O-Line's Rise About More Than Just Stats

Jack Mewhort

The Ohio State offensive line has earned praise throughout the 2012 season, but that hasn't come only because of the way the big men up front have moved opponents at the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff is also proud of the way the Buckeyes have matured on and off the field while becoming consistent performers.

Ed Warinner and the Ohio State offensive lineman don't view Saturday's game with Wisconsin as a measuring stick game as to who has the better offensive line.

Instead, the Buckeyes are simply happy to have come this far given the events of a chilly winter's night more than 10 months ago.

The day after the Buckeyes dropped the Gator Bowl to Florida on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, new head coach Urban Meyer made it clear – be ready to go at a 6 a.m. team meeting on Jan. 3, at which point the two-time national championship winner would be taking over the reins.

"I kind of had the feeling beforehand," left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I set four or five alarms just because I knew I didn't want to be late for that one. I think going into it, I was nervous about guys missing, and then when some guys didn't show up, it was bad."

While Mewhort went the extra mile to make sure he'd be on time, some of his fellow linemates didn't. Just how many of the team's offensive linemen didn't make it to that meeting is up for debate – Meyer said four, while new position coach Warinner remembers that three weren't present – but it's fair to say the coaching staff wasn't amused.

"Four of them missed my (first) team meeting, then they missed again, and we had to do a little 5:00 a.m. for a week because of them," Meyer said. "(It was) the week when we had them out in 10 degree weather trying to make a decision either quit or stay. That was because of the offensive line."

For Warinner, it was an immediate statement of just how much work his group was going to need.

"That was my first day here. I had been at work exactly six minutes when that occurred," he said. "That was very alarming. It was not a good day for my position group, so obviously there were some issues that needed to be corrected pretty quickly."

Looking back, Mewhort isn't afraid to agree with that sentiment, saying the Buckeye linemen started off "real low" with their new coaching staff.

"We weren't on the right track," he said. "Academics weren't necessarily where they should have been. They made sure that we knew that. It's been a slow grind, but we've done it. We've embraced it together. That's part of the reason we've become so close is we've done it all together.

"It's a great feeling when you've been through the kind of stuff that we've been through together. It really makes you love the guy next to you even more."

Mewhort can speak in the past tense now because of how far the Buckeyes – who have started juniors Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and senior Reid Fragel from left to right in each game – have come. While the stats show a much improved unit, the coaching staff has been just as impressed with the way the offensive line has started to attack its work.

There's still a fun-loving personality among the big men, but there is also a seriousness in the way the Buckeyes approach all aspects of their craft now.

"I'm very pleased with their progress on and off the field, and I think that's a credit to them," Warinner said. "We applied a lot of pressure to correct and clean up and improve habits on and off the field, and they've responded very well. They're being very productive for us on the field and they're doing a great job off too."

The on-field improvement is one of the reasons Ohio State has become one of four unbeaten teams remaining in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Buckeyes have rushed for 256.1 yards per game, eighth in the nation, and the average goes up to a Big Ten-leading 274.0 yards in league games only.

Much of that is because of the talents of elusive quarterback Braxton Miller and ever-improving backs Carlos Hyde and Roderick Smith, but Meyer is quick to point out those dynamic players wouldn't have the ability to succeed without the big men blocking the way.

"Are you kidding me? That offensive line, I keep talking about them," Meyer said. "It's almost overwhelming if you think where they were first week of spring practice to where they are now. To see where they're at now, they got called out in front of their group, those are good guys. Those first five guys are really good guys."

Ohio State has also piled up some impressive totals, rushing for 330 yards vs. Illinois, piling up 353 at Indiana and gaining 371 yards on the ground while putting up 63 points on Nebraska.

On the other hand, Wisconsin rushed for 564 yards last weekend vs. Indiana, the most in the nation this year and a Badgers school record.

Just don't expect the Buckeyes offensive linemen to measure themselves against that total or any other this weekend except for one – and it stands on the left side of the win-loss ledger.

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