How Ohio State and its remaining opponents compare in the trenches

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Ohio State offensive lineman Dawand Jones moving up the depth chart

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

COLUMBUS -- Though the importance of the passing game might never have been greater in college football than it is now, winning the line of scrimmage remains paramount at all levels of the game.

That’s good news for Ohio State.

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With a potentially harrowing six-game second half of the season set to begin Saturday night at Indiana, the Buckeyes should be able to go into every week knowing they will have the best unit on either side of the trenches.

That would be the Ohio State offensive line, which at this point in the season is averaging 3.28 “line yards” per game.

That is second best in the nation behind Oregon State in a figure created by FootballOutsiders.com to isolate and evaluate the ability of a line to create room to run from what the running back does with it.

To do so, Football Outsiders gives a line credit for rushing the yardage between 0-3 yards on a given play with an additional 50 percent credit for yards 4-8 of a run.

Any yards beyond that on a given run are credited solely to the running back and are known as “highlight yards.”

Of Ohio State’s remaining opponents, the next-best offensive line is Michigan State at No. 38 followed by Michigan (40) and Nebraska (47). There is a big drop-off from there as this week’s Ohio State opponent, Indiana, ranks 88th, Penn State is No. 110 and Purdue is 113th.

Another Football Outsiders metric — “Power rate” — measures how often a team converts third- or fourth-and-short, another area the Buckeyes have excelled. OSU is No. 10 in the country with none of the Buckeyes’ remaining regular season opponents in the top 50.

Michigan ranks 61st in power rate while the rest of the teams on the schedule are 91st (Nebraska) or worse.

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Ohio State coach Greg Studrawa has assembled another successful unit despite losing All-Big Ten center Josh Myers and All-American guard Wyatt Davis to the NFL.

Studrawa shuffled the returners in the preseason — when he moved returning left tackle Thayer Munford to guard and flipped Nicholas Petit-Frere from right tackle to left to make room in the starting lineup for Dawand Jones at right tackle — then had to adjust again when Harry Miller became unavailable prior to the season-opener.

Luke Wypler stepped in at center and has performed admirably, and veteran Matt Jones has thrived as a super sub over the past few games. That gives Studrawa six reliable players and possibly soon seven as Miller works his way back into the mix.

“I thought we would settle on a five, and I’ve never been a guy that has had the opportunity to rotate,” he said this week. “You want to get those guys in there and get them comfortable with each other and you want to play ‘em, but the fact is there are some younger guys that have come along so well.”

As far as pass protection, the picture is a little rosier for the competition but still positive for the Scarlet and Gray.

Ohio State is 16th in sack rate — sacks per pass attempt — while Michigan is No. 2 and Penn State (31), Indiana (39) and Purdue (49) are all in the top 40.

That Ohio State has a strong sack rate this season is noteworthy because the Buckeyes were 103rd in the nation last season when Justin Fields went down on 8.4 percent of his dropbacks.

This was a weakness Studrawa acknowledged and sought to fix in the offseason despite making major changes to the unit.

“I put a hard emphasis on it in spring and through the preseason simply because we have a freshman quarterback,” Studrawa said in reference to C.J. Stroud. “I wanted to make sure there were not issues where he felt uncomfortable back there.”

That means Studrawa wanted to see a more firm pocket than Ohio State put around Fields at times last year.

“That’s been so much better to me than it was last year,” Strudwara said. “Last year, it shrunk. When it shrinks around the quarterback, Justin had no problem, but if you have a young guy back there, there are issues.”

Of course, who a team is blocking is a key factor in success.

As far as defensive line yards, Ohio State has some ground to make up after a poor start to the season.

The Buckeyes rank just 77th in that category — one spot ahead of Michigan State.

Penn State is No. 6 in the nation while Purdue (63), Nebraska (65) and Michigan (67) are all bunched up in the middle and Indiana not far behind at 73rd.

“We’re heading into the storm now, so they’ve got to be as healthy as they can,” Studrawa said. “And the ability to rotate them — if something does happen, we won’t skip a beat.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State at Indiana, 7:30 p.m., ABC, 1410

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