Ohio State Buckeyes: Pat Elflein

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After putting the finishing touches on spring camp, a few visitors caught Urban Meyer’s eye and he made sure to deliver them a message.

It was partly a reflection of the confidence the Ohio State coach has in the freshmen set to enroll in June, but it was also somewhat of a warning that there is a lot of work to do on the offensive line after a shaky performance for a rebuilding unit in the spring game.

But either way, the brief, matter-of-fact statements highlighted just how critical restocking the offensive line is to Meyer after leaning so heavily on it during a pair of record-setting seasons to start his career with the program.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker has moved from right tackle and locked down the spot at left tackle.
“I saw Jamarco Jones down there, Demetrius Knox is coming in, Brady Taylor,” Meyer said. “Those are three bodies that are going to be coming in and I went up to them, looked them in the eye and told them, ‘You’re not redshirting; you’re playing.’

“That’s hard for an offensive lineman, but that’s an area where we’ve got to get back to where we [were] -- maybe not where we were, but close.”

Replacing four senior starters with three true freshmen isn’t exactly the kind of formula that would get the Buckeyes back to the level they were at a season ago up front. And while Meyer wasn’t actually suggesting those talented signees are capable of coming in and winning first-team roles right away, based on some issues blocking backup defenders in a spring game that featured five sacks, finding a spot on the two-deep certainly isn’t out of the question.

Ohio State has enough options on hand to fill out the lineup in the fall, but 15 workouts didn’t provide as much clarity as about that unit as Meyer would have liked. He’s officially named Taylor Decker a starter at left tackle and Pat Elflein has won a job at guard, but leaving three vacancies and name-dropping players who have never practiced with the program is a far cry from leaving camp a year ago with a group that was essentially carved in stone and loaded with experience.

“Coach Meyer likes to have the depth chart set leaving spring, but if it’s not there, it’s not there,” Decker said. “That battle will just continue through camp. There’s good and bad to it, but I’d say there’s more good to it.

“It’s good because there’s that competition there, so there’s going to be a sense of urgency. You’re not going to have guys taking days off, taking plays off in practice because you still have to earn that spot.”

The downside is potentially not having a chance to develop the chemistry and familiarity that was such a critical component of the offensive line’s success last season, though tackle Darryl Baldwin and guard Antonio Underwood both seem like safe bets to keep working with the first-team offense after spending all spring there. The race to start at center remains tight, though Jacoby Boren brings a bit of experience to the mix as he jockeys with Billy Price for that crucial gig in the middle of the spread offense.

But regardless of who wins those jobs, it figures to be imperative for Meyer and the Buckeyes to identify the right fits for those final three spots to get the ball rolling to try to reach the high standard set by the linemen in the last couple seasons. Once those spots are nailed down, Meyer can give his attention to a group of newcomers looking to avoid redshirts and a depth chart that currently has a lot of openings.

“Offensive line is the one,” Meyer said. “We’ve got to really go from here.”

That process doesn’t start until June for a few guys. But even in April, Meyer made sure to include them in the plan.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines.

The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.

But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe spring game didn't say much about Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. And he seems fine with that.
“There were guys out there who will either never play or they’re not ready to play now,” Meyer said. “Like, [Ohio State sports information director] Jerry [Emig] hands me stats, I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.

“... We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.

Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.

Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend -- aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.

And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.

Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month.

So while the game itself left little worth remembering aside from what appeared to be marked improvement and depth in the secondary and another handful of mesmerizing catches from Michael Thomas, there were actually clues littered around Ohio Stadium that Meyer is poised to unleash his most talented team since taking over the program in 2012 and rattling off 24 consecutive wins.

The trick was knowing where to look.

“[The spring game] was a chance to see some young guys [who] really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will play,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for a lot of guys in our program who work very hard, and to be able to get some guys play or catch a pass in Ohio Stadium or whatever, in the big picture it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”

The real thrills, of course, don’t come for a few months. And based on the amount of players who didn’t get to actually step between the lines on Saturday, Meyer might not-so-secretly have plenty to be excited about by fall.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The entire roster wasn't on display, leaving some uncertainty about what Ohio State will look like at full strength. But heading into the offseason, there were still some lessons to be learned by the Gray's 17-7 victory over the Scarlet on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The secondary has improved

  • The offense was short-handed, starting with the absence of a certain two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year at quarterback and including short or nonexistent workloads for key receivers. But the defensive backs showed the kind of improvement Urban Meyer demanded since last season's unit finished No. 110 in the country against the pass. In holding Cardale Jones to a 14-for-31 performance through the air without a touchdown, even with top returning cornerback Doran Grant on the sideline, the Buckeyes' defensive backs will head into the summer feeling good about their progress. Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley are both solid options at cornerback, with the former making a statement early in the game with a nice breakup on a deep ball down the sideline. And once Grant and injured safety Vonn Bell are back in the mix to play Ohio State's more aggressive man coverage this fall, the statistics should look drastically better.
Braxton Miller is still the key
[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCardale Jones is likely to enter the fall as the backup quarterback for Ohio State.

  • Jones made progress in several areas throughout the spring, and he's earned the right to head into training camp as the second-string quarterback. But Miller remains the most critical component in Ohio State's spread attack, and his absence was a major factor in what was largely a disappointing afternoon for the offense. Miller will be back from his shoulder surgery shortly and is cleared to resume throwing and working out in time for the offseason conditioning program. It is still obvious that the Buckeyes need him on the field if they're going to make a run at a championship this fall. He'll also need some better work from the offensive line than what the Buckeyes put on display in the exhibition, though not having guard Pat Elflein in pads and limiting tackle Taylor Decker's role didn't do the unit any favors Saturday.
Michael Thomas is still a spring star

  • By now it should come as no surprise, but redshirt sophomore Michael Thomas again led the Buckeyes in receptions in the spring game, turned heads with some eye-popping grabs and looked like a future star on the perimeter. That's a familiar story with Thomas, who has dominated the spotlight during spring camp three years running and capped off the latest one with six catches for 64 yards, including a diving reception for a first down and a one-handed snag along the sideline that highlighted his athleticism and ability to haul in even balls thrown off target. The Buckeyes haven't settled on a true pecking order at receiver yet, though Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith are sure bets to take two top spots. One more time, it appears Ohio State should make room for Thomas in the rotation leaving spring, but obviously he'll need to follow it up with more standout work when practice begins again this summer.
Head coaches from the Big Ten East Division, along with a player from each team, addressed the media this afternoon on teleconferences. The West Division players and coaches spoke Wednesday.

Here's a closer look at the East:

INDIANA
  • Defense has been a lingering Indiana concern for years, but coach Kevin Wilson believes he's starting to see a change, thanks to new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. The scheme hasn't changed radically, but the Hoosiers return 10 starters there -- and Wilson's seen a promising spring so far with an added focus on competition and communication: "They've for sure held their own on a daily basis -- and, in some ways, probably even better -- against the offense."
  • Wilson believes teams need to invest scholarships into the kicking game, but he thinks it's also too risky to offer recruits straight out of high school. If you look at the NCAA's top 25 kickers, Wilson estimated at least 15 started out as walk-ons. So he's hoping to find some walk-ons who are willing to work for a scholarship, rather than be granted one right away.
  • At 5-foot-7, Shane Wynn is the Hoosiers' leading returning receiver, and he's transitioning to playing the outside. It's been a little different for Wynn, who said he's had to watch more film as a result. He's reading the corners now, instead of the safeties, as just one example.
MARYLAND
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall is confident in his offense and believes the Terrapins have enough options so that opponents can't focus on just one person. If defenses lock on to wideout Stefon Diggs, then quarterback C.J. Brown can take off running or receiver Deon Long can pick up some slack. "The No. 1 thing I do like," Edsall said, "is we can spread the field."
  • Maryland's staff has already started looking at film of Big Ten teams, so they know what to expect when the conference season begins. Edsall said he wants to at least get a feel for their personnel and what kind of schemes he'll face. He's also confident the Terps will be ready: "We fully expect to be able to compete when we get into the Big Ten this year."
  • Brown said one of the main reasons he committed to Maryland was the coach who recruited him at the time, former Terps assistant and current Penn State coach James Franklin. He's looking forward to squaring off against Franklin this season, and Edsall said there's no question he would like to develop a rivalry with the Nittany Lions.
MICHIGAN
  • The quarterback derby will continue, and Brady Hoke included all three of his options in the discussion heading into the offseason. The Wolverines coach did acknowledge, though, that Devin Gardner “probably would be” the starter if there was a game on the schedule this weekend. There isn’t, so Shane Morris and Wilton Speight will continue to be in the conversation.
  • The first opponent on the schedule will always stir emotions for Michigan fans, but Hoke didn’t attach any revenge or sentimentality to his reasons for wanting to take on Appalachian State in the opener this fall. “We needed a game,” Hoke said. “I thought it would be a good game.” Defensive end Frank Clark was certainly aware of the history between the programs, even though he was still years away from joining Michigan and getting a shot at making up for the upset loss in 2007 -- which he called “shocking” and “shows how hard those guys play.”
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Michigan State is coming off a Rose Bowl victory, but coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook would prefer not to think about that any longer. Dantonio said they've talked a lot these last four months about not growing complacent, and Cook only echoed his coach. "A lot of people keep bringing up the Rose Bowl," Cook said. "But we're past that. We're focusing on the now."
  • The offensive line has made some big strides since January, at least according to Cook. He felt like he had no time in the pocket last spring and said the pass rush was getting to him every time. This spring? He doesn't feel rushed in the pocket, and he thinks that's pretty indicative of how far this line has come.
  • Jeremy Langford earned a lot of praise from Cook, who said the running back has become a much bigger part of the passing attack. "He's improved a lot with catching the ball," Cook said, complimenting Langford's versatility. "He's done so many different things for us."
OHIO STATE
  • There is still work to be done in addressing the most glaring weakness on the team last season, but Urban Meyer called Ohio State’s pass defense “drastically improved” and will be watching closely for more signs of progress in Saturday’s spring game. The Buckeyes will play a traditional game, but the emphasis will be on throwing the football and assessing the skill players on both offense and defense -- giving Meyer a chance to evaluate backup quarterback Cardale Jones in a live setting in addition to checking out the secondary.
  • Arguably the strongest part of last season's team is undergoing a transition without four senior starters, and the offensive line is somewhat of a concern for Meyer heading into the offseason. With guard Pat Elflein the only other player to have earned a first-team slot to play alongside junior Taylor Decker at this point, that competition is likely to spill over into preseason camp in August. Both tackle Darryl Baldwin and guard Antonio Underwood were praised for their work by defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are dueling at center.
PENN STATE
  • Franklin said he knew exactly what he was getting into at Penn State, in terms of the current depth and sanctions. He and former coach Bill O'Brien worked together at Maryland, and he said the two had a lot of honest conversations about the current state of the Nittany Lions. The two have continued to talk since.
  • Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia are both making transitions from defensive tackle to offensive guard, and Franklin said he has been pleased with their performances so far: "They're doing a good job for us -- and they have to. We're thin at that position."
  • Franklin said he feels especially comfortable with the talent at running back and defensive line. Middle linebacker Mike Hull was more specific about naming the players who impressed him, pointing to backup linebacker Gary Wooten and cornerback Da'Quan Davis. Hull said Wooten is always around the football and that Davis, who missed part of the spring with a hamstring injury, has come up with several interceptions.
RUTGERS
  • Another open competition at the most critical position on the field -- quarterback -- is still playing out at Rutgers, and coach Kyle Flood isn’t ready to declare a winner in what would seem to be a wide-open battle. Flood indicated that Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano are all “really vying for that first-team job.”
  • The change in conference affiliation has been welcomed with open arms by the Scarlet Knights, who can “feel the energy” as theypractice for their first season in the Big Ten. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said the team was already buzzing with excitement about the opportunity, and Flood called joining the league a “positive in every way.” The move also presents the opportunity for a rivalry to develop with new divisional neighbor Penn State, with both Flood and Hamilton citing the proximity between the schools as a bonus.

Early OSU observations: No. 3

March, 12, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There isn’t much evidence to work with heading into spring break, but Ohio State’s two practices to open camp before taking this week off did give at least a peek at some new faces and a couple of changes. While the Buckeyes are refreshing and gearing up for the sprint to the finish of spring workouts, we’re looking at the early developments and what they mean moving forward for Urban Meyer’s team.

No. 3: Offensive line reloading

Tom Herman smiled, offered a quick reminder that Ohio State hadn’t put on any pads yet and put off making any significant evaluations until later in camp.

[+] EnlargeDarryl Baldwin
AP Photo/David DurochikDarryl Baldwin is among the top candidates to become Ohio State's starting right tackle in 2014.
But even if the Ohio State offensive coordinator hadn’t seen a new-look offensive line block anybody yet, just looking at some of the guys lining up in the trenches when camp opened should have been cause for at least some encouragement.

Antonio Underwood was drawing rave reviews for his development before he tore his ACL last spring and was lost for the season. He’s now fully healed and has emerged as a starting option at left guard.

Darryl Baldwin has waited his turn, developing his body and preparing himself mentally for the chance to finally contribute on a full-time basis. He’s at the head of the line at right tackle trying to become the latest in a string of guys making an impact at the position.

The Buckeyes already know what they have in Taylor Decker at left tackle, and they’ve got a good idea what Pat Elflein can bring at right guard after glimpses of his ability at the end of last season.

They also have healthy competition for playing time, with Billy Price pushing Jacoby Boren at center and converted defensive tackle Joel Hale fighting for a role at guard.

So, even while Herman tries to pump the brakes a bit early in camp until the live hitting actually starts, there doesn’t appear to be much reason for stress to build as the Buckeyes replace four starters on the offensive line. There are more than enough candidates on hand to fill the void, and they look the part even before putting on pads.
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.

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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.

B1G spring position breakdown: OL

February, 28, 2014
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We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the big uglies.

Illinois: This is another group that appears to be in significantly better shape now than at the start of coach Tim Beckman's tenure. The Illini lose only one full-time starter in tackle Corey Lewis, as four other linemen who started at least eight games in 2013 return. Senior tandem Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic are two of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen, and guards Ted Karras also has logged plenty of starts. Right tackle appears to be the only vacancy entering the spring, as Austin Schmidt and others will compete.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have somewhat quietly put together one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and the same should hold true in 2014. Everybody is back, and because of injuries before and during the 2013 season, Indiana boasts a large group with significant starting experience. Jason Spriggs should contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors as he enters his third season at left tackle. Senior Collin Rahrig solidifies the middle, and Indiana regains the services of guard Dan Feeney, who was sidelined all of 2013 by a foot injury.

Iowa: The return of left tackle Brandon Scherff anchors an Iowa line that could be a team strength this fall. Scherff will enter the fall as a leading candidate for Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Iowa must replace two starters in right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli. Andrew Donnal could be the answer in Van Sloten's spot despite playing guard in 2013, while several players will compete at guard, including Tommy Gaul and Eric Simmons. Junior Austin Blythe returns at center.

Maryland: Line play will go a long way toward determining how Maryland fares in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins will make the transition with an experienced group. Four starters are back, led by center Sal Conaboy, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Tackles Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn bring versatility to the group, and Maryland should have plenty of options once heralded recruit Damian Prince and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck arrive this summer. Prince is the top Big Ten offensive line recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. New line coach Greg Studwara brings a lot of experience to the group.

Michigan: The Wolverines' line is under the microscope this spring after a disappointing 2013 season. Michigan loses both starting tackles, including Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and a projected first-round draft choice. The interior line was in flux for much of 2013, and Michigan needs development from a large group of rising sophomores and juniors, including Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Kugler. Both starting tackle spots are open, although Ben Braden seems likely to slide in on the left side. Erik Magnuson is out for spring practice following shoulder surgery, freeing up opportunities for redshirt freshman David Dawson and others.

Michigan State: The line took a significant step forward in 2013 but loses three starters, including left guard Blake Treadwell, a co-captain. Michigan State used an eight-man rotation in 2013 and will look for development from top reserves such as Travis Jackson (Yes! Yes!) and Connor Kruse. Kodi Kieler backed up Treadwell last season and could contend for a starting job as well. Coach Mark Dantonio said this week that converted defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones will get a chance to prove themselves this spring. It's important for MSU to show it can reload up front, and the large rotation used in 2013 should help.

Minnesota: For the first time since the Glen Mason era, Minnesota truly established the line of scrimmage and showcased the power run game in 2013. The Gophers return starters at four positions and regain Jon Christenson, the team's top center before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Right tackle Josh Campion and left guard Zac Epping are mainstays in the starting lineup, and players such as Tommy Olson and Ben Lauer gained some valuable experience last fall. There should be good leadership with Epping, Olson, Marek Lenkiewicz and Caleb Bak.

Nebraska: Graduation hit the line hard as five seniors depart, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long at guard and Jeremiah Sirles at tackle. Nebraska will lean on guard Jake Cotton, its only returning starter, and experienced players such as Mark Pelini, who steps into the center spot. Senior Mike Moudy is the top candidate at the other guard spot, but there should be plenty of competition at the tackle spots, where Zach Sterup, Matt Finnin and others are in the mix. Definitely a group to watch this spring.

Northwestern: Offensive line struggles undoubtedly contributed to Northwestern's disappointing 2013 season. All five starters are back along with several key reserves, and coach Pat Fitzgerald already has seen a dramatic difference in the position competitions this spring as opposed to last, when many linemen were sidelined following surgeries. Center Brandon Vitabile is the only returning starter who shouldn't have to worry about his job. Paul Jorgensen and Eric Olson opened the spring as the top tackles, and Jack Konopka, who has started at both tackle spots, will have to regain his position.

Ohio State: Like Nebraska, Ohio State enters the spring with a lot to replace up front as four starters depart from the Big Ten's best line. Taylor Decker is the only holdover and will move from right tackle to left tackle. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin could step in at the other tackle spot, while Pat Elflein, who filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season, is a good bet to start at guard. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete at center and Joel Hale, a defensive lineman, will work at guard this spring. Ohio State has recruited well up front, and it will be interesting to see how young players such as Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson develop.

Penn State: New coach James Franklin admits he's concerned about the depth up front despite the return of veterans Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith on the left side. Guard Angelo Mangiro is the other lineman who logged significant experience in 2013, and guard/center Wendy Laurent and guard Anthony Alosi played a bit. But filling out the second string could be a challenge for Penn State, which could start a redshirt freshman (Andrew Nelson) at right tackle. The Lions have to develop some depth on the edges behind Nelson and Smith.

Purdue: The Boilers reset up front after a miserable season in which they finished 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense (67.1 ypg). Three starters return on the interior, led by junior center Robert Kugler, and there's some continuity at guard with Jordan Roos and Justin King, both of whom started as redshirt freshmen. It's a different story on the edges as Purdue loses both starting tackles. Thursday's addition of junior-college tackle David Hedelin could be big, if Hedelin avoids a potential NCAA suspension for playing for a club team. Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince also are among those in the mix at tackle.

Rutgers: Continuity should be a strength for Rutgers, which returns its entire starting line from 2013. But production has to be better after the Scarlet Knights finished 100th nationally in rushing and tied for 102nd in sacks allowed. Guard Kaleb Johnson considered entering the NFL draft but instead will return for his fourth season as a starter. Rutgers also brings back Betim Bujari, who can play either center or guard, as well as Keith Lumpkin, the likely starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if new line coach Mitch Browning stirs up the competition this spring, as younger players Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman could get a longer look.

Wisconsin: There are a lot of familiar names up front for the Badgers, who lose only one starter in guard Ryan Groy. The tackle spots look very solid with Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), and Kyle Costigan started the final 11 games at right guard. There should be some competition at center, as both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen have battled injuries. Coach Gary Andersen mentioned on national signing day that early enrollee Michael Deiter will enter the mix immediately at center. Another early enrollee, decorated recruit Jaden Gault, should be part of the rotation at tackle. If certain young players develop quickly this spring, Wisconsin should have no depth issues when the season rolls around.
Tags:

Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Big Ten Conference, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, evan lisle, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Taylor Decker, Kyle Dodson, Joel Hale, damian prince, Spencer Long, Pat Fitzgerald, Andrew Donnal, Brandon Scherff, Patrick Kugler, Zac Epping, DArryl Baldwin, Gary Andersen, Matt Finnin, Kyle Bosch, Michael Heitz, Ted Karras, Pat Elflein, Jaden Gault, Ryan Groy, Josh Campion, Dan Voltz, Donovan Smith, Jon Christenson, Jordan Roos, Rob Havenstein, Paul Jorgensen, Blake Treadwell, Dan Feeney, Michael Deiter, Graham Glasgow, James Franklin, Ben Lauer, Brett Van Sloten, David Hedelin, Jeremiah Sirles, Zach Sterup, Erik Magnuson, Kyle Costigan, Miles Dieffenbach, B1G spring positions 14, Andrew Nelson, Angelo Mangiro, Austin Blythe, Austin Schmidt, Betim Bujari, Brandon Vitabile, Caleb Bak, Cameron Cermin, Collin Rahrig, Connor Kruse, Conor Boffelli, Corey Lewis, Dallas Lewallen, Devyn Salmon, Dorian Miller, Eric Olson, Eric Simmons, Greg Studrawa, J.J. Denman, J.J. Prince, Jack Konopka, Jake Cotton, James Bodanis, Jason Spriggs, Justin King, Kaleb Johnson, Keith Lumpkin, Kodi Kieler, Larry Mazyck, Marek Lenkiewicz, Mark Pelini, Michael Dunn, Mike Moudy, Mitch Browning, Noah Jones, Robert Kugler, Ryan Doyle, Sal Conaboy, Simon Cvijanovic, Tommy Gaul, Tommy Olson, Travis Jackson

Top spring position battles: No. 2

February, 20, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.

[+] EnlargeDarryl Baldwin
AP Photo/David DurochikDarryl Baldwin has the inside track to winning Ohio State's starting right tackle job.
But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic and a critical spot on defense, the series focuses on a potential anchor up front.

No. 2: Right tackle

  • Predecessor: Rising junior Taylor Decker held the starting job throughout last season for the Big Ten's best rushing attack, but he'll swing over to the left side with Jack Mewhort heading off to the NFL.
  • Candidates: Senior Darryl Baldwin, junior Tommy Brown and redshirt sophomore Kyle Dodson
  • Why to watch: For all the firepower the Buckeyes have returning at the skill positions and, more importantly, at quarterback, that might not mean all that much unless four new starters are able to get close to the level of production the veteran blockers provided over the past two seasons. Replacing all that experience and talent is no small task, but Ohio State has known this moment was coming for a while and has certainly taken steps to make sure it's prepared to move on without its core four up front. Decker's move to the high-profile gig on the left side opens up what could be a competitive battle for the starting job he left behind, particularly if Dodson is able to live up to the recruiting hype from two years ago and become a factor on the practice field during camp. The Buckeyes are likely set with Decker on the left edge, Pat Elflein at one guard spot and Jacoby Boren at center. And right tackle isn't the only battle that will be waged during practice in March and April as they audition guys for the other vacancy at guard. But Ohio State will need somebody to come in and make an instant impact without much experience at right tackle like Decker last season and Reid Fragel before him if it is going to keep the spread offense humming.
  • Pre-camp edge: Much of his prior playing time has come on special teams, but Baldwin did see some action off the bench at times last season and has been in the program for years, developing physically and spending plenty of time absorbing the blocking schemes. He'll have the inside track heading into camp, and at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, he's certainly got the size required to deal with his responsibilities at tackle. So, too, does Dodson, and he's already been publicly challenged by Urban Meyer to "show up and start playing." Those two guys figure to be under intense scrutiny leading up to the spring game, and the Buckeyes would ideally be able to settle on a clear-cut starter by then.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always chasing the sizzle. What the Ohio State coach needed more than anything this time, though, was some steak.

Like usual, Meyer had skill players with speed in his recruiting class, a prerequisite for his spread offense and perhaps the type of target he annually covets above all else. But on the heels of a class that was light on linemen and with four senior starters walking out the door after last season, Meyer had no choice but to load up on big guys with his third class since taking over the Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer and Braxton Miller
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesWith four senior starters on the O-line leaving, Urban Meyer knew he had to sign some linemen to help protect Braxton Miller.
And he did exactly that, signing more offensive linemen than any other position. When all the paperwork was filed on Wednesday, Meyer had a group that might not be as flashy as the burners on the perimeter but ultimately figures to be the foundation for Ohio State’s future.

“Last year was a [recruiting] disappointment in the offensive line,” Meyer said. “I’d say two of the five this year have to be in the depth, and we recruited as such.

“Typically you don’t put freshmen in there early, but these guys have got mature bodies and they’re fairly mature men.”

Certainly the newcomers aren’t as physically developed as the veterans who just graduated, and obviously they don’t have anywhere near the experience competing at the Big Ten level. But based on the numbers and the talent on hand, the Buckeyes may have no choice but to plug a couple true freshmen at least into the two-deep depth chart as they rebuild the unit almost from scratch.

Taylor Decker is the lone holdover, and Meyer confirmed that the junior is set to move from right tackle to left as part of the transition. Pat Elflein handled himself well at guard in place of Marcus Hall late in the season, and he’s a safe bet to lock down another starting job. Jacoby Boren has played in reserve and impressed on the practice field, and he will move into the lineup at center. The rest of the rotation is currently written in pencil, which if nothing else at least leaves the possibility open that a fresh face could make a push for playing time.

With such precious cargo at quarterback, though, the Buckeyes would surely prefer to plug in a player who has at least been through a season with the program to help protect Braxton Miller. Their options, however, are somewhat limited after signing just two linemen a year ago, losing one of them before the season and ultimately moving a defender to the other side of the ball to help make up for it.

“I think last year’s smallness in numbers certainly led to an increased urgency to have to go sign those guys,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “But with last year, at Ohio State we’re not just going to sign a guy just to fill a spot. If we don’t think he can help us win a national championship, we’re not going to sign him. Those guys weren’t out there towards the end of recruiting last year, so that put us in a dire need of urgency this year.

“Really the entire staff did a great job coming through with five offensive linemen, and all five of them, none of them are guys who you would think would be reaches at Ohio State.”

Out of that bunch that earned their offers, Jamarco Jones had his name pop up most frequently as a crucial signee and possible option to lend a hand early, with Demetrius Knox not far behind him. Brady Taylor, a late flip from Virginia Tech, caught Meyer’s eye as well after getting up to 295 pounds and could emerge as a guy he said “could sneak in the depth fairly quickly.”

On top of that, the Buckeyes also have a pair of true freshmen linemen already on campus in Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, potentially giving them a chance to acclimate quickly and make an impression during spring practice as the Buckeyes sort through the candidates on hand. But even if none of them wind up as regulars by the end of the season, the day surely isn’t all that far off when all those speed-burners Meyer is stockpiling are counting on the latest group of beefy blockers to give them room to work.

“Our toys are very useless,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said, “until we take care of that front.”

Offseason to-do list: Ohio State

January, 24, 2014
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Last season is barely in the rearview mirror, but it's already time to look ahead at what's next. After a rocky finish to a season that had such high hopes, perhaps no team has shifted its attention forward more quickly than Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are up next in the look around the Big Ten at the top priorities in the offseason, as Urban Meyer looks to squeeze a little more out of his team coming off a 12-win campaign -- and a two-game losing streak.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesOhio State coach Urban Meyer made no secret of the fact that he was not happy with the way his defense performed in 2013.
1. Fix the defense: Even before the Discover Orange Bowl, Meyer was already vowing changes to his beleaguered defense and promising to look at every aspect of the unit in trying to get it right. That process quickly started with personnel changes in the secondary, and with the loss of star linebacker Ryan Shazier, that position group may now be under the most intense scrutiny moving forward. Meyer also seemed bothered throughout the season that the scheme wasn't as aggressive as he'd prefer, and that will no doubt be addressed in the coming months. And to help deliver that message, he'll have two new staff members around to get the defense patched up, including former Wisconsin and Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who specializes in the secondary and has a real mess to clean up given Ohio State's problems against the pass. There is still plenty of talent on hand, but the Buckeyes have to figure out a way to maximize it and complement a high-scoring offense.

2. Balance the attack: For all the emphasis the Buckeyes put on evening the play-calling out between the run and the pass, for the second season in a row they were clearly more comfortable with the former and were never really able to get things moving through the air when they had to down the stretch. They still scored a ton of points, and they'll still have Braxton Miller's legs to help bail them out thanks to his decision to return for a senior year, but they would be much better off if the quarterback takes another step forward as a passer and allows offensive coordinator Tom Herman to get closer to a 50-50 split between the run and the pass. Ohio State finished the year rushing the ball more than 63 percent of the time, and while the success Miller and running back Carlos Hyde had on the ground made it hard to resist leaning on them, the Buckeyes will need to air it out more often to get some extra defenders out of the box.

3. Plug the holes up front: The early loss of Shazier to the NFL, the departures of a handful of defensive backs and the graduation of Hyde and wide receiver Philly Brown all leave notable jobs to fill, but clearly the most important vacancies are up front for the Buckeyes. The program was blessed with four senior starters on the offensive line last season, and Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall set the tone for Ohio State both on and off the field. But they're all gone now, and the downside to having a season with all that veteran talent to work with is that they all have to be replaced the following season. Taylor Decker is the lone holdover at right tackle and provides a solid building block, and Ohio State also had a glimpse at what Pat Elflein could do at right guard late in the season. The Buckeyes can likely count on Jacoby Boren to rise up and fill the void at center, but that still leaves two more spots open for competition and questions, and finding answers in spring practice will be critical.

More to-do lists:

OSU offseason to-do list: Offense

January, 8, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another 12-win season is in the books, though the second one under Urban Meyer did come with a pair of losses at the end that took a bit of the shine off the record for Ohio State. As the Buckeyes turn the page to Year 3 under Meyer, they'll certainly be looking to top that victory total, clinch a spot in the first edition of the playoffs and again compete for a national title. To do so, all three phases will have issues to address, and today the checklist starts on offense.

Improve the passing attack: The spotlight always shines on the quarterback first, and Braxton Miller undoubtedly still has room to grow as a passer. But getting the spread offense to take flight will take more than improved accuracy, better decisions and a tighter grasp on the playbook from Miller. With Philly Brown moving on after a productive career, Ohio State will have to start by replacing him as the leading receiver, a job that should fall to Devin Smith if he can find more consistency on the perimeter. The Buckeyes, though, had fewer candidates to make a play in the passing game than originally thought last season, and Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman are going to need a group of talented youngsters to lend a hand next fall -- perhaps starting with Michael Thomas as he comes off a redshirt season as a sophomore.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker will be the only returning starter on the Ohio State offensive line, but a couple replacements are already identified.
Rebuild the line: The day was always coming, but now the reality of replacing four senior starters on the offensive line must sink in for Ohio State. Meyer and position coach Ed Warinner have something of a head start, given Taylor Decker's successful transition into the starting lineup last season, and Pat Elflein's strong work when pressed into duty against Michigan and Michigan State at the end of the year will provide another level of comfort in the rebuilding process. The coaching staff has a lot of faith in Jacoby Boren to fill the void at center, which gets the Buckeyes over the halfway mark, but it will need to identify another tackle and guard during spring practice to complete the unit, begin building chemistry and prepare to meet the high standards of the 2013 group.

Replace Carlos Hyde: The heavy workload might have made it seem like the stable was relatively empty behind Carlos Hyde, but among the offseason to-do items, replacing the stellar senior running back might be one of the easier tasks for the Buckeyes. The hard part might be sorting through the options and figuring out how to distribute the workload a season after Hyde carried the football 127 times more than any other tailback -- a margin that would have been even wider if not for his three-game suspension to begin the season. Dontre Wilson is certain to get more touches, but the starting job seems likely to belong to somebody else, as the rising sophomore figures to stay in a hybrid role. Ezekiel Elliott showed flashes of his ability off the bench and could be in line for the top job, though perhaps Rod Smith could finally break through or maybe Bri'onte Dunn will come off a redshirt season as a sophomore with something to prove. Either way, the Buckeyes have options in the backfield.

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.”

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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.

Bowl prep: Ohio State's to-do list

December, 12, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The ultimate goal slipped away along with the longest winning streak in school history, but Ohio State certainly isn't short on motivation with one game left to play.

For starters, the No. 7 Buckeyes are still in the BCS with a marquee matchup against No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. After dropping the Big Ten championship against the best opponent they've faced since Urban Meyer took over the program, taking on the Tigers also represents another opportunity to show off nationally and perhaps earn a bit of redemption. And, obviously, the Buckeyes can potentially start a brand new winning streak if they can knock off Clemson on Jan. 3.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State chased down Braxton Miller and Ohio State in a memorable Big Ten championship game.
But there's plenty of time between that date and now, and Ohio State also has no shortage of things to work on during bowl practices this month. After not getting the chance to put on the pads last December, it surely won't be taken the workouts for granted this year -- and they also need them for what could be a shootout with the Tigers.

Shore up the secondary: This issue is nothing new for the Buckeyes, but they need to make a correction now more than ever if they're going to end the season on a high note.

Coverage breakdowns, poor communication and missed opportunities nearly cost Ohio State a perfect regular season as Michigan picked it apart in late November. Michigan State actually finished the job a week later with Connor Cook making it look far too easy to throw for more than 300 yards, a feat which would have been stunning to even consider back in the preseason with all the veteran talent returning in the backend for the Buckeyes.

The loss of Christian Bryant to a fractured ankle in September was a huge blow, and the secondary never seemed to fully recover from it. The Buckeyes certainly appear to have a bright future after landing arguably the nation's best class of cornerbacks and safeties last year, but those newcomers weren't quite ready for regular roles as freshmen and need another offseason of development before they can make a difference.

That won't do much good against the Tigers, though, which puts the pressure on Bryant's replacement at safety, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, and the other three starters to raise their games to slow down a team which is more than capable of airing it out and scoring points in bunches.

Brax to basics: Braxton Miller remains one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the country, and his individual rushing numbers have improved late in the season. But that might be out of necessity, because his passing numbers have dipped dramatically after showing off the improvement in his arm during a red-hot stretch in late October and the first week of November.

Since carving up hapless Purdue with 19 completions on just 23 attempts, Miller and the passing attack have struggled to generate anything consistently, and the junior has hit on less than 50 percent of his throws in three of the last four games. The weather can partially be blamed for the recent problems with his accuracy, but the Buckeyes were playing indoors last week against the Spartans when Miller was often missing the target during an 8-for-21 performance.

Miller has shown off his arm strength and accuracy plenty of times, and there's not really any question about what he's capable of leading the offense. But his footwork and decision-making have let him down at times late in the season, and a couple weeks to go back and stress fundamentals could do wonders for him ahead of a showcase game against Clemson.

Eyes on the road: There was no way to truly replace the bowl practices Ohio State missed last year due to the NCAA sanctions that kept it out of the postseason, though it did inspire "The Chase" as Meyer challenged his players to make up for the workouts on their own at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

But the coaching staff couldn't be around to offer instruction then, and the full practices in December are often invaluable for young players who didn't see the field much as they try to springboard into larger roles the following season. Considering both the lack of depth at key positions like linebacker and wide receiver and the need to replace veterans all over the offensive line and in the secondary, the coaching staff will need to make the absolute most out of its chance to get its hands on the players this month.

The Buckeyes, of course, are trying to win a game. But they'll need to bring along five-star safety Vonn Bell to groom him for a much larger role in the secondary next year. They have to find more help for Taylor Decker and likely starter Pat Elflein on the offensive line. And even with the possibility of having all three starters back at linebacker if Ryan Shazier decides to stick around for another season, Ohio State could clearly use some help filling out the rotation from Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson.

The balancing act is making sure the current starters are ready for a bowl game while still prepping their future replacements. But since the Buckeyes couldn't do either a year ago, that challenge is surely going to be readily embraced.
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.

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.

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