Out For Redemption

One of the biggest guys around, Alex Boone was also viewed as one of the biggest reasons why Ohio State was destroyed in last season's BCS National Championship Game. As it turns out, there is a lot more to the story than Boone simply getting beat. Find out what really happened along the offensive line in last year's title game and how the team is changing things this time around.

NEW ORLEANS – No bones about it, Alex Boone did not have a good game against Florida last year.

Just ask him. He'll be the first to agree with you.

"You mess up and you're going to get it," he said. "That's one of the things that I knew as that game ended, I knew that for the next year I was going to take the heat."

As Ohio State was on the receiving end of a 41-14 knockout punch delivered by the Gators in last season's BCS National Championship Game, it was Boone who drew arguably the brunt of the criticism leveled at the Buckeyes. Labeled too large and too slow to compete with Florida's speedy, agile defensive ends, he was hung up as the living symbol of why OSU came up so short in the biggest game of the year.

The seminal moment came with less than two minutes remaining in the first half and Florida ahead, 27-14. On OSU's first play from scrimmage, quarterback Troy Smith dropped back to pass but was blindsided by Florida's Jarvis Moss who had come from Boone's side. The sack knocked the ball loose and Florida recovered on the OSU 5-yard line.

As the replay was shown, analyst Charles Davis cried, "Have these defensive ends been blocked yet?"

The Gators would finish with six sacks overall, and the verdict appeared to be in on Boone and the OSU offensive line as a whole.

But as it turns out, there's a lot more to the story – and it all begins with Doug Datish, last season's center and a team captain.

"Let me just say this: people put a lot of blame on him for things that happened in that game that were not his fault at all," OSU offensive line coach Jim Bollman said. "There were other things that were going on in the line, other communications. We probably made more mistakes up front in that game than we did the whole season put together and a lot of them made Alex look bad and they weren't his fault at all."

The way things worked along the line last season began and ended with Datish, who was tasked with making all the calls along the line and ensuring everyone was on the same page. It appeared to work for the regular season, but it was clear the Buckeyes were not communicating well enough to be successful against the Gators.

On an early sack by Derrick Harvey, OSU tight end Rory Nicol was clearly motioning that he was going to need help blocking Harvey – who had a clear advantage against the tight end. No one heard Nicol's pleas, and Harvey took advantage by rushing right around the left end and sacking Smith.

On another sack, Boone was tasked with blocking two defenders. He took the inside guy, thinking tailback Antonio Pittman would be behind him and able to take on the second defender. Instead, Pittman was on the other side and arrived too late, giving Florida another sack that looked to be Boone's fault.

This season, Boone has bounced back. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, finishing behind Michigan senior Jake Long, who is widely regarded as one of the top linemen in the country and a high draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

"I think Alex Boone's had a good season," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "I think if you watch the film, Alex Boone's a good player. He's trained hard like every other kid moving from his sophomore year to his junior year. He's learned a lot more about what it takes. The entire season last year certainly contributed to what he's learned. He's moved forward and he's a good player."

As a result of last year's problems, the Buckeyes have elected to change how signals and commands are called out along the team's offensive line. Sophomore Jim Cordle has filled Datish's shoes, but he is not worried about duplicating his performance in the title game.

The team's experiences in hostile environments this season at Penn State and Purdue has made Cordle confident the line will be able to perform better than it did in last year's title game.

"We're going to do the same thing: Put all the calls on me and the snap count and everything," Cordle said. "I won't snap the ball until we're ready and until we've communicated everything. We still have our hand signals, we still have all that stuff and we'll be doing that in the game."

The hand signals used along the line, as well as having the snap count be the responsibility of the center, are new this year.

But despite the changes that have been made, Boone knows that he – and he alone – is accountable for his own performance in the title game.

"You don't really want to blame it on somebody else," he said. "You take the heat and that's just the way it goes. I'll take it, and I'm going to make up for it this year. I promise you that."

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