NORMAN — There are few negatives surrounding Ohio State’s defensive line.
The Buckeyes are deep.
“I’ve never seen a defensive line that can play 10 guys and not have a drop-off. They really play 12,” Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said.
The Buckeyes are talented.
In August, Big 10 network analyst Dan Revsine had the following exchange with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, a former head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who oversaw an NFL defensive line that included a former OU All-American, Gerald McCoy.
Revsine: “You were speaking a bit about the defensive line. Is this the most talented defensive line you’ve ever been around? And you can include the NFL.”
Schiano: “It is, you know, and that’s not a joke. Now, we had a great player in Tampa by the name of Gerald McCoy, a tremendous player, but that was one guy. I go back to my days at Miami in ‘99 and 2000, and this is clearly a better group.”
While it sounds hyperbolic, many are buying into the trench battle that is beginning to take center stage ahead of OU’s visit to Ohio State on Saturday.
Including OU quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“People might make the headline about [Ohio State quarterback] J.T. Barrett and I, but no, it’s going to be a huge matchup in the trenches,” Mayfield said.
OU’s offensive line has earned a high reputation, returning five starters from last season after it survived the chaos that ensued during a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in Norman.
Cody Ford broke his left leg against the Buckeyes, setting off a position shuffle that didn’t solidify until the fifth week of the season.
Once the dust settled, left tackle Orlando Brown, left guard Ben Powers, center Erick Wren, right guard Dru Samia and right tackle Bobby Evans showed flashes of dominance. It achieved notoriety. Preseason experts Phil Steele and Athlon Sports ranked the group as the nation’s best coming into 2017.
Bedenbaugh can’t remember another game he’s coached in where two opposing lines demanded so much of the spotlight in a marquee game.
“Probably not that I’ve been around,” he said.
Buckeye defensive end Sam Hubbard is projected by most as a top-10 NFL draft pick. Fellow end Tyquan Lewis was the Big 10 defensive lineman of the year last season.
The rest of the starters — end Nick Bosa and tackles Dre’Mont Jones and Jalyn Holmes — helped provide a punishing run defense at Indiana last week. The Hoosiers rushed 27 times for 17 yards, less than one yard per carry.
That’s what OU faces in its first opportunity against a marquee opponent without Samaje Perine or Joe Mixon. With those two backs, OU’s line paved the way for rushing totals of 253, 316, 341 and 228 yards in the final four games of last season. There were just three sacks surrendered in that span.
Less-experienced Sooner running backs Abdul Adams, Marcelias Sutton and Rodney Anderson will require some help to pierce the Buckeyes’ proverbial wall.
It’s easy to see why linemen enthusiasts are excited.
“Attention is really pressure, and pressure is privilege,” OU’s Brown said. “To be able to go out there and have you all and everyone in the stands paying attention to what we do, I think as a group, we take a lot of pride in that.”
His cohorts agree.
“You live for these type of moments. You don’t get too many in your life. When they come you’ve gotta take advantage of ‘em,” said Wren, who rarely gets an opportunity to speak to reporters.
“What’s not to love?” added Powers, a soft-spoken junior studying business management:
The hype over both teams’ units will soon hit a fever pitch, which is where Bedenbaugh — as he rarely has to do — is forced to temper the focus on his group.
“That stuff doesn’t matter. What matters is when you go out there and play,” Bedenbaugh said. “All that other [stuff], that doesn’t do anything for the game.“