20,000 leagues into the depth chart

OSU's offensive line has improved and reached the expectations created by last season's late push despite injuries that have forced it to sink deep into the roster. Corey Hilliard, Doug Koenig and Chris Akin have been outstanding in makeshift roles. <i>(Photo Illustration by Matt Palmer)</i>

Oklahoma State's offensive line has gotten on track just in the knick of time.


This week against Texas Tech, the Cowboys will need to score nearly every time they get the ball.

Protection and run blocking could be important.


"I think it will be good for us to control the ball in the running game since they pass it so much," said freshman tackle Corey Hilliard. "But we like to run the ball no matter who we play, so I think that's the focal point for our side of the ball, controlling the clock."


On a shuffled line, Hilliard started right tackle against Kansas State, a position previously held by sophomore Kellen Davis. Hilliard came to OSU from Jesuit High School in Louisiana, and the 300-pounder's starting job speaks leaps and bounds about his dedication and ability.


"Corey Hilliard is probably one of the best offensive linemen we have on this team," said junior right guard Sam Mayes, "just because he's going 100 percent the whole time."


While the quick switch from high school to college can be dizzying, Hilliard has welcomed it with open arms and a positive attitude.


"From high school to college, there's a lot more pressure because the caliber of people you are going against is so much better," Hilliard said. "K-State's D-ends are really good. It was fun, and at the same time it was a fight every snap. You just had to be on top of your game every snap."


Hilliard is slated to start against Texas Tech as well.


Another player that has shuffled positions, Chris Akin, normally a left guard, moved to center against K-State for Ben Buie, who suffered from back problems. Akin could start at center again this week, but the line expects no loss of productivity.


"We moved Chris Akin, who played an entire spring at center, and we felt really comfortable with him in there at center," said OSU coach Les Miles. "We're fortunate to have the flexibility in the offensive line to do that."


The other complication for the offensive line, Matt Hardison might not start at left tackle for the second straight week with a sprained ankle. In his place, senior Doug Koenig played solid last week, and may have to against the Red Raiders.


All the shifting and moving could actually help the Cowboys down the road. So far, the replacements have played as well, in some instances better than the normal starters.


"That's as important … to being a team as any function within this football program that there is," Miles said. "The next guy has to step up. For this football team to continue, that has to be a product of injury. If there's injury, the next guy's gotta step in there and do the job."


And, for the offensive line, they have.

"I think we've finally gotten ourselves to the point where we were at the end of the season (last year)," Mayes said. "We have the confidence in ourselves to pass block, to run block, to move the ball on anybody we play against."


Believe it or not, with the high-powered offense TTU puts on the field, the OSU offense might get a break against the Red Raider defense.


TTU's pass defense ranks 109th nationally, 112th against the pass and 75th against the rush.


Fullback Shawn Willis may help knock Tech's rushing defense down a few notches after some strong run blocking against an aggressive Wildcat front seven. Willis put standout KSU linebacker Josh Buhl on his back to allow Tatum Bell into the end zone, setting a physical tone carried the rest of the game.


"There's a guy who really understands giving to a football team," Miles said. "He's a guy that we will rely on to give the ball to, and pass to and to block."


OSU averages 216 yards per game on the ground, and will need every bit of that to control the clock and keep quarterback B.J. Symons and the Texas Tech offense on the bench.

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