PHOENIX - After giving up eight sacks in a 30-27 double overtime victory over Michigan on Nov. 26, the Ohio State offensive line looked as though it had some chinks in the armor despite finishing its season 11-1.
More specifically, right tackle Isaiah Prince had been the focus of criticism for his performance, as Wolverine defensive end Taco Charlton beat him off the edge on multiple occasions to the tune of nine total tackles and 2.5 sacks in the loss to the Buckeyes.
After finishing up bowl practice just before the Christmas holiday, Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said he has seen Prince and the entire Buckeye offensive front improve ahead of the Fiesta Bowl matchup scheduled for Saturday night.
"Isaiah is very interested in improving and very interested in taking care of his business," Warinner said Tuesday. "(He is) very coachable and has a really good attitude and demeanor. He is a very talented guy and he is young and had a few things in his game that he needed to clean up. From what I have seen in practice, his level of play and execution has really improved in the last couple weeks."
Buckeyes right guard Billy Price, who has played next to Prince all season on the offensive line, said he has seen Prince's development as well, adding he has seen Prince mature mentally on the field.
"There is an accountability factor, especially when you're the one who is messing up," Price said. "If it was myself, if I give up a sack it is my accountability, I am the one who is failing to do well. (Prince) has kind of changed his perspective on things. Instead of pointing fingers, (he is saying) it's my fault, let's get better. I think that is part of the maturation process especially when you have this amount of time in bowl season."
Price reflected on his own experience when he was playing in a bowl game for the first time, against Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl semi-final two seasons ago. While Price did not come under as much scrutiny when he was starting for the first time in a bowl game, he said he has been impressed with how Prince has handled the outside pressure this year.
"From the last game of the season to where he is now and the growth that he has had, it's just excellent," Price said. "He is 19-20 years old. He is a young man. To be able to take that accountability and grow from it, that it excellent to watch that."
As for the offensive line as a whole, senior center and Rimington Award winner Pat Elflein said that Ohio State will have to be at its best to win the battle in the trenches. The Clemson defensive front collected 46 sacks in 2016, second most behind Florida State and Boston College which tied for first with 47.
When looking at the Tigers defensive line, Elflein said their size immediately stands out to him after studying film.
"Big dudes. They play hard and they are good with their hands and they are very talented," Elflein said. "Not just the interior, they are all pretty good so it is a big, physical, talented group."
Elflein and Price have yet to miss a game in three years as starters and have been a part of a national championship offensive front together. While the interior of Ohio State's offensive line is not being questioned, Price was asked whether or not he thought Prince will be able to handle the Clemson pass rush, in particular Carlos Watkins, who led the Tigers in sacks this season with 8.5.
"He will be ready," Price said. "I can tell you that. He has worked his butt off this bowl season. He is going to be fine."