Offensive Line Tried To Answer Critics

One constant during the past couple of seasons when it comes to Ohio State football has been griping about the performance of the team's offensive line. With that in mind, members of the unit hope paving the way for the Buckeyes' end-of-season success answered some critics. Either way, it's hard to argue the Buckeyes got better as the year progressed.

As he worked on his gameday preparation for the showdown at Penn State on Nov. 7, Ohio State offensive lineman Jim Cordle found some motivation from perhaps an unlikely source – the television.

Watching ESPN's "College GameDay" show, Cordle sat back and watched many of the national sports network's analysts say that the Nittany Lions were going to win the game, and one of the main reasons why would be that Penn State would have its way with the OSU offensive line.

After the Buckeyes ran for 228 yards and allowed zero sacks against a team that had entered allowing 84.1 rushing yards per game while making 3.6 sacks per contest, Cordle was more than happy to give credit to those he saw on TV.

"You have to thank Kirk Herbstreit and Todd McShay for getting the line all fired up," he said. "When you have a 3:30 game you can watch ‘GameDay,' and those guys were talking about how the O-line was going to be the reason we were going to lose today. That got us fired up and we contributed to the win, big time."

The Buckeye offensive line, so maligned during the past few years and on shaky footing throughout the first half of this season, had reason to gloat after the last five games of the season. Finally able to put a consistent unit on the field – for the most part – after a number of injuries early in the season, the line was one of the driving forces behind the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl push.

Ohio State topped 200 yards rushing in each of the last five games, putting up 228 yards against Penn State, 229 vs. Iowa and 251 in a season-ending win against Michigan, rebounding after the Wolverines' line controlled the tempo in the early going.

"Things certainly haven't been perfect, but I think everybody has continually been working at things and learning and going through some growing pains, and we have to keep doing that," offensive line coach Jim Bollman said late in the season. "I think they have the right attitude about things and they want to get better. They're not just trying to get by on things, they want to get better."

Thanks to the end of season rushing explosion, OSU averaged 198.6 yards per game and 4.6 per carry in Big Ten contests, marks that were first and second, respectively, in the league. In addition, the 15 sacks allowed in conference play were good for fourth in the league.

"The coaches have really been after us about practicing faster and executing things, just being better in practice so when it comes to the games we can show what we do," guard Bryant Browning said near the end of the season.

That the Buckeyes would finish so well in the stats seemed unlikely after the offensive line struggled to protect Terrelle Pryor during the team's 26-18 loss against a solid Purdue front, but that game might have shown the OSU lineman exactly where to improve.

Purdue seemed to confuse the line with late shifting as its suddenly rowdy fan support messed with line communication. The result was five false starts and a number of missed assignments.

By the time the team took the road again for the game at Penn State, those problems – enumerated so obviously in West Lafayette – seemed to have been fixed after some targeted work in practice. Around that same time, the Buckeyes were presented with some offensive line cohesiveness for the first time all season.

A number of injuries and illness forced the Buckeyes to mix and match throughout the opening seven games, but the return of Jim Cordle seemed to solidify things across the line. Though left guard Justin Boren and right tackle J.B. Shugarts missed small amounts of time in the last five games, Ohio State seemed to find a combination that worked with Cordle on the left side.

"When you move around so much, you only get so much time working in practice on assignments," Cordle said. "You don't get everything you need to get. With one line you'll just keep getting better and better. That's the way it is."

It also helped that the interior of the line was together for all but one game, the New Mexico State contest that Boren missed with an injury. Boren, center Michael Brewster and Browning were steady as a rock for much of the season even as Boren and Brewster (ankle) battled nagging maladies.

"They've got a little more time than some of the other guys," Bollman said. "For the most part, those three guys have hung in there OK."

The tackle positions were stabilized by the end of the season, too, with Cordle playing well in his cameo on the left side and Shugarts improving by the game on the right side. In addition, tight end Jake Ballard – used as a blocker on just about every run play – had stretches of the season in which he excelled, earning OSU Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week honors three times.

"If he would be struggling it would be a lot more difficult," Bollman said of Ballard. "When he can handle things, neutralize things at the point of attack, it gives us a pretty good chance."

Ohio State also got good minutes as the season progressed from true freshman Marcus Hall (who started against Iowa), senior guard Andrew Moses and junior tackle Andrew Miller, who started the year as the left tackle before missing time with a flu bug.

When everything came together, a group that often was at the forefront of criticism from OSU fans for the past few seasons had a large hand in the team's success.

"Maybe they should have been critical (before)," Cordle said after the Penn State game, "but maybe now we'll get some credit."

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