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COLUMBUS — San Diego State defensive end Cody Galea concedes that Braxton Miller is “good.” He knows all about the Ohio State quarterback’s past — his school-record 3,310 yard of total offense last year, the Big Ten player-of-the-year recognition — and the Heisman expectations of the future.
“But,” he said this week, “[quarterbacks] are all the same. If you hit them enough times, they’re not going to play as well. You just have to get there.”
Consider the challenge laid down. When No. 3 OSU (1-0) hosts the Aztecs (0-1) today at Ohio Stadium, the guys charged with shielding Miller are out to prove last weekend’s opener was a one-off performance.
Coach Urban Meyer said the offensive line played “OK,” which would be, well, OK, if that was the expectation. It is not.
A veteran front is expected to be among the nation’s best, with left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate leading a line that features four returning senior starters and 85 combined career starts.
In a 40-20 victory against Buffalo, the Buckeyes began their 124th season of football with three straight touchdown dives before the offense slowed — including the line.
Center Corey Linsley was sidelined after 17 plays as a precaution, sophomore Taylor Decker struggled to fill the missing link at right tackle, and OSU allowed four sacks — including 2½ to Bulls standout linebacker Khalil Mack. Only six of 120 FBS teams allowed more the opening weekend.
A unit Meyer calls the “heart and soul” of the Buckeyes knows they must scrub off the rust, not to mention getting Linsley back to full strength. Linsley’s role will increase by the week as he returns from offseason foot surgery.
“That was just the wakeup call that we needed,” senior right guard Marcus Hall said. “Good thing it was the first game.”
Though the line cleared the way for 261 rushing yards — and Miller is sometimes prone to holding the ball a beat too long in the pocket — Meyer called the pass protection “unacceptable.” Of Decker, who was beaten by Mack several times, he said, “I wouldn’t say he did bad, because he played very well at certain times.”
“You just can't get exposed,” Meyer said of the line as a whole. “[Mack], his stock in the draft just went up a little bit after playing against us. He did a very good job. He manhandled some guys and did a good job.
“So whenever that happens, what do you do? You go back to your fundamentals and keep working and keep grinding. I have the utmost confident in our offensive line and their position coach [Ed Warinner], with what he did with them a year ago and what he is doing with them now. They will play much better, and they have to.”
Their next challenge is a tough-to-read San Diego State team that returns nine starters from a defense that ranked 25th nationally with 33 sacks last year.
The Aztecs are coming off a jarring 40-19 home loss to Eastern Illinois of the FCS, not in the least because its defensive line vanished. SDSU neither sacked nor officially hurried Panthers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who passed for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
Can the Buckeyes’ front re-establish its alpha status and continue to starve the Aztecs’ defensive front?
Hall sees no reason why not.
“We kind of let our foot off the gas pedal last week,” he said. “We talked about that as an offensive line. We’re focued on starting off fast and keeping it up.”