There's little question that Ohio State's offensive line play has fallen off in the last two seasons. Previous editions of the Buckeye O-line featured a ton of NFL talent, with guys like Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort opening up huge holes for Ohio State's talented running backs.
Somewhere along the way, the Buckeyes lost a little of the magic that led to such a dominant front line, the guys doing the unsung dirty work in the trenches that made a national championship possible. Now, the unit is faced with the loss of Branden Bowen, who had been progressing nicely since seizing the starting job in camp this summer. Fracturing his fibula/tibia against Maryland leaves some questions about the depth and talent at a position that has consistently been one of Ohio State's best during Urban Meyer's tenure.
Regardless of who replaces Bowen long-term—read more about that below—the Buckeyes are lucky enough to have a leader along the line who's more than qualified to keep the offense humming even with this latest setback.
Name: Billy Price
Height/Weight: 6'3, 300 lbs.
Though he might lack the hype that surrounded some of his departed former teammates, there's no question that Billy Price is the guy on the Buckeye O-line. After starting his career as a guard, he moved to center this season, where he's thrived in the absence of Pat Elflein.
The Buckeyes are fortunate that they'll have a week that shouldn't test the newest version of the offensive line too badly. Nebraska has struggled mightily to contain opposing running backs this season, currently ranked a paltry 112th in efficiency against the run, 87th in overall rushing success rate, and 48th in containing explosive plays. In short: teams have made hay in 2017 on the ground against the Huskers.
That's not to say that Nebraska is without talent defensively. Led by big-name DC hire Bob Diaco, the Husker defense boasts guys like DB Aaron Williams (31.5 total tackles, 2 INTs so far in 2017), LB Chris Weber (30 total tackles, 3 TFLs, 5 run stuffs), and DL Carlos Davis (15 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1.5 sacks). But having impressive pieces hasn't led to a cohesive or stifling defense for the Huskers, especially up front: aside from the troublesome rushing stats, no Nebraska defender has racked up more than 1.5 sacks this season. (By comparison, Ohio State has six guys who have cleared that mark.)
What to watch for
All of this is to say that, despite some major question marks, Price and the Ohio State offensive line should be more than up to the task of bulldozing the Huskers. While the unit has been occasionally shaky in pass protection, with 11 sacks allowed, it has also paved the way for a rushing attack that has recorded 16 TDs in just five games.
Just last week, Nebraska allowed 249 yards and two TDs to Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor as part of a 353-yard rushing eruption by the Badgers; the Huskers previously gave Oregon's Royce Freeman 153 yards and a pair of scores, too. Given the talent of the Buckeyes' thunder-and-lightning combo of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins, that bodes very well for Ohio State.
Right now, it looks like either Matthew Burrell or Demetrius Knox will line up in relief of Branden Bowen on the line's right side, with Malcolm Pridgeon sliding into Burrell's old role as the backup LG. Whether or not Burrell or Knox keep the job remains to be seen—there are some other intriguing options, like moving Price back to guard and putting in Brady Taylor at center. So far, none of the candidates to replace Bowen have seen the field enough for us to say for certain that the O-line is ready to handle the likes of Penn State or Michigan. But it should be more than a match for a beleaguered Husker defense.