By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Urban Meyer said it before Braxton Miller’s injury. He’s still saying it.
The offensive line is his biggest concern about this year’s Ohio State football team.
That line, with four new starters, struggled in the first half of OSU’s 34-17 win over Navy in its season opener before playing better in the second half.
The chances of being able to recover from a similar slow start by the line against Virginia Tech on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium will be significantly smaller, Meyer said.
“Concern No. 1 is the offensive line. This will be one of the top one or top two defensive lines we’ll face this year,” he said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line.”
Virginia Tech won its opener 34-9 over William and Mary. The Hokies have won eight games and seven games the last two seasons, but had eight seasons in a row of 10 or more wins before that.
An inconsistent effort by Ohio State’s offensive line was not shocking, considering that tackle Taylor Decker (14 starts) and Pat Elflein (two starts when Marcus Hall was suspended) were the only OSU offensive linemen who had started before the Navy game.
Tackle Darryl Baldwin, center Jacoby Boren and guard Billy Price all were making their first college starts.
Meyer said his confidence in the offensive line has bounced up and down. He hopes what he saw in the second half against Navy means he can stop worrying about it.
“The second half helped. Spring practice did not help. Training camp helped. And then the first half did not. The second half really helped,” he said about his level of concern.
Ohio State was down 7-6 at halftime to Navy and got all three of its touchdowns and 258 yards of its 420 yards total offense in the second half.
A year ago as a sophomore, Decker found himself in a situation similar to the first-year starters on the Buckeyes’ offensive line. He drew what was an even tougher assignment in his first start than they did.
During OSU’s 40-20 win over Buffalo, he had to deal with future first-round NFL draft choice Khalil Mack. It was the football equivalent of taking an organic chemistry class your first day on campus.
Mack had 2.5 sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown.
“I thought I prepared well for the first game but then I took my preparation a lot more seriously because I saw you can get exposed out there. You can always prepare better, you can always watch more film,” Decker said Monday.
“I definitely think we showed a little bit of youth and inexperience, which is kind of to be expected. But I think in the second half once guys kind of got their nerves out we played a lot better,” he said.
“The biggest improvement, I think, is from game one to game two, so I expect to see a lot of improvement. Guys kind of relaxed and realized we do this every day in practice.”
BAUGH SUSPENDED: Back-up tight end Marcus Baugh did not make the trip to Baltimore for OSU’s opener against Navy and is suspended for this week’s game also, Meyer said.
Asked for the reason for the two-game suspension, Meyer said, “Stuff.”
BARRETT HONORED: Quarterback J.T. Barrett shared Freshman of the Week honors in the Big Ten with Penn State receiver DaeSaen Hamilton, who caught 11 passes for 165 yards in the Nittany Lions’ 26-24 win over Central Florida.
Barrett completed 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns and was OSU’s leading rusher with 50 yards.
RUNNING BACK PLANS: Expect to see Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith and Jalin Marshall continue to all get carries in the backfield.
Meyer says they’ve all earned that chance.
“Rod Smith had the play of the day. He held a block on punt return for 11 seconds. And the way we do our business here, that entitled him to some carries,” Meyer said.
“Jalen earned some carries and Dontre certainly has. You have Zeke (Elliott) and you have Curtis Samuel. It’s probably going to be like that again this week, just because these young guys have earned those carries.”