Ohio State’s offense two years ago was nothing like it is today. You might say the current version under coach Urban Meyer runs like a fine-tuned Porsche, while the 2011 unit clattered along like a Model T.
That was never more evident than in a game at Illinois that year. The Buckeyes tried four passes and completed one — a 17-yard touchdown from Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner in the fourth quarter of a 17-7 win.
Now piloting an offense ranked fifth nationally in scoring, Miller can hardly believe he once was part of such a primitive attack.
“That wouldn’t work right now. I was a young pup and I grew up from that,” he said. “I was just fortunate Coach Meyer came here, and we worked out things and got me better.”
That was the worst passing day for the Buckeyes since Rod Gerald failed to notch a single completion in a 22-21 loss to Missouri in 1976.
“Looking back, that’s crazy to me because our passing game has evolved so much now,” said senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, who also started that day. “One pass, that’s kind of unusual to think about. Braxton and the skill guys have come so far, I don’t think it’s going to be like that this year.”
The Buckeyes ranked 107th out of 120 teams in total offense in 2011 with 318.2 yards per game. In their second year under Meyer, they rank sixth with an average of 530.9.
And while much of the credit goes to the development of Miller and other playmakers, the offensive line also has made gargantuan strides.
The unit has four seniors in Mewhort, guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall and center Corey Linsley. The lone underclassman is sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker, a Vandalia-Butler grad.
“I see an offensive line that’s one of the best in the country,” Meyer said. “I’m willing to say that. I’ll take my offensive line anywhere.”
The O-line was the backbone of the offense in 2012, clearing holes for Miller (1,271 rushing yards) and Carlos Hyde (980). The passing game was still in the caterpillar stage. Miller and Hyde combined for more yards than the Buckeyes had through the air (2,178).
“I think we knew coming into the season we had expectations for ourselves, and we were building on something good from last season,” Mewhort said. “We four seniors knew if we didn’t play the way we’re playing, that would be a disgrace for us.
“We have great chemistry. Taylor is doing a great job for us. We play hard, and that’s something we pride ourselves on.”
Former OSU star lineman Jim Lachey, a longtime Buckeye radio broadcaster, likes what he sees from those five. Not only are they firing off the ball with sound technique, but they also have an aggressive, nasty nature that sets them apart.
“They’ve been playing fantastic,” said the St. Henry native, who had an 11-year NFL career, won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins and was a three-time All-Pro.
“It’s been a thing of beauty all year long. It’s not perfect. They’ve had some issues and some individual guys on (opposing) defenses step up and make some plays. But overall, they’ve been as good as you can get.”
The line has taken on a different mentality than the ones under previous coach Jim Tressel. Running those units was Jim Bollman, who didn’t put as much of an emphasis on popping people as he did on getting into the correct positions after snaps.
“It’s different philosophies, different styles, and he had some great players here. But to win the big game — the SEC games, the national championship — you have to get movement at the point of attack,” Lachey said. “You have to have a big offensive line that can do what they need to do. You can’t run sideways against teams like that because they’re going to kill your quarterback, which we witnessed.
“That style is fine. It will win you a lot of games. But to win a big game, you have to be able to come off the line of scrimmage.”
Lachey believes all four seniors are potential NFL players, and he said Decker is “going to be one of the dominant players in the Big Ten in the future.”
He added: “You hope they get an opportunity to play in a big, national-championship-type game this year because you don’t want to waste this offensive line. They can play with the best.”
Muzzled: Junior receiver Evan Spencer was chastised by Meyer for his comments Monday about Alabama and Florida State, saying the Buckeyes “could wipe the field with both of them.”
“I’m very disappointed. I can’t stand that,” Meyer said on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday. “I know Evan well enough and talked to him briefly, and he was kind of smiling when he said it. But he’s certainly not the spokesman for our team.
“As a result, what I do, Evan won’t talk to the media for a long, long time because you don’t do that. That’s not good sportsmanship and not what we expect.”
Spencer was contrite over his comments after video of his interview was picked up online by numerous media outlets.
In a post on Twitter, he said: “I am confident in my team, and as is evident in the video, I was having fun with the media answering their questions. I should have chosen my words more wisely. There was no intent to disrespect any other team.”
Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at Illinois (3-6, 0-5), noon, ESPN, 1410