Three and Out From Inside the WHAC
By Tony Gerdeman
Six games into any college football season, teams will have to deal with adversity. How well they get through that adversity depends upon how well players are able to step up in order to right any ongoing wrongs.
For the Buckeyes, that adversity has come from growing pains and injuries. The offensive line features only one player who is currently at the same spot this year as he was at the end of last year.
Even at the end of camp, the coaches were still trying to figure out who their starting right tackle was. Yet if the last two weeks are any indication, the offensive line has stepped up as much as any unit possibly could.
On the other side of the ball, injuries and growing pains have hit the defense hard, most particularly the linebackers. Losing captain Etienne Sabino will require more than one player to step up, but there is only an acre of youth behind him.
If the Buckeyes are going to go 12-0, that defensive youth needs to step up sooner rather than later.
At the end of Ohio State's last two wins over Michigan State and Nebraska, it was the offensive line paving the way for their running game to burn out the clock.
The best prevent defense in the world is an offense that never gives the ball back, and that's what the Buckeyes have been seeing of late.
How far the offensive line has come is certainly not lost on head coach Urban Meyer.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"Our offensive line is the whole reason why we're where we are today," he said on Monday.
"Feeling good after a big win is because [of the way] the offensive line played. Tell it the way it is. Our offensive line is coming on."
Remember when Meyer called the group "nonfunctional" in the Spring? He certainly remembers.
"Someone asked me yesterday or today, that we called that group non functional, because they were. We're not going to lie to you. If they were non functional today, I'd tell you they're non functional.
"Our backups are non functional. God bless us, if a shoe string breaks or something, we're going to call timeout and get a new shoe string because we just don't have the depth there right now.
"If you could use the word dynamic with an offensive line, right now this is as good as I thought about an offensive line in a while. They're really playing well, really playing well. The offensive line, they're dudes now."
When a freshman steps up, he gets his black stripe removed. When a veteran steps up, he becomes a "dude".
This hasn't been an easy process for the offensive line, and it's one that is ongoing. However, they like the way they are trending.
Andrew Norwell and Urban Meyer
Photo by Dan Harker
"We're fixing the little things," said left guard Andrew Norwell.
"We've got them fixed. We just keep moving forward. Coach Warinner has helped out a lot. He's really intense in his meetings and coaching. He's a perfectionist and he wants the stuff done right. That carries on to the game days, and we're working to get a good result."
With the way the offensive line has played of late, the team and coaches have seen how good they can be when things are clicking. It gives them the belief that they can run on anybody, especially when they have precedent on their side."
"Since we've set the bar up so high, we've got to stay at that high level and keep competing and keep doing our thing," said Norwell.
Middle linebacker Storm Klein has had a very chaotic last few months. Arrested in July, dismissed from the team a couple of days later, reinstated in late August, and then immediately suspended as punishment for his actions.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He has come through all of it, however, and he now once again finds himself as Ohio State's starting middle linebacker. The defense wasn't getting enough of what it wanted from sophomore Curtis Grant, so the coaches turned to Klein, and he has stepped up and started the last three games for the Buckeyes.
"I came in and I knew that I was behind a little bit, so I was gonna sit here and work my butt off," Klein said. "Things happened for me, and I got the spot back. But I expected to do it."
And now Klein, who was normally removed on passing downs this season, will have to do even more this week with the injury to Sabino.
What if he isn't up to this latest challenge? It probably won't matter because nobody else has stepped up to do something about it.
The injury to Sabino leaves Ryan Shazier as the only starting linebacker who was also a starter to begin the season. Sabino's spot will be filled by true freshman Joshua Perry.
At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Perry looks every bit the part of a Big Ten linebacker. The high school track star has played in four games this season, but Saturday could be his first career start. Even though the Buckeyes will play plenty of nickel, every snap that he can get now will help him for when his team needs him more.
Perry can't fill Sabino's void by himself, but then nobody is asking him to.
"Any time one of your captains goes down, you need a lot of guys to step up," said defensive end John.
"We've got a lot of guys who need to step up this week, and I think we're starting to prepare for that task, and we're looking forward to it."
"I think it's on the defense as a whole whenever somebody goes down, especially a captain and a good player," said Klein.
"People have got to pick up the rifle and keep fighting."
Anybody can pick up that rifle for the Buckeye defense and run with it, but all eyes will be focused on Perry. Will he step up?
"He's just got to learn to release and let it go," Meyer said.
"How did he play [last week]? He played okay. He's got to play better. But he's willing and a good person, and has a lot of talent."
One player who has stepped up this season, and was absolutely expected to do so by everyone who follows this football program, was sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby.
One of Roby's stronger traits is the confidence that he has in himself and his abilities. It's that confidence that allows him to go out and make plays when his defense needs them.
"It's just self-belief," he explained.
"You've just got to believe in yourself so strongly that you have the confidence that when you see something you've seen on film, you just play it. You don't hesitate, you don't do things like that. You just believe and you go make the play. That's all it really comes down to."
In other words, it's rare to simply step up and perform on Saturday without first doing it every other day of the week as well.
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