Good Beget Bad And Ugly For O-Line

Ohio State's offensive line play was sure to be a focal point during the national title game after last year's loss to Florida. This time around, the Buckeyes passed their first tests with flying colors, but as the game wore on, LSU got enough pressure on quarterback Todd Boeckman to dull any threats of an Ohio State comeback.

Everything during Monday night's BCS National Championship Game started so well for the Ohio State offense, and in particular its offensive line.

As it turns out, that might have been the problem.

After propelling the Buckeyes to 10 points on their first two possessions, junior left tackle Alex Boone said the front might have let that success go to its head a little too much.

"Everybody's feeling good about themselves," Boone said. "We're thinking this game is going to be a lot easier than it was. I think that was our mistake."

They had reason to be. The line did its job during Ohio State's first drive, a four-play, 77-yard jaunt that ended with a 65-yard run by Chris Wells in which the tailback cut through a hole blown open by the offensive front before winning a race to the end zone.

A play later on OSU's next drive, picture perfect protection allowed quarterback Todd Boeckman all day to find wingback Brandon Saine streaking down the left sideline. The 44-yard toss pushed the Buckeyes into field-goal range, and just like that Ohio State had a 10-0 lead.

"We scored early, we kind of thought these guys are nothing," Boone said. "We went back out, we got a field goal. We're like, ‘This is just going to keep happening.'

"Then they stopped us and we didn't know what to do."

The stopping commenced at an alarming rate from there. It would take more than 37 minutes for Ohio State to again find itself on the scoreboard, and LSU raced to a 38-24 win in the title game played in New Orleans' Superdome.

According to the LSU side, it took one simple adjustment to change the defensive linemen from kittens into tigers that were ready to maul the Ohio State offensive line.

"(Defensive coordinator Bo) Pelini told us to just calm down because we were ready to come out there, come off the ball at full speed, be aggressive," tackle Ricky Jean-Francois said. "The coaches told us just to slow down for a minute. Coach Miles and Pelini just told us to slow down for a minute, just look at what we were doing, what was the mistake from the last play. And we just corrected from there."

The Tigers' hallmark from there was pass-rushing. Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman was sacked five times during the game, three of which came as Ohio State attempted to cut into LSU's two-touchdown lead during the fourth quarter.

Two sacks in a row with 11 minutes to play killed Ohio State's last good chance to make it a one-possession game. The Buckeyes had earned a third-and-4 from the LSU 31, but Boeckman held the ball for too long and was swallowed under end Kirston Pittman. On the ensuing fourth-and-7, Boeckman rolled out right but was dropped by Ali Highsmith, who forced a fumble Coleman recovered.

Even when the pressure didn't get to Boeckman, it caused trouble. Boeckman's first-half pass intercepted by Chevis Jackson was forced by a safety blitz by Harry Coleman, who delivered a crushing blow as the Buckeye signal caller let fly.

"LSU is a good pressure defense," head coach Jim Tressel said. "If you watch the film all year long, they did a good job putting pressure on quarterbacks, and that's why they won the SEC and were here."

Even the good moments for Ohio State were tinged with problems. One play before a touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie broke the Buckeyes' 2½-quarter scoring draught, the team lined up for a third-and-1 from the 2-yard line. Wells took the handoff but was immediately swallowed under by Jean-Francois, who had gotten by center Jim Cordle, for a 3-yard loss.

"It was probably the most embarrassing play of my life," Cordle said. "I wasn't expecting that we were gapping back and he just blew right in my face. Luckily we got a touchdown or it wouldn't have been a good thing."

The performance didn't do much to improve the reputation of an offensive line that was scorched for five sacks and constant pressure a year ago during a 41-14 title loss to Florida. Tackles Alex Boone and Kirk Barton were subject to endless scrutiny about their inability to handle speedy Florida rush ends Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss.

This time around, there was no eureka moment that explained why the pressure was able to get to Boeckman. Instead, it came from all different directions. Jean-Francois, who missed the season's first 11 games because of a suspension, was named the game's defensive MVP for making six tackles, a half a sack and blocking a field-goal try on which he bested the Ohio State line again. Ends Pittman and Tyson Jackson and all-everything tackle Glenn Dorsey each had sacks as well.

Offensive line coach Jim Bollman saw progress from a year ago despite the fact that both Florida and LSU finished with the same number of sacks.

"We got beat a couple times," line coach Jim Bollman said. "There were a couple mistakes, and I'm sure we got beat once or twice physically, but overall I didn't sit here feeling like it was last year."

Adding fuel to the fire was Ohio State finding itself behind by so many points that it had to throw the football, allowing the opposition to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback. Both Bollman and Cordle acknowledged that might have contributed to the LSU surge during the final 15 minutes of play.

"By the second half, we were forced to throw the ball, and they're good at rushing the passer," Cordle said. "They're good enough with four guys, and they were blitzing too. We just didn't win the individual battles."

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