By TODD PORTER
Everyone knows about Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller. Ohio State fans cheer Devin Smith’s long touchdown catches and Corey Brown’s catch and runs. When true freshman Dontre Wilson steps on the field at Ohio Stadium, there’s a buzz of anticipation.
All the while the big fellas on the offensive line are going about their business with little or no fanfare.
But they are the best players on the offense by head coach Urban Meyer’s estimation. Meyer has gone as far as calling left tackle Jack Mewhort the best player on offense.
“I think (fans) get enamored with skill-position players,” co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “They forget about, or aren’t educated on how you win football games. You win football games up front.
“To have a guy anchoring our offensive line that is as experienced and professional about going about his business ... he’s kind of the glue that keeps us together up front.”
It was never more apparent than last week. With a 28-0 lead, Mewhort had a minor injury and came out of the game. The offense kind of chugged alone, until Mewhort came back in and helped spring Hyde on two long touchdown runs.
The key to Ohio State’s record-setting offense isn’t just Hyde’s running ability and how far Miller has come as a quarterback, it really is in the development of the offensive line.
Four of the five offensive linemen are seniors. Only Taylor Decker returns next season. Mewhort is one of the players Meyer relies on for leadership.
“I would take that offensive line against anybody, anywhere,” Meyer said. “I love who they are. I love who they’ve become. If I was a college kid, that’s who I would hang out with. They’re sincere, great people who work their tails off.”
The line has opened holes in the running game to the tune of 8.9 yards per carry the last three games. The Buckeyes have gained 1,194 of their 3,151 rushing yards the last three games.
And that is coming even as opposing defense are adjusting to Ohio State’s read-option offense. Purdue started defending it well. Illinois gave the read-option some problems after Miller’s long TD run early in the game.
While fans want to identify with Meyer’s spread offense as pass-heavy, he wants the identity to be that of a power running team.
Hyde is 53 yards away from becoming the first 1,000-yard running back under Meyer.
That success in the ground game is due to the the offensive line.
“(Mewhort) is one of my favorites,” Meyer said. “He’s playing at an extremely high level. He got hurt last week and our offense started sputtering. It’s not just the fact that he’s a heck of a player, it’s the leadership value he brings.”
Hyde, though, brings a little something, too. Last year, Mewhort had two ribs broken in practice by Hyde when the 230-pound back slammed into him accidentally. Two weeks ago, center Corey Linsley — a Boardman High graduate — was blocking a linebacker during a Sunday practice in shorts and no pads.
“’Los comes running through and smacks the back of my shoulders and I look behind me to see who the hell just hit me,” Linsley said. “I’m like, ‘ÀúDude, you’re going pretty fast.’ And he said he has to because (opposing defenses) see us running on film. If that guys runs into me like that on a no pads day, imagine what it’s like for a defender. ... He’s one big, fast, tough dude.”
Their time together is winding down. Hyde and four seniors on the line will play their final game at Ohio Stadium. Their legacy hasn’t been written yet.
Meyer will likely heap praise on them after the game. On Sunday, though, line coach Ed Warinner brings that back to earth.
“Coach Meyer gives us all the praise in the media and gives us praise after the game,” Linsley said, smiling. “Coach Warinner is the guy who keeps us level headed and keeps us working and grinding.”