Monday, December 3, 2012
Year in review: OL paves road to 12-0
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to look at the big guys up front who opened huge holes for the rushing attack and helped keep Braxton Miller upright for the passing game.
Reid Fragel solidified the Ohio State offensive line by emerging as a solid right tackle.
Most valuable player: The Buckeyes were blessed with good health across the line all season, which gave all five starters every possible chance to build a case as the standout performer for the unit. It might not even be fair to single out just one, but considering the uncertainty at right tackle dating to spring practice and the way Reid Fragel developed to not only lock down a job but excel at it, the senior gets the edge for providing the final puzzle piece in the trenches. Jack Mewhort was a monster on the other side of the line and Corey Linsley was reliable as the anchor at center, but Fragel's transition from tight end was absolutely critical for the high-powered spread offense.
By the numbers: If Ohio State could find the red zone, odds were good the offensive line was going to clear the way for a touchdown on the ground. The Buckeyes were relentless when getting close to the end zone on the ground, trusting the big guys to combine with either Carlos Hyde as the battering ram or Miller as the burner on the edge to beat defenses down with hard-nosed football. In all, the linemen helped deliver 30 red-zone touchdowns for an offense that scored 88 percent of the time it got inside an opponent's 20-yard line.
Best moment: The praise and recognition was starting to build after a physical, gutty road victory over Michigan State the previous week. But there was no denying the way the line was jelling after they whipped Nebraska at the line of scrimmage at home in the next game, firmly establishing the Buckeyes as the team to beat while cracking open gaping rushing lanes for Hyde, Miller or anybody else who happened to touch the ball. After Hyde punched in one final, 16-yard touchdown in the closing seconds to give Ohio State 371 yards just on the ground, Hyde tracked down every one of his blockers to offer a big hug and share a few laughs as the final seconds ticked away.
Preseason question: How quickly can the transition to the spread be made on the offensive line?
Postseason answer: The Buckeyes didn't waste any time, showing off some slimmer, stronger physiques and using improved conditioning over the summer to make sure the up-tempo attack didn't miss a beat. The impact the group had collectively was hard to miss for the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. Whether it was Mewhort racking up knockdown blocks, Linsley emerging as a vocal leader to keep the wheels in motion or guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall showing a nasty streak on the interior, the change in schemes went about as seamlessly as possible.
Looking ahead: Fragel will be moving on, and even after just one season at right tackle, he should be getting a chance to play there at the next level. Back on campus, the Buckeyes will have the four other starters returning to build on their first season in the spread, with Taylor Decker the likely candidate to join the veterans in the first-team unit. Considering that the rising sophomore fought a long battle during training camp with Fragel for the starting job before his first season with the program, the future would seem to be bright moving forward with another year to develop and absorb the playbook.