not a time where it seemed this line was just as good as last year’s. They had not had a defining moment. That all changed on a fourth-and-1 from Michigan’s 44-yard line.
The Buckeyes had the ball with just over five minutes left and were up 28-21 when facing that fateful fourth-down decision. Punting would be the easy choice considering that the offense was running with, essentially, its third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones. Jones had just been stuffed on a third-and-2 the previous series, the Buckeye defense had also been spotty all day and getting stuffed would give Devin Gardner great field position to work with.
The offense initially stayed out on the field, but with the play clock winding down Meyer called a timeout to think things over. You’d be wrong to assume that the decision to go for it was an easy one for Meyer, as he had to have a conference with offensive line coach Ed Warinner during the timeout to make sure the “slobs” up front were able to get the push they needed for an extra yard.
"I simply asked our offensive line coach very charismatically, can we get it?" Meyer said. "And without hesitation, he looked me right in the eye and said we can."
The offense went back out onto the field and the result was a game-clinching, 44-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott.
“We know we’re an offensive line-driven team,” right tackle Darryl Baldwin said. “So we knew that would be big for us and we just like to put that weight on our shoulders and try to carry our team. It’s always great when we get that done.”
The Wolverines loaded the box with ten men on the play, as everyone knew the Buckeyes would be running it with a cold quarterback in the backfield. The Wolverines entered the game ranked ninth in the nation in rushing defense, so getting the necessary yardage was no easy task.
Jones lined up with Elliott to his right and Jalin Marshall to his left. Elliott took the handoff to the left as Marshall and Jones swept right, distracting Michigan’s linebackers. Left tackle Taylor Decker completely sealed his man while left guard Billy Price and center Jacoby Boren doubled up another lineman to open up a gaping hole, and Elliott was able to run right through it and by linebacker Jake Ryan on his way to the end zone. “It’s a pride thing,” Decker said of the call. “You’ve gotta have a little pride and confidence in what you’re able to do. Coach Warinner was all for that call. He wanted that call and he has confidence in us and we know we were prepared. We called the best play for it and executed it well and it worked out.”
This was the biggest fourth-down play for Ohio State since the fourth-and-2 against Michigan State in last year’s Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes couldn’t convert on that one, but this one gave them a third straight year of going undefeated in conference play during the regular season.
“Did you see me on the sideline? I got a little excited,” Warinner said. “It’s just exciting because that means a lot of people executed really well. It’s not just one guy. Zeke is a hard runner and I think he ran through an arm tackle, but there were a lot of people putting nice blocks on defenders, and that’s the risk you take to stop fourth-and-1. You can also give up a big play. It worked out well for us.”
With, yet again, a new starter at quarterback, it will be even more imperative for the offensive line to be opening holes for the ground game in Indianapolis next weekend.