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COLUMBUS — As Urban Meyer prepared his Florida Gators for the 2007 BCS national title game, he had an idea Ohio State’s offensive line faced a long night.
The Gators’ two ends, Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, would become top-20 picks in the NFL draft and their tackles would both play professionally — including now-eight-year 49ers veteran Ray McDonald. Even top backup, tackle Joe Cohen, became the fourth-round selection of the 49ers that April.
Still, Meyer could not have anticipated the demolition to come.
Five sacks from Moss and Harvey alone? Eighty-two yards of offense for Ohio State? Heisman-winning quarterback Troy Smith in a daze?
“Not to that extreme,” he said recently.
Today, eight years after Florida and its remorseless defensive line gave the Buckeyes nightmares in a 41-14 thumping, the Ohio State coach sees the same signs of chaos developing in Columbus.
With a lot of old mainstays and new defensive line coach Larry Johnson implementing a counter-intuitive blueprint — hint: less playing time for the stars — Meyer is counting on Ohio State’s defensive front to inflict a similar level of havoc this fall.
“The 2006 team was our best defensive line and this one if they perform and stay healthy, this could be at that level,” Meyer said. “It's game-changers up front. You don't have to do a lot of blitzing. You don't have to do a lot of twisting and movement because those guys are one-on-one beaters. You get a great defensive line like that, it frees you up in the back seven to do a lot of other stuff.”
If not quite the Scarlet People-Eaters yet, the Buckeyes’ veteran defensive line is being billed among the most feared in the nation.
A year after piling up a Big Ten-leading 42 sacks, Ohio State expects to further crank up the pressure to ease the transition of a rebuilt pass defense.
That’s because the Buckeyes not only return all four line starters — including three former five-star prospects and preseason All-American senior tackle Michael Bennett — but plan to begin mining their depth. In contrast to a year ago, Johnson said he plans to play eight or nine linemen.
“You look at great teams, you see them go far, they’re rotating D-linemen again and again and again,” Bennett said. ”It creates the ability for guys to play 50 snaps at 100 percent, rather than 90 at 60 percent. That’s when you get really disruptive plays.“
Last year, Bennett said the line was beaten down late in the year, adding, “People don’t understand how bad it was.“
“I want to play fast,” Johnson said this week. “The game of football and the defensive line is about playing fast. The guys have to play with maximum speed at all times. It's tough for a guy to play 90 plays in college football.”
The guys who will start and finish games are familiar names, including Bennett (seven sacks last season), junior end Noah Spence (8.5 sacks), and sophomore end Joey Bosa (7.5 sacks). The least heralded of the quartet, meanwhile, may have just as much upside as the others — all of whom are seen as possible first-round picks.
Adolphus Washington, a 6-foot-5, 288-pound junior, labored through a lingering groin injury last year. But the converted end came to Columbus as the top player in Ohio after having 23.5 sacks as a senior at Cincinnati Taft.
“Adolphus is the one that hasn't played up to [his potential],” Meyer said. “If he ever gets it all figured out, he could be as good as any I've ever had. He's still a work in progress.”
Then comes the second wave, which at a recent practice featured Steve Miller, Donovan Munger, Tommy Schutt, and Tyquan Lewis. The depth will be tested early with Spence suspended the first two games for an undisclosed violation of Big Ten rules. (Spence’s father told a Pennsylvania TV station that his son unwittingly took the drug Ecstasy.)
In all, veteran Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner called the Buckeyes’ front the best he has ever seen. Of the line’s size and speed, linebacker Joshua Perry said, “If you put on film, sometimes you sit there and your jaw drops. You're like, ‘What the heck am I watching?’ They can just take over.”
SERIES DROPPED: Ohio State and North Carolina have called off a scheduled home-and-home series in 2017 and 2018, the schools confirmed.
With the Big Ten’s impending move to a nine-game conference schedule, the cancellation leaves OSU with two holes on its schedules in 2017 and 2018. Ohio State will host Oklahoma in 2017 and begin a home-and-home series against TCU in 2018.