Ohio State offensive linemen Rob Sims (77) and T.J. Downing (72) clear the way for running back Antonio Pittman (25).
COLUMBUS - Nick Mangold leaned back, allowed a slight twinkle to escape from his eyes, and in his best wise, old sage manner, stroked his Amish-style beard and pontificated.
"Well, at times we have been pretty good," the Ohio State senior center and the leader of the Buckeyes' offensive line said.
Then he snapped to attention, and issued the customary rejoinder.
"But we've got to keep working and trying to get better. We take pride in what we do, and if we get the job done on a particular Saturday, that's great - but there's no one standing around after that feeling like we've arrived. There's no time for that."
Mangold, whose Buckeyes get their first road test of the season tomorrow at Penn State against an unbeaten and defensively stout Nittany Lions team, said the task is two-fold.
"When we've been pretty decent, we've run the football and there's been good protection for the quarterback," Mangold said. "That's how we review our performance - did we give the backs room to run, and did we keep the defense off the quarterback?"
The data backs up Mangold's contention that essentially, the Ohio State offense begins with solid line play, or there is not much offense to talk about. In their three victories this season, the Buckeyes have opened the holes and limited the sacks. In the lone loss, Texas stuffed the run and put the Ohio State quarterback on the ground three times.
"I've gotta tip my hat to those guys every week for the job they do up front," Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith said. "We've got people on our offense who can make some plays, but without the blocking and the pass protection our line provides, you'd never get the chance to make a play. Everything we try to do - they get it started."
The Buckeyes' offensive line had been a work in progress throughout the spring and into fall practice, but the front five have since settled in and established a mentality and a cohesiveness.
Mangold is flanked by guards Rob Sims and T.J. Downing, with Kirk Barton and Doug Datish at the tackles. Mangold and Sims are the only seniors in the top group.
"We definitely went through a developing process, but now I think we all have a real good feel for each other and are comfortable working together," Sims said. "We've progressed a lot as a group and in our individual improvement, and the chemistry is real good. We can kind of sense what the guy next to us is going to do now, and anticipate more."
Mangold said that the Ohio State offensive line took a great deal of pride in its performance against Iowa in the Big Ten opener, when the Buckeyes rushed for 314 yards, had 530 yards of offense, and Smith was sacked just once.
"The quarterbacks, the receivers and the running backs - those are the glamour positions and we all understand that and we don't have a problem with that - not at all," Mangold said. "But when we see those kinds of stats for our offense, there's nobody in the place happier than us. That is kind of our grade card for the day."
Smith, whose success or failure has as much to do with how the Ohio State line performs as anyone on the field does, said he has enjoyed watching the group evolve into an efficient and effective one.
"They've got a different look now," Smith said. "I see it in the way they focus, and how they've been really getting after it. I think they have a lot of confidence, about getting the job done and winning that war up front."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the better that offensive line plays, the deeper the playbook becomes, and the offense grows in potency.
"There's no doubt that everything you try to do offensively has little chance for success if the guys in the trenches don't get the job done," Tressel said. "We want to be a balanced football team that can run the ball and throw it, and do both of those things well. That balance can only come with great run blocking and solid pass protection - and both go right back to the execution by your line."