Five weeks into the 2019 college football season, not much has gone wrong for the Ohio State offense.
Quarterback Justin Fields has answered any and all questions about his readiness to play at a high level. The receiving corps, despite losing three of its top performers from last year, is as dangerous — and deep — as ever. Running back J.K. Dobbins is off to the best start of his career in his first season as the featured back, having already run for 654 yards and five touchdowns.
But as is the case across any level of football, the success of the offense starts upfront. And the Ohio State offensive line is flat out getting the job done through five games.
Behind the strength of the “slobs” upfront, Ohio State is averaging 52 points per game and more than 530 yards of total offense. Right guard Wyatt Davis said he isn’t surprised by the success the line, and as a result, the entire offense is having.
“That’s just the expectation you receive when you get (to Ohio State),” Davis said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do … just to move people off the ball.”
Davis said the group came together well dating back to the spring, and he added that some of the outside noise and negativity aimed at the offensive line only pushed them to get better.
“I feel like it’s been this way since spring ball,” Davis said Wednesday of the chemistry along the offensive line. “Just coming back after the season, all the doubt and expectations … We didn’t have really high expectations in terms of outside sources. I feel like that’s really been fueling our fire.
“And, too, just the love that we have for each other. We’re not out here doing it for ourselves or the name on the back (of our jerseys), we’re doing it for the name on the front, which is the Ohio State Buckeyes. As long as we keep doing that, we’re going to keep progressing as well.”
Part of the perceived doubt in the preseason stemmed from Ohio State returning only one full-time starter — left tackle Thayer Munford — from a line that seemed to underachieve at times the previous season, particularly in the running game.
But even though four starters left the program following last season, there was returning experience across the line in guys like Davis, Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson, and the return of Branden Bowen from a broken leg suffered in 2017 that cost him all of 2018 as well.
The one position where that returning experience did not exist was at center, where redshirt sophomore Josh Myers took over for Michael Jordan.
Myers has excelled as the anchor of the line through the early going, showing great ability to reach the second level of the defense and the nasty streak to emphatically finish his blocks.
“He’s playing extremely well, he’s like our quarterback out there,” Davis said of Myers. “Especially in that (Nebraska) game, that loud environment, we had no issues knowing what the calls were … He’s a leader, and he guides us.”
The depth in the offensive line has even been tested when Bowen was ruled out ahead of last week’s game, forcing Josh Alabi, who had been practicing all year as the backup to Munford at left tackle, to slide into the starting rotation at right tackle.
With Alabi making the spot start, the line didn’t skip a beat, churning out another dominant performance in all phases. For Alabi’s efforts, he was named the Offensive Player of the Game by his coaching staff following the win.
Alabi is no stranger to being thrust into the lineup; he started the Rose Bowl last season in place of an injured Munford. Asked what has allowed the line to dominate this season, even when the depth is tested, Alabi credited the group’s daily approach to their preparation.
“I think it’s just the mentality of the offensive line,” he said. “We have a great mentality week in and week out during practice, we practice hard. Coach (Studrawa), he’s a great coach. He stays on us and just wants us to get better each and every day, and I think we strive to do that each and every practice.”
Alabi went on to say, “We always have love for each other, but I feel like this group right now, we really, really care for each other, and we’re playing for our teammates, our brothers right beside us.”
While the offense is currently rolling, the competition will only get tougher as the season gets later, starting Saturday when Michigan State’s always-stout defense comes to Columbus.
Michigan State is yielding just 254 yards per game to opposing offenses this season, highlighted by an average of just 56 rushing yards. With playmakers at every level of the defense, the Buckeye offense — and most especially the offensive line — is up against their stiffest test to date.
Asked if the offensive line unit is looking at this game as an opportunity to prove they’re for real, Davis said, “Definitely. They have a great defense, period. They’re all very well-coached, they play hard and physical, and they don’t stop. It’s going to be another great challenge for us.”
Kickoff for the Buckeyes and Spartans in Ohio Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. ABC will carry the TV coverage.