Moving a veteran guard to center has been an Ohio State staple over the past three seasons.
Pat Elflein did it in 2016, Billy Price followed in 2017 and now, junior Michael Jordan has done the same when he was announced as the team’s starting center before the 2018 season began.
Elflein and Price found success in their final years, winning the Rimington Trophy for best center in the country in back-to-back seasons, both being selected in the NFL Draft as centers.
Jordan has not found that same level of success.
A first-team All-Big Ten member in 2017, Jordan has struggled adapting to the center role at points this season, as has the rest of the offensive line, which head coach Urban Meyer said was a group of the five best linemen he had, regardless of position.
In Monday’s press conference, though, Meyer said it might not have been the best five players, but the five healthiest players, who started the season for Ohio State on the offensive line.
“You’ve got to get your five best on the field. But when [Brandon] Bowen got hurt, that was an issue, and then obviously Brady Taylor had that injury,” Meyer said. “To get the best five on the line and playing, that’s what you have to do.”
For Meyer, that best five were Jordan, senior right tackle Isaiah Prince, redshirt senior right guard Demetrius Knox, redshirt senior left guard Malcolm Pridgeon and sophomore left tackle Thayer Munford.
He said the move of Jordan to center has created a need for adjustment through the first eight games this season.
“At times outstanding, and other times it has not been great,” Meyer said. “He’s been playing pretty good. But there is a little bit of a ripple effect.”
That effect has been an offensive line ranked in the bottom half in the NCAA in rush offense, rushing for 4.36 yards per carry on the season and fewer than 100 yards in the past two games.
Before the loss to Purdue, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said the change in quarterback styles from J.T. Barrett to redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins might be the cause of some of the adjustment problems.
“You see what Dwayne is doing. He’s throwing more, J.T. was gonna run it more, handle it more, run it himself, so now they were concerned about J.T.,” Studrawa said. “Dwayne’s not a run threat. He’s a threat to throw it, so it’s much different for us and the things and the looks that we’re seeing and how they are trying to stop the pass game with certain blitzes, it opens up more [run-pass options] than it had before.”
The defensive strategy for many opponents this season has been to stack the box, limiting Ohio State from getting the run game going. While this has had success slowing down both sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins and redshirt junior running back Mike Weber, Haskins has taken advantage, throwing for more than 400 yards in three straight games.
Studrawa said the line has to make plays happen when the box isn’t stacked.
“There’s times that it’s not stacked, but it goes back to what you said. They want to stop Mike and J.K. from gutting them and getting them worn out,” Studrawa said. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe they’re off in the throwing game or some of those things,’ but we have to do a great job when it’s not stacked — when the box is in our favor to run the football.”
Meyer did not confirm the status of Taylor and Bowen for Saturday’s matchup against Nebraska. He said, “They’re both getting pretty close.”
For now, a line that was said to have the “five best” players at once has shown difficulties adapting to a new player at center.
Jordan will not have the Rimington-winning season that Price and Elflein did in their transition seasons, but he can make a difference in Ohio State’s run at a conference title.
Whether he can effectively make that jump, Studrawa said, could depend on the offensive line’s ability to avoid slip-ups in key moments, an area that has plagued them all season.
“There’s been times where it’s one breakdown, not the whole thing. It’s a guy breaking down in a critical time and not doing his job,” Studrawa said. “That’s the consistency that I’m talking about. That’s what bothers me. I want it to be more consistent.”