Ohio State Buckeyes: Marcus Hall

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Marcus Hall would like to leave the moment in the past, but it’s forever going to be part of his future.

The former Ohio State guard regrets his actions and how far he let his emotions take him, but he will sign his autograph on photos capturing his gesture as he headed up the tunnel at Michigan after his ejection.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Hall
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioFor better or worse, Ohio State's Marcus Hall will always be known for his actions during and after a brawl with Michigan.
He’s something of a legend to Buckeyes fans, already a fixture on T-shirts and a soon-to-be staple of the highlight packages that play up the most heated rivalry in college football. But Hall would rather be known for something other than flipping off a stadium if he had his way, and in the short term he’s still dealing with the fallout of his Michigan Meltdown as he meets with NFL teams and prepares for the upcoming draft.

Just more than three months after the infamous incident, Hall is still wrestling with the tangled mix of pros and cons that have followed him endlessly since a few short seconds of madness, sitting somewhere in the middle of trying to move on and embracing his past.

“I can’t ignore it, because when I see the fans, they make it this big deal,” Hall said Friday. “I’m like, ‘No, man, it wasn’t even supposed to be like that.’ … I actually just show up to do signings like every other player, and that [picture is] what the fans want. I love the Buckeye fans, and they love me.

“[But it was] definitely by mistake, because I don’t want anybody to think that I’m proud of it or anything like that. I’m more so just trying to take a negative thing and turn it into a positive.”

There wouldn’t have been much downside if Hall had simply been ejected for fighting during the second-quarter brawl with the Wolverines and left the field with a level head. The senior certainly wouldn’t have had to deal with the pain of missing the Big Ten title game due to suspension if he’d simply strolled up to the tunnel and accepted a punishment he admitted was justified in a media session following his pro day workout on campus.

But without his bench-kicking, helmet-tossing, finger-raising tirade, there would be little about Hall that would make him stand out in Ohio State lore, even though he was an integral part of a record-setting 24-game winning streak and started 31 times in his career as a member of one of the most explosive offenses in school history.

There wouldn’t be as many people clamoring for his signature, for starters. But then, Hall might also be able to focus more on his improved flexibility, the noticeable improvement he made technically as a blocker and the great shape he’s in now at 6-foot-5, 313 pounds instead of answering questions about his emotions from prospective employers.

“I just tell them that I got caught up in the moment,” Hall said. “I don’t try to give them this sob story or anything, I just lost it. I just felt like my love for this university and the game came out in the wrong way. … I don’t want to go back and try to point the finger like I wasn’t wrong. I was completely wrong for what I did.

“I feel like it’s good and bad, you know. There’s publicity, but at the end of the day we all know how bad it was, how bad it is -- obviously it hurt me. At this point I’m just trying to stay positive and move forward.”

For better or worse, it hasn’t taken long for Hall to learn there won’t be an escape from his legend. He’s just not content to let that be the only signature moment of his career down the road.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The change in Ohio State's offensive line is impossible to ignore this spring, even in regard to the only returning starter.

For one thing, he’s now lining up at left tackle, swapping sides after a breakout sophomore season on the right for one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

And then there’s the haircut, as Taylor Decker trimmed off his long locks as part of a job shadow program, trying to give himself a more “professional” appearance.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker is the only returning starter on Ohio State's offensive line, but even he'll be at a new position this season.
Both developments help drive home the completely new look up front for Ohio State, where even the lone holdover has a new position as part of a makeover of a unit that lost four starters, a group that's arguably been the strongest in Urban Meyer's tenure with the Buckeyes.

“It’s definitely a different feeling, but I think our focus needs to be not worrying about who lost, but on who we have,” Decker said. “We have really talented guys; they just need to develop confidence in themselves. They can do everything. They just need to realize they can go out and do it play after play after play and be consistent.

“We’ve got a lot of talented guys. Our only issue is inexperience.”

That certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes a year ago when Decker was the only fresh face in the lineup. Now the only projected first-teamer on the roster with starting experience is guard Pat Elflein, who filled in for a suspended Marcus Hall in the Big Ten championship game after admirably replacing Hall after he was thrown out of the Michigan game.

That leaves plenty for the Buckeyes to sort through this spring, and the process of nailing down full-time replacements for tackle Jack Mewhort, guards Hall and Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley might well spill into August. But offensive line coach Ed Warinner isn’t low on options, and the young guys trying to step into those big shoes aren’t short on confidence, either.

“For us, I think it motivates us a unit,” center Jacoby Boren said. “There is no doubt, those guys were freaking awesome, great guys, great players. But we have a lot of good guys here competing, and we’re working hard.

“We’re not working to be like them. We’re going to work to be the best that we are and keep building on that.”

Their predecessors obviously set the bar pretty high during the last couple seasons, setting the tone for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring and was fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground.

The Buckeyes started preparations for replacing them last season, occasionally cutting back on practice reps for the first unit in favor of the backups in an effort to speed through the learning curve and getting them as much game action as possible. Prospective right tackle Darryl Baldwin, Elflein and Boren figure to benefit from that taste of experience, and Antonio Underwood's return from knee surgery has gone smoothly enough that he opened camp as the starter at left guard. Behind that starting group, Ohio State has recruited well and could conceivably have players such as converted defensive lineman Joel Hale or Kyle Dodson make pushes for playing time.

And with all those candidates on hand ready to take over, Warinner isn’t losing much sleep, even though he’s looking at a totally different line.

“I’m pretty confident, yeah,” Warinner said. “Because everything that you want to see at this point, we’re seeing. Great work ethic, tough guys, very well-conditioned, guys who want to learn, guys who come and watch film and work the game. Guys who do extra, guys that are very coachable; they’re sponges. Guys who come with energy to practice.

“You’ve got all these things. The only thing they lack is experience.”

Now there’s nobody in their way to keep them from getting it.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 17, 2014
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These links are presidential.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Here are 10 reasons Ohio State will win Friday's Discover Orange Bowl game against Clemson:

1. The Urban Meyer factor: In case you hadn't noticed, Ohio State's coach is pretty good in big games. He has a 4-0 record in BCS bowls, compared with 0-1 for Clemson's Dabo Swinney. Meyer knows how to prepare his teams for this kind of stage, and, with nearly a month to get ready for the Tigers, you know he'll have a great game plan in hand. Meyer might not have a whole lot of fans left in the state of Florida, but everyone has to respect his big-game acumen.

2. Braxton Miller: South Carolina's Connor Shaw had a big performance in Clemson's last game, a 31-17 loss to the Gamecocks. Shaw ran for 94 yards and a touchdown and passed for 152 yards and another score. Shaw is a tremendous player, but he isn't as dangerous as Miller, who can take over a game with his speed and running ability. The Tigers will have to commit to stopping the run, which should leave opportunities for Miller to make some plays in the passing game. Except for a rough ending in the Big Ten title game, Miller has a history of rising to the occasion in Ohio State's biggest games. This is a legacy moment for him, as he has yet to win a bowl game and has been waiting for this opportunity.

[+] EnlargeHyde/Miller
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde and Braxton Miller will team up for the final time, with a goal to run over Clemson.
3. Carlos Hyde: The confident senior running back has talked openly about breaking the Orange Bowl rushing record of 206 yards, and why not? That's a regular day at the office for Hyde if he gets enough carries. Clemson surrendered big rushing days to Georgia's Todd Gurley and Syracuse's Jerome Smith. And neither of those teams also had a dangerous running quarterback to account for. Hyde, who weighs 235 pounds, can break the will of a defense with his bruising running style, and his ability to keep the chains moving will shorten the game and keep the Tigers' offense off the field.

4. 24-1: That's Ohio State's record under Meyer. The one loss was to a top-five team (Michigan State) in a game which Ohio State led in the third quarter. So the Buckeyes know how to win, and they've pulled out many close games in the past two years. The "1" on that other side of the record might be the most important part. After losing for the first time in two years, the team should have plenty of motivation to refocus and get back on the winning track.

5. The ACC, as always, is overrated: If it's early January, that must mean the ACC is doing its annual postseason nosedive. In fact, going into Friday's game, the ACC has lost its past five bowl games, many in blowout fashion. At least Duke played well against Texas A&M. Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College have all looked bad this bowl season. The Big Ten has its problems. But it can still look down at the ACC.

6. "Clemsoning" is still a thing: The Tigers were celebrated for beating Georgia in their opener, making it two in a row over top-10 teams from the SEC after they took down LSU in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl. But the Tigers were flat-out embarrassed in their big home showdown against Florida State and were soundly defeated by South Carolina. Outside of the Georgia game, there's nothing impressive about Clemson's schedule, and that game was a long time ago. The Tigers have never won a BCS game and were roadkill in their last Orange Bowl appearance two years ago against West Virginia, allowing 70 points. It's still not wise to bank on Clemson in a big game.

7. The Buckeyes' BCS track record: On the flip side of our No. 6 reason is Ohio State's long and impressive BCS résumé. The Buckeyes have been to the most BCS games (10, including Friday's Orange Bowl) of any team and have won six of them, tied for the most in the BCS era. They get dinged for a couple of lopsided national-title game losses, but the reality is this team almost always shows up on this stage. Couple that with No. 1 on our list and you have a program and a coach who know how to handle this spotlight.

8. Turnovers: Many wonder how Ohio State's battered pass defense will hold up against Clemson's offense, especially with Noah Spence out (Big Ten suspension) and Bradley Roby questionable (knee injury). That's a valid question. One possible answer is by taking the ball away. In the Tigers' losses to Florida State and South Carolina, they committed a total of 10 turnovers. The Buckeyes, by contrast, have generally been very safe with the ball this season, finishing at plus-7 in turnover margin. Miller has thrown only five interceptions. Tajh Boyd has shown that he is sometimes shaky in big games. Watch out for Ryan Shazier, the ball-hawking Ohio State linebacker who will be playing basically in his hometown. Turning Clemson over will go a long way toward winning this game.

9. Ohio State's offensive line: There might not be a better offensive line in the country than the Buckeyes' group, which includes four seniors playing their final game in the scarlet and gray. Marcus Hall returns after serving a suspension in the Big Ten title game, and he should be fired up to atone for missing that one. Ohio State's offensive line has worn down opponents all season and has a great chance of winning the battle in the trenches against Clemson.

10. Woody's revenge: Ohio State legend Woody Hayes' last game came against Clemson in 1978, when he earned a pink slip by punching Charlie Bauman. Somewhere in football heaven, the irascible Hayes is cursing and screaming and kicking some clouds over this rematch. Even if he has to reach down and use a divine hand to trip a Tigers player on the way to the end zone, there's no way Woody is letting the Buckeyes lose to Clemson again in this or any other dimension.

Vets get young linemen ready for future

December, 30, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The future hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s no longer just the Ohio State coaching staff thinking about what it looks like on the offensive line.

The four seniors heading for the exit and about to usher in a new era are now every bit as aware that the end is near, leaving them two different legacies to attend to at once before they leave behind all of those starting jobs.

The ramifications on their own careers with the No. 7 Buckeyes are obvious as they look to cap a banner two-year run in the Discover Orange Bowl against No. 12 Clemson on Friday. But looking beyond that, the veterans have balanced their preparations for one final game with the need to get some younger guys ready for what comes after it at a position that has become the backbone of the program thanks to that core group of four.

“I think as you start to look around and it’s coming to an end for us, you realize that you do have a lot of responsibility to make sure this place is OK when you’re gone,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “I think us as seniors, I’ve been trying to coach guys more than I ever have and making sure that guys are getting ready.”

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker will have to take a lead role on the offensive line after the departure of four senior starters.
There will be one familiar face still around, with Taylor Decker serving as a bridge from the present as the Buckeyes begin the transition and rebuilding of the critical unit up front.

The sophomore right tackle more than held his own with his senior teammates on the close-knit offensive line, and his experience playing alongside them could be invaluable as he suddenly becomes the elder statesman in the meeting room. The Buckeyes have also had a recent glimpse at Pat Elflein in competitive situations as he was pressed into duty at right guard following Marcus Hall's ejection against Michigan and subsequent discipline in the Big Ten title game, and the right side of the line appears to be in good hands if that’s where both he and Decker end up staying.

Jacoby Boren has also impressed on the practice field and in limited opportunities to play in games at center, though plugging him into the starting lineup would still leave a couple more holes to fill heading into spring practice. And since Mewhort, Hall, Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley won’t be around then to offer any advice to potential candidates to fill those spots, they’re getting all the pointers they can in now.

“Just from a teaching standpoint, it’s just all about helping them out, where we see their weaknesses are,” Linsley said. “If we can point out, like, I don’t know, Billy Price needs to learn to keep his pressure on the inside of his feet and not lose his balance by keeping it all over the place. That’s one area that I’m helping him.

"Jacoby, Pat and Taylor are definitely the ones who have progressed the most, and they’re doing a heck of a job leading in terms of off the field, intangibles. We don’t really need to do a lot from a motivational standpoint. [Offensive line coach Ed] Warinner does all the work there, because he’s grinding them day in and day out.”

Warinner is probably the most important holdover for the linemen, though the rebuilding job almost became even more challenging with the highly respected assistant in the mix for head-coaching jobs again this winter. If more dominoes fall this offseason, he could still get back in the mix for a position elsewhere, which would really cloud up the crystal ball for the Buckeyes on the offensive line.

But at least for one more week, Ohio State knows exactly what it has.

“I know people talk a lot about us leaving and the shape of the offensive line, but I’m not worried,” Mewhort said. “I know there are a lot of hard workers in there and a lot of guys who are going to be very good players in the future.”

The chance to prove it is creeping up quickly.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 15

December, 9, 2013
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With apologies to Ohio State fans, the Big Ten championship game was a smashing success.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Michael ConroyIt's time to give Urban Meyer credit for taking some strong disciplinary actions.
Two top-10 teams battling it out in prime time with national title implications created the most juice in the game's short history. According to the overnight Nielsen ratings, an estimated 11.6 million viewers watched Michigan State's 34-24 win over the Buckeyes. That's more than twice as large as the audience for last year's game between Nebraska and Wisconsin, which drew 5.1 million. The inaugural game between Michigan State and Wisconsin in 2011 attracted just more than 7 million viewers.

And despite some challenging weather in Indianapolis, the title game had its best crowd in three years. The presence of Ohio State surely helped, as it appeared that scarlet and gray made up about 70 percent of the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium. Attendance figures for the first three Big Ten title games:

2013: 66,002
2012: 41,260
2011: 64,152

Take that and rewind it back ...

For good measure: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has faced a lot of criticism for his disciplinary measures and player conduct from his time at Florida. So it's only fair to commend Meyer for taking strong disciplinary actions with the Buckeyes.

There was much hand-wringing last week about the lack of additional punishment for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall, who got a public reprimand from the Big Ten but nothing more after he was ejected for fighting at Michigan and offered his now infamous two-gun salute to the crowd. Meyer announced on Friday that Hall wouldn't start against Michigan State, which led to a lot of wisecracks about Hall coming in on the second or third play.

But Meyer kept Hall sidelined the entire Big Ten championship game. Even when Ohio State fell behind 17-0 and was doing nothing on offense early on, Hall stayed glued to the bench. For a senior to miss three quarters of his team's biggest rivalry game and then the conference title game, that's pretty stern discipline.

Meyer said Saturday night that he'd decided not to play Hall "a while back." Both Ohio State and the Big Ten could have avoided criticism had Meyer announced early in the week that Hall was suspended for the game. But the Buckeyes probably didn't want Michigan State to have that information.

Meyer's other disciplinary moves during his Ohio State tenure, including the three-game suspension for Carlos Hyde and one-game suspension for Bradley Roby earlier this year, have all seemed fair. So it's time to cut the Buckeyes' coach some slack in that department.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Raise your hand if you predicted in the preseason, or even in September or October, that Connor Cook would be MVP of the Big Ten championship game. But Michigan State's sophomore quarterback earned it by throwing for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns, delivering some terrific, clutch throws all night. Cook is uncannily confident in himself, and he's inspiring confidence with the way he's been playing.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDarqueze Dennard played a big role in Michigan State's success against Ohio State.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Ohio State's airspace was under strict no-fly zone restrictions thanks largely to the play of cornerback Darqueze Dennard. As he so often does, Dennard locked up his side of the field. He had two big pass breakups, and the Buckeyes went just 8-of-21 for 101 yards through the air, including an 0-for-5 showing by Braxton Miller in the fourth quarter.

Big Man on Campus (freshman): Despite the loss, Ohio State's Joey Bosa introduced himself to the country as a future major star. Bosa created havoc all night from defensive end, finishing with two tackles for loss, a sack and three total quarterback hurries. It seemed like he was in the backfield all night. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington got all the preseason pub, but Bosa looks like the most fearsome Buckeyes pass-rusher of the future.

Bring on 2014: We're about to say goodbye to both the dreaded BCS and its ridiculous use of the coaches' poll. Even more promising changes are in store for next season when it comes to bowls.

Leagues like the Big Ten promise to have a much greater input on bowl matchups starting in 2014. That should help prevent a situation like we got on Sunday, when the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl took Michigan over Nebraska to play Kansas State. Selecting the Wolverines might have been in the best interest of that bowl, but it created a matchup with no history or really much of a storyline. It also meant the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl got a rematch nobody wanted in Nebraska-Georgia.

It would make much, much more sense, both geographically and in terms of the matchups, to have Kansas State-Nebraska and Michigan vs. Georgia games. The Huskers went to the same bowl in back-to-back years in the 2009 and 2010 seasons (Holiday) and again in 2011 and 2012 (Capital One), and now they play the same team as last year.

Of course, bowls and common sense have rarely gone together. Maybe next year they will.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info): Miller did not convert a first down on 11 third- or fourth-down attempts, including the stuffed fourth-and-2 rush that all but clinched the game. Miller entered Saturday with a 91.7 Total QBR on third and fourth downs, ninth-best in the FBS. He had converted 49 percent of those downs while averaging 8.1 yards per play the first 12 games of the season. Against Michigan State, he averaged minus-1.4 yards in those situations.

Overall, Ohio State converted just 1 of 12 third or fourth downs against Michigan State. That was its lowest conversion percentage in the past 10 seasons. Entering the game, the Buckeyes had converted 54 percent of third- or fourth-down chances this season, the sixth-highest percentage in the FBS.
After nearly two full seasons always knowing exactly who was on his right, the familiarity was suddenly gone for Corey Linsley.

With almost no warning and without an injury to perhaps brace for what was coming, the chemistry between the Ohio State center and right guard Marcus Hall was gone thanks to an ejection for fighting, a senior replaced with a redshirt freshman who certainly, and perhaps justifiably, looked a bit overwhelmed with the situation.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller and the Ohio State offense didn't slow down with redshirt freshman Pat Elflein (left) in the game at Michigan.
But any nerves in Pat Elflein seemingly disappeared quickly at Michigan. And any concern Linsley might have had about a new partnership in the trenches vanished with it. The No. 2 Buckeyes will need Linsley and Elflein to team up again with Hall sidelined for an indefinite period of time by the coaching staff for Saturday's Big Ten championship game against No. 10 Michigan State.

"It was kind of fun," Linsley said. "Marcus and I have a really good relationship, but I have a really good relationship with Pat, too. When Pat came in, he was a little wide-eyed there at first, but I kept looking over to my right just on pass [protection] to make sure that was OK, and he was fine.

"That was pretty fun, and, after a couple series in the game, I didn’t have to think about him anymore. He did a heck of a job, and he’s going to be one heck of a player."

Elflein might already be one for the Buckeyes, although the sample size is obviously still small.

Given the stakes in a rivalry game, the stout defense Ohio State was facing, the bizarre circumstances that put him on the field in a hostile environment and, of course, the national implications for a team in the thick of the national championship race, it would have been understandable for there to be some drop-off between Hall and his replacement.

But the Buckeyes didn't miss a beat in the final three quarters, and the rushing game was every bit as dominant with Elflein on the field as it had been with Hall and the normal collection of starters. In fact, after rushing for 125 yards on 15 carries in the first quarter with Hall in the lineup, Ohio State's production actually slightly improved -- 8.6 yards per rush -- for the rest of the afternoon as Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller kept taking advantage of huge holes up front to gain 268 more yards on 31 attempts.

That doesn't mean the Buckeyes won't welcome Hall back when his punishment from coach Urban Meyer for a pair of obscene gestures and a bench-kicking, helmet-throwing incident expires at some point Saturday. But the coaching staff knows it has some depth and a more-than-serviceable option to fill the void.

"Pat played really well against a very good defensive line, and I’m excited about his future at Ohio State," Meyer said. "For a redshirt freshman coming into that situation, he actually played, like, really good at times.

"I'm very impressed with him and very comfortable with him."

After maybe a few uncertain moments, Linsley didn't need much time to get comfortable working with Elflein, either.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 4, 2013
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How many of you will be milling around downtown Indianapolis this weekend? Maybe we'll see you there. For now, let's correspond via email:

Alex from Denver, N.C., writes: Please tell me how the two OSU players can avoid being suspended for an entire game, while Will Gholston in 2011 is suspended for what he did in the Michigan game. Watching the OSU player exit the stadium was ridiculous and the OSU community should be ashamed of that behavior. The Big Ten should be ashamed of condoning that behavior. If you don't discipline it, then you allow it.

Brian Bennett: The argument from the Big Ten is that Marcus Hall and Dontre Wilson were ejected from the Michigan game, and that satisfied the requirement of revoked playing time. William Gholston was not ejected from the game against Michigan in 2011 but was suspended by the league for the following game. There is some logic to that argument, especially as it applies to Wilson. As for Hall, I believe some additional punishment was warranted for his double-bird salute as he walked off the field (Urban Meyer said he has handed out internal discipline to Wilson and Hall and another player). And there were other players involved in the scrum who could have faced suspensions.

My big problem with the ruling is that the fight was an ugly scene in the league's most high-profile game, and it looks as if the Big Ten is protecting its two marquee teams and its championship game. Handing down even a smaller suspension like one quarter would have carried some symbolic weight. Instead, the completely meaningless "public reprimand" comes off looking extremely weak and does nothing to curb incidents like that in the future.

Victor from Columbus, OH, writes: Is it just me or does this Ohio State team have that underdog destiny feeling about them? This team reminds me a lot of the 2002 national championship team. OSU isn't dominating opponents, many people nationally aren't giving them a shot, but most importantly, this team refuses to lose! Even with a decisive win (if OSU wins) this coming Saturday, I believe OSU would still be a relatively large underdog in the BCS championship game. Last time that happened OSU won the national championship and shocked the country. Do you feel the destiny or is it just us OSU fans being over optimistic?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State as underdog? That's something you don't hear much. It's hard to say a team coached by Meyer coming off an undefeated season is in any way an underdog; remember that the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in some preseason polls. The 2002 team was coming off a 7-5 campaign and was not ranked in the Top 10 to start the year, and those Buckeyes had a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Ohio State does, however, figure to be an underdog in a potential BCS matchup with Florida State. But it won't be anything like that scenario against Miami and its roster full of future pros in the Buckeyes' last national championship game win. Things have broken right for Meyer's team this year in that other contenders like Alabama, Oregon, Baylor and Stanford have all lost. And it goes without saying that Florida State has a possible major issue on its hands. So in that sense, perhaps the Buckeyes are a team of destiny.

Justin A. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: First of all I'd like to say that as a Michigan fan living in Columbus, Ohio life can be rough. Attending The Game this past Saturday, felt like a dream that was ended by a rude awakening. It was a heartbreaking loss and I am proud of my team yet I am sure I will hear plenty of smack talk at work on Monday. As for my question, what does more for the Big Ten's perception: Michigan State beating Ohio State in the B1G CG and MSU playing Stanford in the Rose Bowl and OSU getting matched up with Missouri or Alabama and then both B1G teams beat those teams in their bowl games, or OSU winning the national championship against a Florida State team and hearing about how the SEC didn't have a chance to defend its title streak? I think both scenarios would greatly boost the Big Ten's image, yet I can't decide which scenario would boost it more.

Brian Bennett: I feel for you Justin, and for Michigan fans everywhere. I can imagine it's not too fun to see your two biggest rivals play for the Big Ten championship on Saturday. As for your question, I'll go with the national championship. Sure, there would be some griping from the SEC that Ohio State lucked its way to a title, and even more so nationally if Jameis Winston weren't available for Florida State. Still, when people talk about SEC dominance, do they bring up BCS bowl wins? No, they brag about national titles. That's the ultimate prize, and it's been 12 years since a Big Ten team held the crystal football. People would forget in time the circumstances around the championship, but -- as they say -- flags fly forever. A national title from the Big Ten would also give the league a nice boost heading into the playoff era.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: I understand the annual awards are individual based, but how can a Michigan offensive lineman POSSIBLY win a conference award? Again, I understand this is an individual award, and Taylor Lewan won the award last year, but let's look at some of the stats that directly relate to the offensive line. Team Sacks allowed -- 3rd worst in B1G. Rushing yards per game -- 2nd worst. So the offensive line couldn't pass protect very well (even with a very mobile QB) and couldn't open up running lanes (again includes yards Gardner earned when protection broke down). What exactly did Lewan do to earn this award?

Brian Bennett: Michigan would tell you that Lewan graded out higher this year than he did a season ago when he was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year for the first time. They'll also say that he didn't give up a sack this year. I feel for Lewan, and offensive line is one area where every single player has to be in sync or the whole thing breaks down. The Wolverines' well-documented blocking woes weren't Lewan's fault. Still, I think some of that lack of team success has to be factored in, and I saw Lewan lose his composure in the Michigan State game. My pick for offensive lineman of the year in 2013 would have been Ohio State's Jack Mewhort.

Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: Hey, Brian, not sure how to read the Penn State win against Wisconsin this past weekend. Do you think BO'B squad exceeded their potential, or did they finally just live up to it? I'm thinking it's the latter, in that the talent was there all season but just hadn't been working together at the same time. Seems like they may have a a brighter future than some predicted.

Brian Bennett: Keeping in mind the obvious depth and talent issues that Bill O'Brien faced, there were definitely times that Penn State underachieved this season. The Nittany Lions lost by 20 to Indiana, probably should have lost to Illinois at home and got smoked by 49 points at Ohio State. The defense was a major problem, as was inconsistency on offense. Don't forget that the Lions played with a true freshman quarterback. I saw Penn State as team with some very good players that was capable of putting together strong performances at time. It just happened that its best performance came at the end.

Kevin from Evanston writes: With Northwestern being a Top-5 APR school can't they go bowling at 5-7? If they were to go to the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit, plenty of fans would travel.

Brian Bennett: There is a way that Northwestern could get into a bowl. I wrote about this last year when the NCAA approved a new bowl waiver. Basically, if there aren't enough 6-6 teams to fill all the postseason slots, the bowls can pick other teams in this order:
  • Teams that finish 6-6 with wins against two FCS opponents;
  • Teams that finish 6-7 by losing in their conference title game;
  • Teams that finish 6-7 but normally play 13 games (so, basically, Hawaii);
  • FCS teams in transition to the FBS that are at least 6-6
  • FBS teams that finish 5-7, but finish in the Top 5 of the NCAA's academic progress rate

Northwestern ranked No. 1 in the APR so would be eligible under that fifth clause. But it's not going to happen this year. There are 35 bowl games, and more than 70 teams are already at least 6-6 with more possibilities to come this weekend. So the Wildcats will be staying home.

Jim from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: I think Bo Pelini is right. You take all the media hype about whether or not he is on the hot seat, and it's not right. I am glad he stood his ground. The media is not into "equal harassment." As for the refs, they made a bad call on a block NU's wide receiver made on a PSU defender. I would have been angry as a head coach too. That was a reasonable block; and the receiver's head was in front of the defender. The media is ruthless and should be censured for damage they can inflict on a football program's image. And there should be legal implications.

Brian Bennett: Sure, Jim. It's the media's fault that Nebraska gave up 70 points in the Big Ten championship game last year and had a whole bunch of fans ready to make a change. It's the media's fault that Pelini has lost four games every year. It's the media's fault that Pelini hasn't delivered a conference championship or a BCS bowl. It's the media's fault that Nebraska continually shoots itself in the foot with turnovers and has the same volatile personality as its head coach. It's the media's fault that Pelini nearly hit an official with his hat and then cursed in his postgame press conference that was broadcast live, just the latest in a long line of examples of Pelini failing to control his anger.

Yep, all of that is on reporters, because certainly no one else had ever talked about or considered that Pelini might get fired. To borrow another man's words, If you want to arrest me, go ahead and arrest me.
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The Big Ten finally has a championship game that rivals the SEC's in national significance.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten is following the SEC's lead in another area: handing out discipline.

A league that considers itself a cut above in every area, including player conduct, had an opportunity to make a statement in the wake of Saturday's fight in the Ohio State-Michigan game. Instead, the league went soft, ensuring that its championship game, and Ohio State's national title hopes, would be unaffected by the ugly and embarrassing incident.

Here's what we learned from the Big Ten's ridiculous response Monday night: Fighting doesn't have long-term consequences. Twisting a helmet? Go right ahead. Just conduct yourself like a gentleman afterward.

After spending two days reviewing the officials' report from the game and the video of the fracas, the Big Ten decided to hand down no additional discipline to the Ohio State and Michigan players involved. The league merely issued a public reprimand -- the wussiest punishment possible -- for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall and the Buckeyes' coaching staff after Hall gave the crowd a double-bird salute following his ejection from the game. No other players were named by the league, which praised both coaching staffs for defusing the fight.

Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Michigan's Royce Jenkins-Stone also were ejected Saturday, but they and others -- like Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas and Michigan defensive back Delano Hill -- were spared any blowback from the conference.

The Big Ten is falling back on the NCAA's fighting policy, which calls for players ejected in the first half of a game to miss only the remainder of that game. Although the league has issued suspensions before for throwing punches, they have come for players who weren't ejected during the game.

The league had an opportunity to do more and show that behavior like Saturday's, even in a bitter rivalry game, is unacceptable and has long-term consequences. Monday's wimpy response will be seen as an effort to protect the league's title game and one of its biggest brands in Ohio State.

Criticize Ohio State coach Urban Meyer if you want for not tacking on additional playing-time penalties for Hall and Wilson. Honestly, I don't know many coaches who would have. They're trying to win championships and can impose some internal discipline. Michigan State didn't suspend William Gholston for his actions in the 2011 Michigan game, so the Big Ten stepped in with a suspension. The league should have done the same in this case.

Even a half-game suspension, which the SEC probably has trademarked, would have shown some teeth here. Instead, the Big Ten protects its championship game from being affected, and its biggest brand from being impacted in its quest to reach the national title game.

Monday's response will add to the widely held belief by many Big Ten fan bases that the league goes all out to protect Ohio State and Michigan. The response will bring more heat for league commissioner Jim Delany, who still gets ripped for going to bat for Ohio State's "Tat-5" to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

The championship game is a national showcase opportunity for the Big Ten, a chance to display its best product and the values it holds so dear. You'll hear a lot about honoring legends and building leaders, and big lives and big stages.

Then Wilson might return the opening kickoff, and Hall will take the field with Ohio State's starting offensive line. Are those the images the Big Ten wants to present?

"As bad as it was, we're fortunate the incident did not escalate any further," the Big Ten's SECtatement reads. "More can, and should, be done by both coaching staffs in the future to prevent similar incidents."

The Big Ten could have and should have done more, but chose to do the bare minimum.

What we learned: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After analyzing the new information after No. 3 Ohio State's 42-41 nail-biting win over rival Michigan on Saturday at the Big House, here’s what we learned:

Challenge accepted: There hasn't been much adversity to deal with this season, but the Buckeyes have stared it down every time they've seen it, perhaps most impressively on the road against a rival and after losing two valuable players to ejections. Michigan had an effective offensive game plan, and it put Ohio State on its heels. It challenged the Buckeyes physically, and after briefly losing composure and watching hybrid offensive threat Dontre Wilson and starting right guard Marcus Hall be sent to the locker room because of it, they weathered the storm and didn't allow the game to get away from them. And while there might again be criticism that the Buckeyes didn't score any style points, that shouldn't make any difference when evaluating what they accomplished. They stayed unbeaten after two of the most disastrous quarters of football they've played all season popped up early in a hostile environment against a motivated opponent.

Perfectly imbalanced: The target was to get an even split between rushing attempts and passes this season, and for a while that was working out pretty well for the Buckeyes. But it's becoming more obvious with each game toward the end of the year that Ohio State is at its best when it heavily favors its potent running game and simply sprinkles in some throws. That's not a knock on Braxton Miller's arm, because it has clearly shown signs of improvement and was spot-on with his touchdown tosses to Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman. But letting the bruising style of Carlos Hyde and the freakish acceleration of Miller pound away is obviously a tall enough task for a defense, and the Buckeyes didn't need to add any complications of their own with the talented tandem combining for 379 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns.

Next in line: The Buckeyes don't have to replace all four seniors on the offensive line yet, but they got a pretty good glimpse at the future thanks to the unexpected absence of guard Marcus Hall following his ejection. Pat Elflein looked more than capable of filling at least one void when the time comes. The Buckeyes didn't miss a beat after plugging in the redshirt freshman, who teamed up with another guy who still has plenty of eligibility remaining as he and Taylor Decker inflicted enough damage on the right side to fuel another huge rushing performance. If for some reason the Big Ten office decides the time Hall missed on Saturday wasn't enough and elects to add a one-game suspension on top of the ejection, the Buckeyes now know they can count on his backup -- now and down the line.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Ohio State Buckeyes were losing it: the game, their composure and possibly their perfect season.

They admittedly became too wrapped up in the emotion of The Game. They started by yapping at Michigan players before and after the whistle. Things quickly got much uglier. A brawl following a Buckeyes kickoff return early in the second quarter resulted in two Ohio State players (starting right guard Marcus Hall and H-back/returner Dontre Wilson) and one Michigan player (linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone) being ejected for throwing punches.

"Disappointed with that; I don't know where that came from," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "That's unacceptable."

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AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDontre Wilson was one of two Ohio State players ejected after this second-quarter brawl at Michigan.
Hall exited the field with both middle fingers raised to the crowd. No, he wasn't making the "H" in O-H-I-O. The image quickly made its way around Twitter.

It could have been the lasting image from Ohio State's first loss under Meyer, one that would have ended the Buckeyes' quest for the crystal football.

Instead, No. 3 Ohio State provided some other snapshots not soon to be forgotten in one of the most memorable editions of The Game in its storied history, one Meyer called an instant classic. The Buckeyes will remember running back Carlos Hyde, responding from his fourth-quarter fumble, triggering an overpowering six-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play. Hyde finished with more rushing yards (226) than any Buckeyes player has ever had against Michigan.

They'll also remember redshirt freshman nickelback Tyvis Powell stepping in front of a slant pass to Drew Dileo on the game's decisive two-point play to record the clinching interception. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said the Buckeyes had prepared for two conversion plays from Michigan and the Wolverines ran one of them.

Most of all, they'll remember a 42-41 victory against a Michigan team that gave its best effort in months.

"That was our season on the line," Powell said. "We had 12-0, Gold Pants, chances for the national championship. It just hit me, like, 'Wow, I kind of just saved the season.'"

Quarterback Braxton Miller, who had 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go along with two passing touchdowns, noted that every game doesn't go perfectly and teams must handle adversity. But Ohio State hadn't faced any real adversity in weeks, not since an Oct. 19 home game against Iowa, which led at halftime and tied the game entering the fourth quarter. That day, the Buckeyes turned to Miller, Hyde and the Big Ten's best offensive line to mount long, sustained drives.

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Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two at Michigan.
It was a similar formula Saturday as Ohio State's defense had no answers for quarterback Devin Gardner and a suddenly dynamic Michigan offense, which stirred from its month-long slumber with a brilliant game plan that produced 603 yards and 31 first downs. The Wolverines gained just 158 yards the previous week at Iowa; they had 208 in the first quarter Saturday.

"They kind of looked like a different team," said Shazier, who added 14 more tackles to his swelling season total. "But we knew that would happen. ... It's called a rivalry."

It's a rivalry Ohio State continues to dominate, winning nine of the teams' past 10 meetings. There was little talk afterward of Michigan State and the upcoming Big Ten title game, or the lack of style points in beating an unranked opponent, or where the Buckeyes would wind up in Sunday night's BCS standings.

The road ahead, at least for now, didn't matter much to Meyer or his players.

"We're living in the moment right now," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "It was such a crazy ending. Everyone's head is still spinning. A win's a win, and we'll take it however we can get it. What's 12 times two? Twenty-four straight wins.

"I'm an econ major. I shouldn't have said that out loud."

Ohio State's overall stock likely fell Saturday, particularly a defense that "didn't execute very well," Meyer said. But it's easy to invest in an offense that has looked unstoppable during Big Ten play, averaging 46 points and 531.3 yards in eight league contests.

The Buckeyes answered three Michigan touchdowns Saturday with touchdowns of their own.

"They matched score for score, and that's tough to do on the road," Meyer said.

Hyde has 1,249 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in league play, telling ESPN.com that he runs "angry" because of his three-game suspension to begin the season. While Meyer knew his defense needed a breather before the two-point play, the Buckeyes offense was ready for overtime, if needed.

"[Michigan] went for two because they didn't want to go to overtime," Hyde said. "They knew what was going to happen. We would have scored; I have no doubt. We were having success all day."

The days ahead will bring bigger challenges for the Buckeyes, starting with the potential fallout from the fight. The Big Ten is reviewing the officials' report from Saturday's game, as well as video from the fight, to determine if additional discipline is warranted.

Meyer noted after the game that since the fight occurred in the first half, any suspension might not carry over. But the Big Ten typically has added a full game to any player ejected for throwing punches.

"Am I concerned? We're going to enjoy this win, get on the bus and go home," Meyer said, before adding, "I'm concerned about everything."

The fight still could end up costing the Buckeyes, but it didn't on Saturday. They regained their composure just in time, made just enough plays to beat a rival and preserved perfection for another week.

Next stop: Indianapolis.

OSU graphicESPN Stats & Information No Ohio State player has ever rushed for more yards against Michigan than Carlos Hyde did Saturday.

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at the developments from No. 3 Ohio State's 42-14 win over Indiana on Saturday at the Horseshoe as it clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game and set a school record with its 23rd victory in a row.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier had a day for the record books in Ohio State's win over Baylor.
Buckeyes worthy of some hardware: The forgotten man in the Heisman Trophy race is roaring back with some of the best football of his career, this week using his legs to make the biggest impact. Overlooked a year ago for individual honors, Ohio State's most prolific defender is making it impossible to ignore him as he stuffs the box score to capacity. Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier deserve to be in the middle of any conversation about the best players at their position this season, though the latter's case might be the strongest heading into the final week of the regular season. Miller was electrifying with 144 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns to go with 160 yards through the air and 2 more scores, but Shazier's 20-tackle outing will go down in the record books. The junior made 5 of those plays behind the line of scrimmage, forced a fumble, made a sack and also broke up a pass in one of the more complete performances a linebacker could have.

Dontre Wilson is ready to be unleashed: The Buckeyes have brought their freshman speedster along relatively slowly, but they appear ready to turn him loose with three critical games left to play. Wilson turned his seven offensive touches into 58 yards and a touchdown. It was a relatively modest total, but the mere threat of him on the field opened up space elsewhere for his teammates as the Hoosiers paid attention to his every step. Wilson might not have the entire playbook down yet, his hands let him down once and he isn't really that effective between the tackles yet. But get him in space, and he's quite clearly got the jets needed to burn a defense and put up points.

The senior linemen are going to be missed: The moment hasn't arrived yet, but the Buckeyes obviously know it's coming. Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell carved out a couple quick minutes in the end zone to snap a picture together with position coach Ed Warinner, and the coaching staff is clearly going to miss those four seniors on the offensive line. The Buckeyes bulled their way to 311 rushing yards, averaging a robust 8 yards per attempt, taking full advantage of the gaping holes the veterans provided up front while they still can. It's perhaps no real secret how important replacing those linemen next season is going to be, but they provided one more lesson on their value as the Buckeyes shoved around the Hoosiers and left Ohio Stadium with one more win.

Q&A: Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort

November, 15, 2013
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Much has been made about quarterback Braxton Miller's transformation under coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but another group of Buckeyes is enjoying an extreme makeover. After underachieving for years, Ohio State's offense line is now a force in the Big Ten, creating plenty of room for Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and others to operate. Senior left tackle Jack Mewhort has witnessed the evolution of the line. He has started at three different positions -- left guard, right guard and now left tackle -- and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012. Elected a team captain before this season, Mewhort has received plenty of praise from Meyer, who called the Toledo, Ohio, native "one of the best leaders I've ever been around."

Mewhort and the third-ranked Buckeyes continue their push for a national title Saturday at Illinois. ESPN.com caught up with Mewhort earlier this week.

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AP Photo/Michael ConroySenior captain Jack Mewhort has anchored a much-improved offensive line for the Buckeyes.
How have you evolved as a leader during your career?

Jack Mewhort: I've had the good fortune of seeing a lot of leaders come through here and who did a great job at Ohio State, guys like Cam Heyward, Jake Ballard, Jimmy Cordle, the list goes on. I did a good job when I was younger observing and making sure I picked up things from those guys that if I was ever in a position to be a leader, I could apply. Somehow, I got myself in a position where people think I'm a leader, so I can apply those things now. I was very lucky.

What was the moment like when you found out you would be a captain?

JM: It was a big honor. You're happy for a second, and then you think about the responsibility that goes with it. I just got real serious about it. Being a captain at Ohio State is a pretty prestigious thing. I don't want to fail my team or the coaching staff, so I've tried to be a good example and do things the right way, set the tone for this team and make sure guys are doing things right.

When did you realize you had to take things up a notch from a maturity standpoint?

JM: In 2011, [Mike] Brewster and Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, it was their last year, and I got a lot of good playing experience and general life experience. When they left, Corey [Linsley] and Andrew [Norwell] and Marcus Hall all realized at the same time that we were the oldest guys in the O-line room, and we were going to be in position to lead the team. There was a moment a few years ago where I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to be a guy around here now."

You guys are talked about as being the strongest unit on the team. When did that come to fruition that the line was taking it to another level after not living up to expectations earlier?

JM: When Coach Meyer got here, there was a chip on our shoulders. He came in and he made no secret that he was not impressed with the offensive line at Ohio State the last few years, especially the 2011 team, calling it the worst O-line he's seen play in a long time. We really took that to heart and believed we had a special opportunity in front of us with Coach Meyer and his staff coming in. We had a bowl ban last year, but the reason you come to Ohio State is to be in the discussion we're in right now. We knew if we wanted to leave a legacy at Ohio State, we were going to have to start moving forward. We all took that to heart, worked really hard on our minds and our bodies and started heading in the right direction together. The chemistry we've shown together on the field, it's been a lot of fun, a great ride.

How much of it was physical and how much was mental for you guys as a group?

JM: Mentally, it wasn't as hard as it was physically, just because we were all friends. We hadn't all been playing at the same time together, but we all knew each other. That wasn't a big problem because there was a mutual respect. But physically, it was a huge part of it. We credit Coach Mickey Marotti for that. He came in and changed our bodies for the better. We were not physically impressive when they got here, so they did a great job of motivating us in the right way and helping us eat right and establish a mindset to get mentally and physically tougher.

Everyone sees you as big guys, but what specifically did you have to change physically to meet the coaches' expectations?

JM: We just didn't have the right template maybe before. Not to take anything away from the program that Coach [Jim] Tressel ran, because obviously he was a winner, but when Coach Marotti came in, he just took it up another notch. I don't know the exact numbers, but as an offensive line, we lost hundreds of pounds of fat and gained a lot of muscle at the same time. It was just a matter putting applicable strength on our bodies that we could use our flexibility. Speed to power is a big thing around here. We're well-oiled machines now. It's always a work in progress when you're an O-lineman, eating right and stuff like that. But they definitely helped us.

And how have those changes contributed to your success?

JM: It shows every week on the field. [Offensive coordinator Tom Herman] always says we made a commitment to our tempo on Day 1, and that's something we pride ourselves on, wearing defenses out and being in the no-huddle and getting right back on the ball after each play. Some O-linemen can't really handle the pace or do it all the time. We really pride ourselves on being that team. We love running no-huddle, we love getting right back on the ball, because there's a certain point where you can look across the ball and see a D-lineman tap out. As an offensive lineman, there's no better feeling than that.

What has been the one thing that has surprised you most about playing in this offense versus your perception of it when Coach Meyer came in?

JM: People talk about Coach Meyer and his offense and say it's the spread, we're not really blocking anybody, we're reading guys. We've showed in the last couple years that he likes to run the ball between the tackles and run power and inside zone as much as anybody. We obviously have our schemes, we know how to get the ball on the edge and Braxton's throwing the ball really well right now. But at the end of the day, Coach Meyer says we're a power running team, and that's been evident the last couple years here.

You guys are clearly in the national championship mix. What do you need to do to convince people that you're a team that should be in one of those top two spots?

JM: We just need to handle our business and do it convincingly, just to show people we are legit and we mean business. Obviously, it's a big discussion that we're in, and we're not ignorant. We know what's going on nationally, but you've got to take it day by day and focus on right now beating Illinois. When you start looking too far ahead, that's when you let the little things slip, and all of a sudden you're looking back and saying, "What could I have done differently?" If we just keep playing the way we've been playing and get better every day, we'll be all right and everything will work itself out at the end.

Do you look at what Florida State and Alabama and Baylor and Stanford have done, and look at their résumés and where you stack up with them?

JM: I don't do a lot of comparisons. Obviously, all those teams are great. We have a lot of respect for all of them. As far as résumés go, there's a lot of talk about how our schedule's weak or whatever, but we've beat every team lined up in front of us. We have a great winning streak, and that's something we want to continue. At the end of the day, if we win all our games, we're hopefully where we want to be. If we're not, winning a lot of games is good, too.

You guys would be guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl if you don't make the title game. How do you view that possibility?

JM: I don't really know how our attitude would be toward that. I don't really want to talk about that just because I don't want to look ahead. But the Rose Bowl is a great bowl game. I was in it in 2009. It would be an honor to play in a BCS bowl, especially the Rose Bowl. It's the 100th anniversary also, so that's a very prestigious place. There's nothing wrong with playing in the Rose Bowl when you're an Ohio State Buckeye.

What would you like your legacy to be at Ohio State?

JM: Personally, I want people to remember me as a good teammate, as a guy who did things the right way. I was serious about my business. I want to be remembered as a good teammate and a good leader. This winning streak we’re on now, I’m glad to be a part of that, and when people look back at the 2012, 2013 Buckeyes, when it’s all said and done, and if we do the things we want to do, it’s going to be an honor just to be in the conversation with some of these guys who are around here.
Penn State will travel to The Horseshoe on Saturday for its 29th meeting against Ohio State. So, in preparation of the game, Penn State beat writer Josh Moyer and Ohio State beat writer Austin Ward sat down to discuss four key questions surrounding the contest.

What's the X-factor for the Penn State-Ohio State game?

Moyer: The crowd. Listen, you can say that almost any week -- but it especially holds true Saturday. The Nittany Lions have just 12 seniors on their roster, and they've already played a dozen true freshmen this season. Both redshirt and true freshmen comprise 53 percent (59 of 111) of the roster. Fifty-three percent! So most of these players on this roster haven't competed in front of a truly hostile crowd, and Christian Hackenberg's biggest road test to date has been in front of a half-empty Memorial Stadium at Indiana, a game Penn State lost. Penn State is blaring the music a bit louder at practice this week -- but that can only prepare players so much. Penn State can't afford to make mistakes, and some burned timeouts and false starts could be in the Lions' future.

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Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller and Ohio State are on a roll offensively.
Ward: The Buckeyes are hitting on all cylinders on offense, and they’re going to score points with Braxton Miller healthy and playing at a high level on offense and Carlos Hyde blowing through defenders to pace the rushing attack. But the real key for Ohio State will be if its improving front seven is able to collapse the pocket and force Hackenberg to make mistakes the secondary can feast on for a couple turnovers. Hackenberg has played beyond his years early in the season, but he hasn’t played anywhere nearly as hostile as Ohio Stadium and the Buckeyes could add to the difficulty by dialing up their aggression early and often, coming off a couple slow starts that can at least partially be attributed to somewhat conservative schemes.

Which player is the most important?

Moyer: Hackenberg. Miller is obviously a tempting choice, but he's going to score. You can't totally stop Miller. Hackenberg is the wild card. We've seen 50-plus yard throws fall right into the receivers' hands, we've seen him stand in the pocket and deliver tight spirals across his body. But we've also seen him make head-scratching decisions, stare at one receiver and hold on to the ball way too long. He's exceeded expectations and, overall, has done a remarkable job this season. But you just don't know what quarterback you're going to get on Saturday. Will he play the way he did in the final three quarters against Kent State, when he went 6 of 25? Will he rally his team for a comeback the way he did against Michigan in the final minute? If he plays well, Penn State has a chance. If he doesn't, Penn State has no chance. It's that simple.

Ward: The entire offense centers around Miller’s versatility, and the Buckeyes are operating at a different level now that the junior quarterback has become a more polished passer. His ability to move the chains and create explosive gains on the ground is unquestioned, but a year ago, teams like Penn State were able to slow down the Buckeyes at times late in the season because they could load the box without too much fear of getting beat through the air. That approach doesn’t work as well now, and with Miller coming off perhaps the most efficient outing of his career, the Nittany Lions will have to honor the threat of Philly Brown or Devin Smith down the field. That, in turn, opens up holes for Hyde. All of that revolves around the special talent taking the snaps.

What's the matchup to watch?

Moyer: WR Allen Robinson vs. CB Bradley Roby. A-Rob is one of the top receivers in the nation who could leave early for the NFL; Roby is the returning All-American corner who's trying to make amends for an awful game against Jared Abbrederis to show he's still a high draft pick. What's not to love about this matchup? Robinson has a 37-inch vertical leap and the best route-running ability on the team; Roby boasts great closing speed, a penchant for picking up on routes and, Bill O'Brien said, is "one of the top defensive backs in the country." It's no secret that Robinson is the biggest weapon on this Penn State offense, and this game will go a long way in developing Roby's reputation. Another bad game for Roby and the chatter will undoubtedly pick up. On the flip side, if Robinson succeeds, he could watch his draft stock soar a few notches. It should be the most entertaining matchup in the conference Saturday.

Ward: The elite head-to-head battle on the perimeter between Roby and Robinson will be worth the price of admission. But when the Buckeyes are on offense, there could be perhaps an even more intriguing chess match as the Nittany Lions try to get defensive tackle DaQuan Jones in favorable situations. The Big Ten’s leader in tackles for a loss is facing perhaps the best overall group of blockers in the league, and center Corey Linsley and guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell are well aware of how important it will be to win up front and keep Jones out of the backfield.

Which team has the advantage?

Moyer: Ohio State. No question about it -- even the most die-hard Penn State fans have to admit the Buckeyes have the clear advantage here. Ohio State is more experienced, has a deeper roster, has the home-field advantage, a more well-rounded offense, a better front-seven, etc. PSU is about a two-touchdown underdog in this one, and it lost to OSU by double-digits last season with a lot more going for it. If Penn State is going to keep this one close, its offense has to score points -- a lot of points -- to stand a chance. It's difficult to discount Penn State in any game, but it'd be foolish to even hint that these two teams are evenly matched. They're not. Ohio State has the advantage.

Ward: The Buckeyes have more firepower than just about any team in the country on offense, and even after a couple sloppy starts on defense over the last couple weeks, they still rank No. 15 in the nation in total defense. That’s a perfect formula for winning a lot of games, and the Buckeyes have done that every single time they’ve taken the field under Urban Meyer. Ohio State is somewhat uniquely equipped to handle different scenarios depending on what it wants to accomplish, either speeding up the tempo if it feels the need to put up a bunch of points or leaning on its ground game to work on the clock and grind out a victory if it needs to. That ability to adapt has been invaluable during the 19-game winning streak, and along with what appears to be a more talented roster on paper, it should help provide an edge once again for the Buckeyes.

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