National Championship Preview: Ohio State's O-line

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, left, looks for a receiver as center Jacoby Boren blocks Navy guard Bernard Sarra during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baltimore, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The first College Football Playoff National Championship Game is finally upon us and Dr. Saturday has your pregame prep covered. Every day leading up to the game, we’ll breakdown a piece of each team and preview its role in the upcoming title game. Previous previews: Ohio State's front 7, Oregon's front 7, Ohio State's secondary, Oregon's secondary, Oregon's O-line.

Season highlight: Ohio State’s starting left guard Billy Price said he thought the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin completed the turnaround of the Ohio State offensive line and he was right. The game showed complete domination by a line that allowed just one sack and five tackles for loss while the offense rolled up 558 total yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-0 performance.

Player to Watch: Guard Pat Elflein was one of just two Buckeyes with starting experience on the line this season and as the year has progressed, he has become the anchor. In the semifinal against Alabama, Elflein actually slid over to center when Jacoby Boren was injured late in the first half. Three plays later, the Buckeyes scored their first touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott.

Strengths: Ohio State can run the ball. There was definitely some doubt about whether the Buckeyes could do it against Alabama and one of the best defensive lines in the game, but those concerns were alleviated when the Buckeyes rattled off 281 rushing yards against a defense that was allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game and had not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Elliott finished with 230 yards. Since struggling against Navy and Virginia Tech, Ohio State has not rushed for fewer than 219 yards and has rushed for 300 yards three times.

Weaknesses: While the running game has been good, opponents haven’t had much trouble getting into the backfield. Teams average 5.21 tackles for loss against the Buckeyes and Alabama managed a season-high tying 11. The only other team to have 11 tackles for loss on Ohio State was Virginia Tech, the team's only loss of the season. The Hokies also managed a season-high seven sacks. The Buckeyes have been much better since that game and have definitely cut down the sack totals, but did allow three to the Tide.

Overview: Ohio State’s offensive line was the most talked about weakness leading up to the 2014 season. It had just two players with starting experience — not even fulltime starting experience — and was filling holes with a bunch of unknowns.

When quarterback Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during fall camp, even more attention was placed on a line that needed to gel together quickly and protect and young, inexperienced quarterback.

It didn’t respond well.

The Buckeyes were shaky at best against an undersized Navy defensive front and allowed five tackles for loss and a sack while the offense had to come from behind to win the game.

Things got worse the following week when the Buckeyes allowed 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks to Virginia Tech. Quarterback J.T. Barrett threw three interceptions and the running game had its lowest output of the season with 108 yards. Overall, the Ohio State offense mustered just 327 total yards.

It was the low point of the season for Ohio State's offensive line and a rallying point of sorts for left tackle Taylor Decker, Price, Boren, Elflein and right tackle Darryl Baldwin. From that game on, the line steadily improved. There were hiccups here and there, but it opened holes for the Buckeyes to be one of the dominant running games in the country and it kept its quarterback clean.

The biggest test of the line’s cohesiveness and growth came in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin when it adjusted to its third quarterback of the season and kept him fairly unscathed.

Oregon doesn’t present as big of a threat to the offensive line as Alabama did. The Ducks have been gashed in yardage this season and haven’t done a great job of getting into the backfield. However, where the Buckeyes offensive line will truly be tested is in the red zone. While Oregon allows a lot of yards, it doesn’t allow a ton of points and touchdowns are often hard to come by once teams get into the 20s.

Elliott has rushed for more than 200 yards in each of his past two games and quarterback Cardale Jones has shown he can use his big frame to bowl over defenders and pick up yardage. Oregon hasn’t faced a lot of good backs in the Pac-12 and definitely hasn’t faced a lot of good power backs. The ground game is definitely an advantage for the Buckeyes and if its offensive line can continue to open holes, it might be the difference in the game.

For more Ohio State news, visit BuckeyeGrove.com.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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