The junior offensive linemen bit the bullet by making himself available for questions after No. 9 Ohio State's 13-6 loss to third-ranked Penn State Saturday night, but the usually cheerful offensive lineman answered the questions with glassy eyes and withdrawn look on his face.
No one could blame him after the Buckeyes – who boast one of the best running backs in the country in Chris Wells and one of the best running quarterbacks in Terrelle Pryor –compiled just 61 yards on the ground on the way to the heartbreaking loss.
"We couldn't run the ball," Cordle said. "That's why we lost the game. We couldn't run the ball."
Why, exactly, the Buckeyes were unable to do so remained a mystery to the left guard. It is likely that he is equally puzzled by the team's struggles up front this season.
Ohio State entered the season expecting to be able to push opponents around thanks to an experienced offensive line that returned four starters, three of whom are seniors, and the presence of Wells, who averaged more than 160 yards per game over the final six contests of 2007.
Quickly, the unit proved that it would struggle to match the success of a year ago. Ohio State ran for 162 yards against Ohio but never seemed to get into rhythm, and the next week the squad could manage only 71 yards on the ground during a blowout loss to USC.
At one point, it appeared that the team had turned around its woes on the ground, rushing for 279 yards against Minnesota – the most for an OSU team since 2005 – and 183 during a road win at Wisconsin even while dealing with an injury to Steve Rehring that forced freshman Michael Brewster into action.
The two weeks before the PSU game had been confounding, as Ohio State had just 125 yards on 42 rushes against Purdue before compiling 216 during a decisive win at Michigan State. Going into the Penn State game, OSU also sat 103rd in the nation in sacks allowed.
Against the Nittany Lions, it quickly became clear that this was going to be more of a Purdue day than a Michigan State day. Wells had just 11 yards on 10 carries at the half, and things were not much better on the final scoresheet. The 61 yards were the least since the 2006 national title game against Florida. Wells had just 55 yards on 22 carries and Pryor was held to 6 net yards on nine tries. The Buckeyes did not have a carry over 10 yards.
"It's disappointing," Cordle said. "It's disappointing. When something like that happens you can only look at yourself and try to get better."
Reasons for the inability to move the ball on the ground were varied. Many started by crediting Penn State's defense, which entered second in the Big Ten in rushing defense behind Ohio State.
"This is by far the best defense I've played against," Wells said. "Those guys were all over the field and they played great."
The Nittany Lions were strong up the middle. Safeties Mark Rubin and Anthony Scirrotto combined for 16 tackles and a forced fumble on a running play, while linebacker Navorro Bowman was everywhere, making 10 stops, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. Fellow linebackers Josh Hull had eight stops and Tyrell Sales had five and a TFL.
Those players were able to excel by attacking the line on nearly every play. Penn State often brought Rubin close to the line of scrimmage to give them eight men in the box while leaving Scirrotto high to play center field.
"Coming into this game, they probably kind of had it in their game plan that that was what they wanted to do," wideout Brian Robiskie said of Penn State's idea to crowd the line of scrimmage. "They mixed up some different blitzes and had some different schemes, and they were able to do some things."
Cordle wouldn't use Penn State's selling out to stop the run as an excuse, however.
"(To get) 61 rushing yards, I don't care how many guys they had in the box," he said.
Cordle also refused to blame a lack of depth. Right guard Ben Person did not dress because of an injury he picked up during midseason, leaving the Buckeyes without many options when it came to substitutions with freshmen Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts already out with injuries.
Instead, Cordle took full blame, and it was easy to see that the failures in this one would hang on his head for a long time to come.
"That'll haunt us for a little bit," he said of the inability to run the ball. "Not just for the next two weeks but for a long time. Probably for the rest of our lives."