Take away one play and the defense wouldn’t have been the only unit that recorded a shutout for Ohio State Saturday against Cincinnati.
The offensive line allowed one sack — the only pressure on sophomore quarterback Justin Fields — while facing the Bearcats, the nation’s No. 9 scoring defense in 2018. This after allowing Florida Atlantic, the No. 93 2018 scoring defense, to mount four total pressures.
“The O-line did an unbelievable job,” head coach Ryan Day said. “Tribute to Kevin Wilson and [Greg Studrawa] and all the guys who worked on that this week.”
It took six seconds for the Bearcats to get home on the one pressure they did achieve, giving Fields ample time to go 20-for-25 throwing the ball around Ohio Stadium.
Not that they weren’t trying to take down the Georgia transfer on other plays.
“They were blitzing from sideways, every which way,” Day said. “The guys were covering it up.”
On the ground, junior running back J.K. Dobbins picked up 141 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, with the team going for 270 total rushing yards. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry against FAU, well below his career mark of 5.8.
Offensive line coach Studrawa said Tuesday that issues arose against FAU when the Owls’ defensive linemen started moving laterally. Ohio State’s offensive linemen were firing out with aggression when such movement calls for more subtlety.
In the week of practice leading up to Cincinnati, Day said the scout team defense did a great job drilling the offensive line on the various rushes Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell would throw at them.
“We knew that they were gonna bring a lot of different types of blitzes and pressures with the run game,” redshirt sophomore offensive guard Wyatt Davis said. “Sure enough, the first series, they came out in exactly what we expected them in, and we were able to get on out blocks and develop and push.”
Pushing players off the ball generates running lanes large enough to drive the team bus through. Dobbins showcased that when he went 60 yards untouched through such a lane for a second quarter touchdown.
“We felt like we had them on their heels. We just kept pounding the ball,” Davis said.
Sustaining offense and gaining consistent yardage on the ground became a focal point after Week 1’s struggles, Davis and redshirt sophomore center Josh Myers said, especially with the creative mind that Fickell and his defensive staff brought to the table against the Buckeyes.
“Watching the film of when they played UCLA, their defensive front was very active in that game,” Davis said. “There wasn’t a lot of big plays, especially on the run. So we took that challenge, and I think that we overcame that challenge.”
Turning the rushing numbers around against a defense that is statistically superior is nothing to scoff at.
Myers, who sets assignments and communicates blitz pickups from his center position, said it was a matter of staying focused after a fast start.
“I think last week when we jumped ahead 28-0 in the first six or seven minutes of the game, some people might have mentally checked out,” Myers said. “We gotta keep our foot on the gas.”
That responsibility as the communication center on the offensive line gives Myers the best view into the chemistry of the unit. He said after Saturday’s game that he’s happy with how the offensive line is “gelling,” pointing to a bit of unspoken communication that occurred.
“[The Cincinnati defensive linemen] were stemming from a three-down defense to a four-down, back-and-forth, and I don’t have time to say anything when they do that,” Myers said. “Our guys did a great job across the board adjusting to that.”
Ohio State will play scoring defenses that ranked lower than No. 50 nationally in 2018 until its sixth game against Michigan State, which ranked No. 8. The offensive line will have time to gel between now and that game against the Spartans on Oct. 5.